A brand is the visual, emotional, rational, and cultural image that you associate with a company or a product. Here are some well-known branding examples.
When you think Volvo, you might think safety. When you think Nike, you might think of Tiger Woods or "Just Do It." When you think IBM, you might think "Big Blue." The fact that you remember the brand name and have positive associations with that brand makes your product selection easier and enhances the value and satisfaction you get from the product or service.
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While Brand X cola, or even Pepsi-Cola, may win blind taste tests over Coca Cola, the fact is that more people buy Coke than any other cola and, most importantly, they enjoy the experience of buying and drinking Coca Cola. The fond memories of childhood and refreshment that people have when they drink Coke is often more important than a little bit better cola taste. It is this emotional relationship with brands that make them so powerful.
A brand is not just a logo, ad campaign, spokesperson or slogan. Rather a brand is a product of the millions of experiences a company creates with employees, vendors, reporters, communities, and customers—and the emotional feelings these groups develop as a result of their experiences.
A brand is the sum of all the characteristics that make your offering unique:
Every business has a brand, whether they like it or not, whether they realize it or not, whether or not they have an expensive ad campaign or a new logo. A company has a brand whether it’s selling bread, beer, oxygen cylinders, accounting services, or chemicals. Even cities and geographic areas have brands – think New York, Los Angeles, Cape Cod and Detroit. Some cities have such a strong brand identities that they have products named after them to leverage this image—South Beach Diet, LA Fitness, Chevy Tahoe.
Your business has a brand. It’s the sum of everything your organization is, says, and does.
The only question is, are you in control of your brand? When you are, your image will be clear and your results will be consistent. When you aren’t in control of your brand, the marketplace will let you know. You can see it for yourself with companies like AOL. They placed much emphasis on an initial push for consumer business which resulted in big sales, but whose service wasn’t able to keep up with the demand they created. Until AOL built greater capacity the results were dissatisfaction–even anger from consumers diminished trust.
Branding = Trust
Consumers—whether for business or personal products or services—select brands they believe will serve them best, even if that brand is priced at a premium.
American Express, for instance, has created a culture of service that provides so much perceived brand value that many consumers are willing to pay more for “privilege” to use the card. The success of the personal card has allowed AmEx to continue to grow and create new brand extensions: Gold, Platinum, Blue, Plum, and Black. These extensions already have an advantage in the minds of consumers before they are even launched because they carry the AmEx brand.
Here are more brands that command a premium: Starbucks – you’re buying a lifestyle, an image, the cache; Mercedes Benz – engineering, quality, performance, consumer service. I’m sure you can think of plenty of others.
Toyota shares all of these attributes and in some cases provides better quality than Mercedes, so why isn’t it seen as a direct competitor? Toyota isn’t positioned as a premium brand in the minds of consumers. What did they do to compete in this market segment? They created a premium brand: Lexus. Both Toyota and Lexus brands share engineering, chassis, design elements – the brand is what differs in the minds of the consumer. The branding goes beyond the vehicle – you find branding in everything that Lexus does:
Lexus has received JD Power’s highest customer satisfaction rating for years. Now, this isn’t simply because Lexus has so many fewer problems than BMW or Audi or Mercedes, but it is due to the level of customer service – this is how Lexus extends its brand – through a brand experience.Powerful branding makes for a strong brand experience
Think about how your business could control and strengthen its brand through the brand experience. In order for your company to build its brand, it must strategically set a level of expectations through consistency of…
Understanding your brand starts with discovery
When you go looking, you’re much like a gold prospector—often discovering assets that are already there: valuable attributes and ideas that exist deep inside the business, but have not been brought to light. Of course you could also find our share of fool’s gold: attributes and attitudes that hinder the good experience you want your audience to have with your company.
As the process of discovery goes on, it becomes easier and easier to see the attributes that make your brand uniquely valuable and to determine which aspects of your business aren’t in alignment. The first step in discovery is to understand which audiences are important to your company and what each of their experiences has actually been. What is your business doing, saying, and how is it acting? Is this in alignment with what makes your brand special? Where are you missing opportunities and where are there potential contradictions? This will help you learn what to capitalize on and what to correct.
What makes up a brand identity?
A typical brand identity includes a brand name, positioning statement, category descriptor, organizational values, brand archetype, and the brand's key purchase factors with their tangible and emotional benefits (brand associations).
A good brand name gives a good first impression, is easy to remember, and evokes positive associations with the brand. The positioning statement tells, in one sentence, what business the company is in, what benefits it provides, and why it is better than the competition. Imagine you're in an elevator and you have 30 seconds to answer the question, "What business are you in?" The category descriptor lets your customers know what "hook" to put your branding on in their mind or where to file your business in their “mental Rolodex”.
Linking your internal business values with your brand builds trust with your customers. Brand archetype and personality adds emotion, culture, and myth to the brand identity by the use of a famous spokesperson (Bill Cosby - Jello), a character (the Pink Panther for Owens-Corning insulation), an animal (the Merrill Lynch bull), or an image (You're in good hands with Allstate).
Ensuring Long-Term Branding Success
So many businesses will invest a tremendous amount of time and effort to develop their brand and think they are done. But they’ve just begun. The most important, fundamental thing a company has to do over time is to ensure that the experience its audiences will get from the organization will be consistent with the brand. This is called managing the brand.
You can spend a lot of money and time in communicating your brand, but unless your employees deliver the brand the right way, it’s a waste. A business with a healthy brand is one where every employee understands what the brand is about and their role in delivering that brand. Never underestimate your staff – they are the ones who deliver your brand to the world.Thanks to Scott DeMenter for portions of this article.