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?
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.
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!
You May Also Like:
- Branding is NOT Optional – Part 1: A cautionary tale
- Branding is NOT Optional – Part 2: Let them eat your dust
- Branding is NOT Optional – Part 3: Do yourself a favor. Get brand.
Image from freedigitalphotos.net