You hear the word “branding” tossed out in virtually every marketing conversation these days. And for good reason – our nation has a love affair with brands. Coke people are Coke people, Mac people are Mac people, Ping golfers are Ping golfers and that’s that. They have a deep affinity for the brand that extends beyond the form and function of the product and into a perceived relationship with the company that sells it. But how did they get to that place with these companies and their brands? Some would say, “They have great ads that I can relate to.” Others, “They sell a superior product or service.” Maybe, “I read they try to recycle 90% of their waste.” I would venture it’s some combination of one or all – a mashup of attributes that resonates on many levels to create an emotional tie between brand and consumer. In short, great branding! Right? Well, not exactly.
Great brands aren’t just born, they are carefully developed.
Before we move forward, let’s deal with some brand jargon we’ve all heard and clear a few things up.
Branding is tactics – creating the tactical marketing plan to translate Brand Strategy into Brand Expressions (TV, radio, web site, etc.) that communicate the brand’s unique positioning with a personality and precise targeting to influence purchase decisions. Branding tactics can include the consistent use of graphics, spokespeople, color, type faces – all tools used to communicate a brand’s distinction. But don’t think that the graphics or spokesperson is the distinction. This is an important point to make: branding does not create a great brand, it is only the way the brand is communicated. These tactics change from campaign to campaign but they are simply branding tactics and not the ultimate reason for purchasing the product.
“We need a branding campaign!” says the CEO. Enter sideshow that creates new logo, tag line and ads. Generally, this is considered re-branding. I’m here to tell you it is merely slapping a new coat of paint on the same old barn. A brand is not a logo, a tag line or anything to do with new ads. A brand radiates from the very soul of the business. And if the soul of the business is out of alignment, you can paint that barn all day and it won’t fix the door that has slipped its tracks.
So, let’s talk about what a brand can be defined as. A brand is a “Claim of Distinction.” It’s whatever separates the business or organization from its competitors, makes it stand out as extraordinary or more valuable to the customer. It’s not just a promise, however. It’s also the compelling evidence, repeat, evidence that makes your claim credible – your evidence of distinction. In other words, it must be proved. Communicated effectively, the evidence instills confidence in the purchase process and fosters advocates. “Because we recycle 70% of our waste into product at ABC Company, only we are able to create the most sustainable product in our industry and our marketing clearly reflects this. In fact, 9 out of 10 employees at ABC recycle at work and home.” Now that, my friends, is drinking the Kool-aid. ABC has ‘the stuff’. They have complete buy in from their employees, they have a compelling message and they have a unique brand.
Brand is the sum total of all the perceptions you want the marketplace to have about your company at the moment of purchase decision.
But the sum total of all the perceptions won’t always register… at the register (forgive me). A business must illuminate unique selling points that compel a buyer to make a purchase and feel compelled enough to not only continue making the purchase, but become an advocate. This scenario can only come at the heels of a full brand development process that involves the highest officers and decision makers. It is a process – a sophisticated process that combines proven techniques with creative insight to uncover the true essence of the company or organization – in short, what makes a company different than its competitor – it is a “Claim of Distinction” and supporting evidence that is so compelling that it will influence choice. The brand development process translates a business strategy into a brand strategy that will anchor all tactical marketing initiatives.
What is it about you that will motivate me to select your product or service rather than your competitor’s – while you make a profitable margin?
Those last few words are the kicker. Any company can motivate buyers by offering the lowest price. Without distinction, you’re Brand “X,” a generic – or worse – a commodity. And we all know how commodities are traded – price. When price becomes the only measurement of value, it’s a loss – big time. If you are a business owner, at some point you’ve probably made some parallel between a competitor’s price strategy and the activities that occur at the Bunny Ranch. Commodities have no place in brand strategy. The real challenge is building a brand that will stimulate strong sales at a profitable margin – where buyers perceive brand VALUE and pay a premium for it. Price, as a sole strategy, is for hacks. Brand development is the function of professional strategists.
Stated previously, Brand development is a process to translate a business strategy into a brand strategy by identifying the business or organization’s Claim of Distinction and the compelling evidence that supports that claim – what differentiates it from competitors. Brand development is not a logo or tag line; it’s a comprehensive process with many components.
Brand development represents a comprehensive, full-spectrum program that can extend from four months to as much as a year. However, because limited time frames and limited budgets are a reality today, it may be prudent to focus on certain aspects of development like DISCOVERY – the “Turning the Telescope” brand discovery process to uncover a Claim of Distinction (and unique selling points). It can be done quickly, for a very reasonable investment, and it’s dramatically effective. However, a comprehensive brand development process is always the most preferred. A Certified Brand Strategist can help customize a process that meets individual needs and objectives, within a budget and time frame, with a vested interest in implementing an effective brand strategy. In other words, they’re going to help you build that new barn you’ve always wanted, then help you paint it.