The term "brand" is often used in reference to a company logo affixed to a letterhead, product or service vehicle. That application tremendously understates the factors and value involved in building a brand. Unfortunately, the belief that a logo and a brand are the same is an all-too-common misconception. As distinctive as a logo can be, this visual badge will have little or no branding impact on its own. The truth is that poor customer service will destroy far more brand loyalty than a logo will ever create.
So, what is a brand?
Branding starts with your company’s purpose, its reason to exist. It is what motivates and differentiates a business as a competitor in the marketplace. What are your company's values and how do they influence the way you do business? Consumers and many businesses appreciate an organization whose mission involves improving the world around them. If your purpose is larger than just making money, it should be expressed in your brand because it suggests value your company delivers above and beyond the point of sale. Who does not believe that Google is about improving life by making answers easier to find? When your business name becomes a leading global brand --and a verb -- you can claim to have reached the branding summit.
CONSISTENCY IS A CRITICAL FACTOR in an effective brand strategy. Brand continuity is the result of purposeful repetition and disciplined focus on only those images and messages that support your brand. Customers associate this cohesiveness with strength and reliability. It provides an intangible comfort to prospective customers.
Companies build strong brands by delivering a continuum of rewarding experiences to individuals at a personal level. What a decision-maker thinks of a company's brand is based on many things including their direct experience and other social connections with it. Branding is clearly an ongoing process that must involve every point of contact with a business from marketing messages, through the point of sale, to include the satisfaction hopefully resulting from each engagement.
EMOTION IS ANOTHER IMPORTANT FACTOR. Feelings can drive decision-making in even the most analytical among us. We are social animals that, admit it or not, are swayed by the opportunity for belonging and by how we may feel at the time of choosing. The basic psychological need to build relationships is at the heart of human behavior and is something every brand should consider. Leading brands utilize belonging as a way to enhance perceived value and connect with customers more personally. It also serves to help create an emotional experience that can quickly build brand loyalty. Harley Davidson owners don't just ride a motorcycle; they belong to the Harley Owners Group (HOG), an intensely loyal community. Make no mistake, that is by design.
Experience is also key. Perhaps one of the best examples of experience centered branding is the Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney understood well from the outset that customer experience, regardless of product or service, is critical in creating loyalty. Every product and service decision at the Disney organization is influenced by how its movie patrons, park guests, or merchandise customers will feel about their experience. The staff at Disney parks, for instance, are “Cast Members” in a culture that places a high value on a rewarding and memorable experience for customers without exception. Experiences are studied, measured and adjusted in detail. This focus on experience and exceeding expectations is the essence of the remarkably successful Disney brand. Delivering on the brand promise cannot be accomplished without employees at all levels on board with goals and fully engaged in executing the brand strategy.
An effective brand strategy can become clear through a logical questioning process beginning with brand development and continuing through brand management. What follows are some of the most important questions to answer.
RESEARCH – Get to know your prospects and customers in exquisite detail. Eliminate assumptions about what buyers think about as they make a decision to buy. Who is buying the products and services you provide? Why are they buying?
AUDIT – Fully evaluates the environment you are marketing within. What are the conditions? What is valued and to what degree; cost, schedule, service? What do you know about your competitors? Is the market for your product/service growing? If not, why not?
MAP – Ensure your messaging targets and messages are in sync. Are your marketing and customer service communications reaching the right audience with the right messages? Are your messaging methods delivering timely and appropriate content for a given situation?
ANALYZE – Are your products/services solving problems and distinguishing customers? People don’t seek products. They seek what the products do for them. Brands are built upon how individuals feel about the company and its products/services, so it’s important to understand what is driving brand perceptions.
ARCHITECTURE – How are your product and service systems structured? How do they interface with the customer and what are the relationships between them? Are the systems in place adequate to support brand continuity? Are they flexible enough to accommodate momentary marketing opportunities that cannot wait?
GOALS – What are the short and long-term objectives for the brand? How will you define success? Are you considering repositioning, a new product or service offering? Are you planning growth beyond that which your organization is presently known? These and related concerns are all significant factors in crafting a brand strategy.
ATTRIBUTES – How do you see your business? Are you a market leader, low-cost competitor, service-oriented, unique? What distinguishes you from your competition?
PERCEPTION – How do your customers see you? Does their opinion align with yours? Does their experience support where you want to go with your brand? How is customer loyalty encouraged and rewarded?
POSITIONING – Informed by insight gained in earlier steps, brainstorm a branding strategy. How will you focus on the most promising opportunities? Define how the plan will help build a compelling brand. What role will each point of contact with customers play?
BRAND PROMISE – This is a clear and concise statement of who you are as a company. What are your values and beliefs? What do you deliver and why does it matter? This promise should not be a self-serving statement, but rather, one focused on how customers, clients, and others benefit from the existence of the company.
CULTURE – A team’s commitment to the brand promise is critical. The primary experience driving brand value is the interaction between the team members and customers. How will this culture be built and managed? Behavior matters and training is essential.
VOICE – How do you interact with your prospects and clients? Are all methods of contact communicating a clear and consistent image? This voice, of course, is where the logo begins to play a role. It’s the iconic bookmark that reminds the audience, internal and external, of the brand you’ve built.
MARKETING – Where and how is your brand presently reflected; in marketing, on products, in services and all forms of communication? If the brand is not yet consistent across all communications including advertising, public relations, and customer service, how will it be developed, implemented and managed?
IDENTITY – Is a system in place to ensure brand continuity? A corporate identification system, or style guide, can provide essential guidance for the expression of the brand in both internal and external communications including websites, written communications, social media, signage, advertising, and public relations.
LOYALTY – Are promises to customers kept? Loyalty is most often the product of exceeding expectations. Adequate staff training and incentives are essential to building and growing brand loyalty over time.
The bottom line is that a holistic commitment to brand development and management touches every aspect of a business every day.