Don’t take it personally.
It’s not like I am calling your baby ugly.
Do you want to know the difference? You can’t fix your ugly baby, but you can fix your branding.
All jokes aside, I am going to help you fix it.
But, before we begin...
Let me be crystal clear. I am NOT saying your product or service sucks. Although, this would be a good opportunity to tell you that if either of those suck, good branding won’t save you. But I digress…
What I AM saying is the way you are presenting your product or service to the world sucks. You are missing the mark and it is hurting your business.
Your brand is how your business is perceived by the world around it, and, like it or not, perception is reality.
If you want to make a sound investment in your business; invest in building your brand. Why? It provides the best return on your investment; you will get a higher return at a lower risk.
Many businesses underestimate the importance of branding. Or, if they don’t underestimate the importance, they equate branding with the creation of a logo, web design, or stationary. Maybe, if they are really advanced, they will create a “style guide” to ensure everything is consistent. See the theme here? It is all about design.
This is the foundation of a brand that sucks.
While design is a component of branding; it is meaningless without a firm understanding of WHO the brand is and WHAT the brand stands for.
There is a difference between what you WANT your brand to be, and what your brand actually IS.
A Brand By Any Other Name is Still a Brand
What is a Brand?
According to the American Marketing Association, the definition of a brand is:
A name, term, sign, symbol, or design or a combination of them intended to identify the goods of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competition” (AMA, n.d.).
Let’s break this down; a brand is:
- An intangible asset that
- Produces revenue
- By distinguishing a firm’s offering
- From those of competitors
- In a way that adds value for consumers or customers
Fundamentally, strong brands help consumers by simplifying decision-making, reducing risk, and increasing confidence in purchase decisions.
You might be saying, “that’s great, but what do I do with that information?” That is a great question. First, you must understand a very important concept:
Consumers view brands as people.
Brands are anthropomorphic, meaning people “[ascribe] human characteristics to nonhuman things, i.e. the brand" (Merriam-Webster).
Humans are social creatures; we are driven by relationships. We gravitate toward positive relationships and move away from negative relationships.
Since we view brands in terms of human characteristics, it logically follows that forming positive brand relationships is very important.
Adding a layer of nuance, a brand is remembered through a network of associations in a consumer's memory.
Want proof? Listen to this song:
What did you think about? I bet there were positive thoughts about a wedding (or some other celebration). When someone mentions your brand, they make similar associations (if they even recognize you in the first place).
These associations can either be:
- Many or few
- Strong or weak
- Favorable or unfavorable
- Similar to, or different from rivals
To form relationships that have positive associations, you must understand the mind of the consumer. Brands must then create associations in memory that are accessible and meaningful. I am not talking about some abstract theoretical sense; you must seek to understand real consumers, making real choices, with their own money.
So why is all this important?
Show me the money
One major component is economics. Strong brands are worth more. Do you know the value of a BRAND? Let me share some numbers with you (according to Forbes):
- Apple is worth 170 BILLION dollars
- Google is worth 101.8 BILLION dollars
- Netflix is worth 8.5 BILLION dollars
- Starbuck is worth 14.9 BILLION dollars
- Nike is worth 29.6 BILLION dollars
When I tell you the BRAND is worth BILLIONS of dollars, what exactly am I talking about?
I am simply talking about the intangible asset of the brand; not the value of the entire business. Here’s what that looks like.
A company is made up of both tangible and intangible assets.Tangible assets include things like machinery, buildings, land, and inventory. Intangible assets are non-physical in nature. A brand or trademark is an intangible asset that is often referred to in a broader context as intellectual property (Bookbinder, 2016).
The key takeaway here is that branding is important to your business. It can be worth BILLIONS of dollars in the long run (who knows, you could be the next Google).
So what is wrong with your business, and what can you do to fix it?
Failure in insights
Have you ever heard of the Arch Deluxe? No? Not surprising.
In 1996, McDonald's introduced the Arch Deluxe. It was intended to appeal to "urban sophisticates" — outside of its target demographic. McDonald's spent $100 million in an attempt to reach this new demographic, which makes it one of the most expensive product flops in history.
McDonald’s is not unlike the other companies that failed relative to understanding their consumers and marketplace by:
- Ignoring or misreading the marketplace;
- Failing to ask the right questions;
- Poorly executing on a reasonable insight.
All of this could have been avoided if they would have conducted the RIGHT research.
Research is integral to any successful branding initiative. Using an evidence-based approach enables you to make an informed business decision. If you TRULY want to be a market leader, you must have:
- A comprehensive understanding of WHO YOU ARE as a brand;
- A comprehensive understanding of how YOUR AUDIENCEperceives you as a brand;
- A solid idea of WHERE YOU STAND in the competitive marketplace.
