Branding companies and their products and services is what I do. As a marketer, I know it’s at the center of helping my clients get recognized, grow and stay top of mind with customers. I’ve distilled forty years of “branding” expertise down to five basic tenants I call “The Pillars of Branding.” Together they clarify what branding is, and what it’s not.
1. The best brands grow from a clear, unifying message with a memorable story behind it.
One message, on point across all channels of communication so your target consumers can intercept your messages is efficiency and focus. Go ahead; get stuck in a niche. This is exactly what you want. Position your company so it is crystal clear what you offer and what you stand for.
Consider Red Bull, the energy drink. Flavor is not its calling card. Red Bull sells one idea, and the idea is energy. “No Red Bull, No Wings.” Consider the Red Bull 2022 Thanksgiving ad. No Red Bull, No Wings . . . Don’t be the turkey that’s Thanksgiving dinner!
By being consistent and on point with your key messages, you will get the message delivered enough times to build positive brand in the marketplace.
And stay with it! Just about the time you feel everyone must be sick and tired of hearing your messages, your target audience is just beginning to internalize the message for the first time.
2. A strong brand causes an uplifting emotional response from the target audience.
The goal is emotional engagement with your product or cause. Establish your brand on positive conditions like “having a profound effect on a client’s business,” “doing good,” “changing the world,” “making people happy.” As marketing maven Guy Kawasaki says, “don’t try to establish a brand based on your silly desire to beat your competition.”
“The rule of thumb for the purchase process is 70 percent emotional; 30 percent rational,” according to Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a brand and customer engagement consulting firm.
Apple is a master at engaging emotions with one of their best ads being the Christmas 2013 iPhone ad for TV: This one has it all—family, love, the desire to be included—all powerful emotions that the iPhone captures right along with the ad.
3. Your brand is built on what people are saying about you, not what you are saying about yourself.
The world is filled with companies that do the same thing, so you have to do something unexpected to build your brand and stand out. Branding is getting people to think about you the way you want to be thought of when you want to be thought of. It’s not who you know; it’s who knows you.
So, what can you do to help people think about you the way you want? First, realize that you don’t own your brand. You cannot enforce what people think your brand represents. Your brand lives in the minds of others who do business with you and who draw their conclusion from hundreds of “moments of truth.” A customer’s experience confirms or denies the promise of your brand in their mind.
Every transaction, every conversation, every observation has contributed to this brand reputation. Did you come through? Did you live up to the reputation? I’ve walked out of restaurants that didn’t deliver and decided “Never again!” Others consistently make the entire experience memorable—from taking the reservation to taking the credit card. Great food, pleasant service, comfortable ambience. They have it all.
Today, every company has to make the case that it is a better choice than all the other choices. If you are still trying to differentiate with “our people make the difference,” stop pretending your people are your competitive advantage. Sure, you want to tout your people, but don’t your people bear a striking resemblance to the people who work for your competitors?
To be a memorable, marketable, clearly differentiated brand, you need to do the unexpected. Be remarkable! Do something that makes you stand out. It could be a proprietary process nobody else has, multiple locations, pioneering a new process, technology or delivery system. But make it something important to customers. Can you make the claim “We are the only…” or “we created, developed, pioneered…” or “we’re the fastest, largest, oldest, softest, etc.?”
For example, unique, iconic buildings around the world once seen are never forgotten. The gleaming white sail-shaped shells of Australia’s Sydney Opera House make it the most recognized building in the world. Closer to home think about Calatrava, that houses the Milwaukee Art Museum, or the Disney-inspired Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Chicago and the SC Johnson buildings he designed in Racine. They all stand out from the crowd.
If your competitor in your industry offers the same bill of fare as you, how can you make your offer more attractive? Can you enhance your offer in terms of inventory, expanded hours, flexibility of payment terms?
Being a specialist is another way to be the better choice. This is not about being just another player in the marketplace. You’ve got to win. What are you doing that makes you remarkable?
4. Your brand is much more than your logo.
Your brand is your organization’s reputation, not just its logo mark. Probably the number one brand crime is putting all the emphasis on your logo as if it alone can carry the message. Instead, think of all the various ways the brand can be conveyed/and received by your target consumer. Watch the PBS special about, who created the Marlboro Man, Kellogg’s Snap Crack & Pop and Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy. The logo recedes as the characters, tunes and catchy jingles stick in our memories.
True, well-designed visual icons are important elements that must match your big idea—your brand story. It’s important that your brand icons reflect a strong, clear, up-to-date image of your company’s brand vision. We can learn this from the Chicago Man Men—great brand identity takes all the brand elements of your company, its products, and its services and unifies them into whole systems. That helps make you memorable.
5. A brand is a long-term process, not a one-time event.
Finally, branding is about seizing every opportunity to express why people should choose your brand over another. Communicate a strong brand idea over and over and you will establish a strong position for your brand in your customer’s minds.