Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

Brand: What it is and the two-step process to building a great one

I have to apologize. While I’ve been all frothy and fevered atop my soapbox, talking to you about the dangers of ignoring branding, the difference between a brand and a channel, and how a strong brand can bring your competitors to their knees, I seem to have overlooked a critical piece of information: Just what the heck is a brand, anyway?

Sorry about that. I forget that everyone is not a geek like me.

Let’s step back for a minute.

 

For starters, a few quick words about what a “brand” is not.

It’s not a logo. It’s not a tagline. It’s not the colors on your website or your mascot or your social media presence. And, it’s definitely not some elusive and magical creature like the unicorn. It’s a real thing with real benefits. It’s just that a lot of people get really confused about brand (how can you blame them with all the misconceptions out there).

 

Here’s how a few really smart folks define the elusive element that is “brand:”

“The intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” – David Ogilvy

 

“The art of differentiation.” – David Brier

 

“Simply put, a brand is a promise…
it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality.” – Walter Landor *

 

“A brand is a reason to choose.” – Fred Burt, Siegel + Gale *

 

“A brand is the sum total of the entire customer experience. A collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer.” – Mark Burgess, Blue Focus Marketing *

 

“A brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon

 

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” – Seth Godin

 

Brand is the essence – the heart and soul – of a product or company.  It’s what’s left behind in a customer’s mind, like the impression that floats on the inside of your eyelids after you stare at something for a long time. Done well, a brand extends far beyond the confines of a single product or even a whole product line and embodies something bigger that can be adapted to a wide range of products, services, and events.

But that’s a conversation for another day. For now, let’s stick to defining brand.

 

If we break it down, there are three elements that create brand:

 

What you stand for and – more specifically – what differentiates you from the competition.

What attribute or value do you “own?” What experiences and benefits do people associate with your product? What promise do you make (and keep)? More importantly, how are those elements (and that promise) unique to your product? How do they help you stand out in the marketplace? What is the Big Idea behind what you do and how does it help you stake out market territory that is all yours?

David Brier did a great (and delightfully brief) video interview with Joy Gendusa about the importance of differentiation. (His baritone radio voice is just the icing on the cake.)

 

How you say what you say and do what you do.

Once you have that internal core in place, you can start interpreting that via all the outward facing aspects of your brand – products, image, voice, language, and behavior. Many people make the mistake of starting with the outer trappings (color, logo, punchy tag line, cool website, etc.). Though that might appear to get you out of the gate faster, it doesn’t set you up for the long-term success you’re after. The idea is to get seriously nailed down about what you stand for and what you want to say and then build all those other pieces with the goal of conveying that value, purpose, and message.  Every piece of content you create, every product evolution, every media buy, every quip you tweet … everything should tie back to the core of your brand. Everything should help to embody and express that thing you stand for.

 

Ultimately, brand is how you make people feel.

In the end, you’re after one thing. You want to move people. You want to make them take notice. You want them to pay attention. You want them to feel something. That’s what a brand does. Think about the brands that you admire most. When you think about them, they conjure up certain emotional reactions, don’t they? They make you feel happy, nostalgic, energized, proud, secure, or any of a hundred other feelings. This is the key to customer attraction, conversion, and retention. A strong brand evokes something in your customer’s heart. It creates an emotional connection between your product and the customer’s life. People don’t buy based on logic. People buy based on feelings, and then they use logic to justify their choice.

 

 

And what do you need to do to create an amazing brand – the kind of brand that people take into their hearts? Two things:

Good listening skills

Listen to your customers. Their needs, desires, and fears are what drive the creation of your brand. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Always.

Listen to the marketplace – not to imitate, but to make sure you’re not sliding into “me too” territory. Keep your finger on the pulse of the competition and make sure your brand is always setting you apart – clearly and boldly.

Courage

Mediocre brands are not successful. They blend in with the background and fail to leave an impression. They do not attract attention. They do not move people. To create a strong brand, you need to have the guts to do things others won’t do. You need to be brave enough to stand out. You need to say something new and different. You have to be willing to trek into unknown territory.

 

 

I hope that helps give you a better sense of what a brand is and what goes into making one. I have been thrilled to receive several comments and private messages from people who’ve read this series and thought, “Oh! Now I get it!” Nothing could make me happier. I’m going to be on a crusade in 2013 to bring branding to the forefront for companies small and large, B2B and B2C, established and brand new. There are so many benefits (short- and long-term) to having a strong brand. Wait! What? I haven’t told you exactly what those are yet? You’re kidding!

Well, I guess I know the topic for my next blog post!

 

Thanks for coming by. It always makes my day. Love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and looking forward to seeing you on the other side!

 

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I snagged these quotes off a blog post by Cheryl Burgess on the Blue Focus Marketing blog. Good stuff!

 Image from freedigitalphotos.net

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3 Comments

  1. Laura

    This is an excellent clarification. I’m trying to figure this out and not sure I fully comprehend it all yet.
    I feel conflicted. Here’s why:

    If “Brand is the essence – the heart and soul – of a product or company” and “to create an amazing brand [I] need…to listen to [my] customers…and their needs desire and fears drive the creation of [my] brand” – how can I do this and still keep writing honestly without compromising some of myself to cater to brand development?

    If my brand is about my customers, not myself, this is easy in application for my business writing. Not so much for the creative aspect of my writing, when (let me be brutally honest here) it IS completely all about me.

    In other words, as a writer, am I not in many ways, my own brand, independent of outside influences?

    (Not referring to the egotistical writer who thinks he can do no wrong and views his craft as untouchable “art for art’s sake.” — LOL!)

    I love this post and would love to see you do a followup on this as a series. I’m definitely listening! I need as much clarification as I can get! haha

    • Jamie Lee

      Excellent question, Laura, and definitely fodder for a future post. (Thanks!)

      There are differences between the “corporate” brand and the “personal” brand.” There are also similarities. I will have to chew on this a little more before I can properly articulate it, but one of the main differences between the two is that most corporate brands are developed to meet an existing need while most personal brands (in the case of someone like a writer or an artist) are developed first by the heart and head of the creator and then refined through interaction with the audience.

      Most business or corporate brands already know who they are “targeting,” and craft their brand and message (within the context of their own story) to speak directly to that audience.

      In the case of writers and artists, they may not know exactly who their audience is, so they create and put their work out in the world and eventually draw an audience in. It’s a more organic process, at least to start. From there, I think there’s a synergistic relationship that most creatives nurture with their “fans” and use to further develop and refine their work and brand.

      Those are initial thoughts, but I’ll certainly give this more brain time soon.

      Thanks!!

  2. Laura

    That goes along my lines of thinking, but then, it must be more difficult for the artist to develop their brand and more risky – for themselves and for their audience. In order to have success at branding,that synergistic relationship must be a good balance of give and take. If the artist gives too much, they cater to the needs of the audience and the art suffers; too little, and the artist may fail to have an impact with their art.

    Risky business. VERY risky business. I’m afraid this is the fear factor that impacts me most.

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