This sounds complicated, but it’s not. Sure it takes some effort, and a marginal learning curve, but the payoff can put your head and shoulders above the competition. Like my father says, “if it were easy, everyone would do it.”
Some might argue that McDonald’s may have just come to the party too early. Burger chains like Five Guys, Smashburger, and Shake Shack have found tremendous success selling more expensive fast-food burgers to the modern equivalent of "urban sophisticates." I would counter by saying that Five Guys, Smashburger, and Shake Shack are being true to their brand selling to “urban sophisticates,” whereas McDonald’s was never a premium seller of fast-food burgers.
Key takeaway: Conduct research and use the insights in your business.
You don’t have a brand, you have a logo. Do you buy facial tissue, or do you buy Kleenex? Do you buy soda, or do you buy Coke? Do you buy cotton swabs, or do you buy Q-Tips? Do you use a search engine, or do you Google it? How about a plastic bag or a Ziplock?
These household names are strong brands. They are so strong and recognizable in fact, that their name is synonymous with the item it is describing.
Now, think about yourself as the consumer. What makes you go back to a company time and time again? I can tell you what it isn’t. The logo. Sure the logo is an identifier; it helps you recognize the product. But it isn’t the reason you purchase or repurchase the item.
Your brand is the way your business is received by consumers. This is the result of litany of things, like the customer experience, the products, the services, the reliability, and consistency. A successful brand stands out among its competition from a consumer standpoint.
“A logo does not represent your culture, your people, or your story, and no, it does not legitimize your business” (Wilson, n.d.).
Key takeaway: Don’t focus on the logo; focus on building your brand. The logo is not a priority.
Your branding or messaging is incongruent
The year is 1990.
Bottled water was the fastest-growing beverage category in the United States. In fact, Despite being a beer company, Coors brewing company wanted in on the action.
Bottled water was ubiquitous. Coors had all of the ingredients to enter the market. They had the fresh, clear, Rocky Mountain spring water. The had the distribution channels. They had a recognizable name. It all made sense, right?
Enter Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water.
With the Coors name placed visibly on the label, which “confused the hell out of people.” The name Coors immediately created an assumption was that the water contained alcohol (remember the associative memory concept from above). Perhaps they could have created a new brand, without the Coors name. But they didn’t and two years later, Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water was no more.
This is an excellent example of incongruent branding. People didn’t get it. Just like they wouldn’t get a Catholic supply store selling Menorahs. It doesn’t make sense.
Key takeaway: Your messaging and products should align with your brand.
You are trying to be everything to everybody. To illustrate this point, I want to tell you a story I heard from Derek Halpern.
Derek recounted the time he wanted to hire a publicist. Through a referral, he met a potential candidate.
He was ready to hire the guy, and as the last step went to visit his website.
The website stated the potential publicist could help people with publicity…
Social media marketing…
Wait for it…
Derek asked the guy why he included all of those different services on his website. The guys said, with a straight face:
“I want people to know that I can help them with everything so I don’t lose out on potential clients.”
This guy made a HUGE error in his brand. While he thinks his generalist approach is broadening his potential client base, it’s actually failing to convince potential clients (like Derek), that he’s an expert publicist.
If you want to hire a publicist, you want to hire the BEST publicist. Not an “okay” publicist who also does video editing, video shooting, basket-weaving, dog-walking, and more...
In the end, his lack of specialization lost him a HUGE opportunity with Derek Halpern.
Key takeaway: When you try to be everything for everyone, you wind up being nothing for no one.
Of all the ideas related to brands and branding, authenticity is arguably the most important. The fact is, authentic brands outperform their competitors (Lischer, 2015).
What is authentic? According to Merriam-Webster, being authentic is being,
“True to one's own personality, spirit, or character is sincere and authentic with no pretensions” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.)
Authentic brands look, feel, and act in ways that consistently cohere with their core purpose - they are TRUE to their core identity. The mark of true authenticity, after all, is a visceral connection between a brand and its customers.
The truth is, customers can sniff out inauthenticity, and, in the end, “truly authentic brands outperform their competitors” (Lischer, 2015).
Key takeaway: Be authentic. Do what you say you are going to do. Be who you are, not who you THINK your audience wants you to be.
Branding is for Closers
If you are thinking that branding is only for “the big boys,” you are dead wrong. You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to move the needle. What you need to do is take action. Start by following the guidelines in this article. If you are looking for a more advanced strategy, consider figuring out your brand personality (Aakers, 1997).
The worst possible thing you can do is…
If you want to close more sales, increase your equity, gain visibility, gain a competitive edge in the market, brand your business.
Because I have news for you…