Brand X. Brand Y. The cattle are branded. Everyone is a personal brand. Brandmark. Brand name. Good brand, bad brand. Brand of humor. Private brand. Product brand. Experiential brand. What the heck is a brand? Can you measure it? Can you take a picture of it? Can you lay it on the table and point at it? Can you taste it? Isn’t Nike’s brand the swoosh?
We have all heard someone say, that they love a certain brand or they do or do not buy a certain brand or they hate a certain brand. If you follow up with the person about why they feel that way, you will usually get an answer that is based on emotion or a good/bad experience with some aspect of the products or services that they offer. You could also get an answer that is based on how the brand acts (I like them because they support some cause, or do not like them because they support something I do not agree with…)
If you search the web, you can find a few definitions of BRAND that fall somewhere between an interesting Wikipedia definition and the Merriam-Webster definition below. of a brand.
Wikipedia: “The term brand has been extended to mean a strategic personality for a product or company, so that ‘brand’ now suggests the values and promises that a consumer may perceive and buy into.”
Although those definitions do make sense, intuitively we all know those basics of a brand. Or in other words, we all know that basically a brand is what someone associates with your company. But what does it all mean? Or more specifically, what should you do about creating and managing a brand if you own a business/brand? (and we all do)
Brand development is the customer buzzword in marketing or consulting circles. There are at least 110,067 small agencies that want to come in and help you with your brand. They want to come and talk tactics with you about ad reach or content or your social efforts or your customer experience etc… Those are not your brand, those are aspects of your brand, but they are not your brand.
For 30 years I have been trying to explain building a brand to interested parties, and I have evolved that definition to this: There is no such thing as a brand. You cannot lay it on the table, you cannot draw a picture of it, you cannot photograph it. It is vapor. Something that is more than just a mere physical presence. A brand is what your customer thinks of when she hears your name, but it only exists in her mind.
My definition of a brand has become simply the following. A Brand = quality and validity of the product you produce + what you say about yourself/who you are (marketing) + the experience that a customer has where they interact with your product at purchase time/service time (retail). But, the formula only works when the customer is at the center of all of that. I represent this formula like this:
Right now you are saying to yourself “No it is not. It is something much more complicated than that.” Trust me, you can make it more complicated than that, but it does not have to be more complicated than that. Or you are saying, what about the Nike Swoosh (which just represents their brand)?
If you are building a good product, that is targeted to a customer that you know really well, that is where all of this has to start. Preferably, you are so close to the customer that you do not have to do a bunch of fancy research and focus groups to validate the product. Famously, Steve Jobs once said that he did not believe in a focus group or product development process. He just built products that he and small group of people in the company really wanted to have to solve their problems. That is the best definition of knowing your customer, because it basically says “be” your customer and you will know your customer. Build a product or service that solves a problem or makes something better for your targeted customer (which hopefully you are so close to that it is basically you), and that is the start of the solving the formula. Building a brand all starts with having really really good product.
Think of your marketing as not telling some story that has to be made up, but rather tells the story of who you are and why you are building the product that you build or service you deliver. Get involved with the community you are selling to. Become a part of that community, so that your values reflect those same communities values. In other words, don’t just fake it. If you do not want to be part of the community that you are selling to, then you have a core value problem. If you are part of the community, and are involved, you will not have a problem coming up with content to represent in your store, on your website and in your literature.
Lastly, do not assume that all of that will be positively and properly delivered at the time someone is purchasing your product or service, or when that product is being serviced. The easiest way to harm your brand is to just give up at the point of sale. If you are a retailer (online or brick and mortar), you cannot afford to not take ownership of the customer experience when someone is buying your products. It is not the wholesalers job to take care of the customer, it is your job as the retailer. If you think of yourself as a “dealer” of someone else’s brand, you will fail. There is no room for that kind of thinking in today’s tough retail world. When someone is shopping for a new item, they are also shopping for a place to buy that item and get it serviced. You are the owner of your brand, and that should not be just given over to a wholesalers brand. Remember, people can buy something anywhere they want, the only reason they will select you is either out of convenience, price or because you offer something more than another retail location does. (I do not know about you, but I would not want to battle Amazon or a big national retailer on price or convenience…)
If you are a wholesaler and are selling to a 3rd party retailer, you cannot afford to just hope the retailer represents your product correctly and manages the customer experience around your brand. You need to put into place the tools to help educate a retailer around your product and company. You need to look for ways to partner with your independent retailers in the ownership of that customer experience. As a wholesaler, I would be investing into an online learning management software package, and I would be investing into promoting a selling process that insures the customer experience, I would be investing in the tools to help your retailer communicate with that customer and I would be insisting that customer be in your ecosystem as well. Lastly, I would be investing in dealers that advocate a customer experience that lines up with what your brand promotes, and drawing a clear line in the sand for those that do not line up. It isn’t just the one sale that is at issue, the standing of your brand is at issue.
As an owner of a brand, ask yourself these questions.
- Do I make a product/service that solves a problem or opportunity I am intimately familiar with?
- Do I clearly communicate who I am and that what I offer will solve a problem or opportunity that I am close to?
- Am I truly part of the community that I am addressing with my product or service?
- Does the purchasing or servicing experience for the customer truly align with my values and does that purchasing or servicing experience enhance the customers experience with my brand?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you are well on the way to being the brand you would like to be. If you cannot answer yes to all of those questions, then you know what to focus on today. Tomorrow is too late.