Superficially, your brand seems like such a simple concept. It’s what your company stands for, right? It’s your ethos, personality, and culture, all rolled into one.
Actually, that’s wrong, but don’t feel too bad about the misconception. A brand is something that most marketing professionals, even C-suite executives, get wrong. The problem is that failing to understand your brand and connect the dots between it and your messaging can have detrimental effects for your customers and your company.
Traditional ambassadors of brand have become antiquated, despite the framework of “branding” being as rock solid as always – just check Google Trends, and you’ll see branding has ranked highly ever since Google has begun tracking searches – and yet many corporations are more excited to talk about the latest, greatest tools when they haven’t even resolved their own brand message and position.
It feels like only recently, after the “tech/coding/analytics” explosion we had, that branding is coming back to its proper focus.
As I mentioned in my talk at Inbound, Facebook and Google have confirmed that 80% of a campaign’s success is dependent on just one factor, and you might be surprised by the answer:
The right message accounts for 80% of a campaign’s success. A company without a brand or brand message simply cannot succeed.
The Personalization and Marketing Disconnect
As our notion of what “brand” means continues to evolve, the need to personalize brand-building collateral becomes more and more paramount.
This is visible in a wide range of tactics, but many brands struggle to connect the dots between their “brand” and their message. Personalization requires more than just “getting personal” with your audience, and a significant number of companies fail to realize this.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI), as well as savvy decisions regarding the use of technology within branding activities, such as using geo-targeting, watching customer journeys, and making personal recommendations, all give you a false sense that they will take care of things for your business, when in reality, the customer needs to be fed a richly layered brand message in order to work.
In addition to most brands’ inability to get personalization right, brands frequently struggle to distinguish between marketing and branding. They are not the same, and if they are treated as though they’re interchangeable, the consequences for a business could be dire.
Marketing and branding are inextricably linked, and, often, brand-building activities and marketing actions will blur into one another.
When creating something as complex as, for example, an AR/VR experience, a company's brand is going to become more important than ever when you try to contain what that experience should be about. Those answers won’t come from the organization’s direction or sales goals but rather from the users and a brand in sync with the organization’s direction.
The Evolution of Brand
Although it’s tempting to think that a “brand” has always been used to set companies or competing products apart from one another, that is not the case.
The concept of a brand actually originated as marks used to declare ownership of cattle. However, this brand as object mentality has eroded and evolved into something new. In fact, there are several competing visions of what brand is, can be, and should be and how that can be measured.
Brand as Customer Experience
Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of a brand is the fact that it does not differ from customer experience. They are inextricably linked to one another, and any attempt to treat them as separate will tarnish your image and drive a wedge between your company and your target audience.
Let me dive into one example of Subway, which I had the pleasure of working with on some TV advertisements I produced for the company.
I was at a Subway near Santa Cruz, Calif., and here is what transpired when I walked into the store:
A friendly sandwich artist greeted me, and then the entire brand of Subway fell on me like a ton of bricks when I asked the “sandwich artist” just one simple question:
“What else does the turkey, bacon, guacamole come with?”
His response is when everything came together for me:
- A: “Whatever you want.”
- Q: “No, I mean what is the actual recipe for the sandwich?”
- A: “There isn’t one.”
- Q: (Is he slacking?) “I mean ... What does corporate say it should be?”
- A: “We make it however you want.”
- Q: “Ok, then how do you know when to stop?”
- A: “When you tell me to.”
I was seeking boundaries for my sandwich and found none. I quickly realized the employee was staying true to the Subway brand: You can have your sandwich any way you like.
Now look at Subway’s logo:
The arrows on the “S” and “Y” point in opposite directions. This signifies that Subway points in whatever direction the customer wants to go.
The point of view is from the user: You are in control.
It’s not just a cute logo; it has depth and is applied by its customer-facing operations to help reinforce its message.
That is brand.
This experience should help you better understand what a brand is. It’s not just logos, colors, and design but rather all that, plus a whole lot more.
A solid brand can and should resonate all the way down to the last person on the totem pole as it does at Subway.
Subway’s brand empowered an employee to step up and execute the brand experience with a little training and nail it, despite possibly having minimal experience or skills.
A well-designed brand helps your entire team get in alignment, so the brand becomes “bulletproof” because all members can clearly execute their role within its mission.
“A well-designed brand helps your entire team get in alignment, so the brand becomes ‘bulletproof’ because all members can clearly execute their role within its mission.”
The Subway employee was executing brand ambassadorship.
His polite, elegant demeanor and the brand story he was part of was such a highly tuned machine that he probably had no idea how he participated in my experience. He was just following the protocol, as he was probably trained to do, which was set long before he was hired – and it worked like a charm.
Is your brand even close to an experience like this one? Don’t worry, most brands are not. I seldom see this level of branding once you move away from Fortune 500s.
But what if I told you that you could have this without needing to be that big? This 25-point checklist to help increase leads would be a great first step to get you there if you are interested.
Branding at this level is exponentially greater and produces just as much ROI as any direct marketing or sales efforts do. But the reason it is often neglected is because brand efforts often lack clear and “instant proof,” which can be hard to explain to your CEO. Most brand builders “don’t do data.” So, you will need a branding person who understands how to dig into data and synthesize that sea of insights into a clear, creative message that will hit your business goals.
Here is a quick view of the results when Fortune 500 branding principals are applied to a small, growing company:
Branding isn’t just for Fortune 500 companies. Small companies can have a successful brand, too.
It translates to rapid growth, clear actionable learnings and overall success.
Consider a handful of other examples to illuminate this concept.
Apple’s brand ties directly into the company’s customer experience – polished, refined, yet highly capable.
Look to GoPro as another example – the company routinely turns its customers into walking advertisements simply because it realizes its brand is its customer experience.
Other companies establish a successful brand with corporate social responsibility, such as Tesla’s eco-friendly cars, which customers feel good about driving.
Brand as Relationship
As you can see from my Subway example above, brand can also be seen as a relationship. Brands are not objects; they are not abstract concepts.
The idea of brand as a relationship ties directly into brand as customer experience – the experience and how your product affects your customer’s daily life is the relationship.
Essentially, your brand can be summed up as the whole of a customer’s experience with your product or service, your employees, and other elements of the business. The brand becomes part of the customer’s life in a way that transcends the antiquated notion of a brand living in consumers’ minds.
A brand that doesn’t incorporate good customer experience is pointless.
Changing Your Brand: Is It Necessary?
Although many businesses struggle to connect their brand with their message, sometimes the disconnect is so severe that corrective measures must be taken.
Rebranding provides the opportunity to walk back mistakes made in product or service positioning as well as to better define the company’s offerings in terms of its relationship with customers or users and customer experience.
Many instances could lead to a need for rebranding or at least a brand refresh, but some of the most common include an influx of new competition that leads to lost traction with a brand’s core audience; a new target audience based on shifting consumer tastes and trends; and the introduction of new industry standards through government regulation or competitor actions.
If rebranding is necessary, it is incumbent on business owners and decision-makers to remain abreast of current best practices and marketing techniques in order to reach their audience.
Any marketing or branding strategy must include video in order to stay competitive or even relevant, but those videos, sales tools, etc. all need the perfectly positioned message before you even build out anything.
If rebranding does become necessary, it is essential for decision-makers to take informed action based on specific metrics.
First, define the goals of the rebranding. Why is it necessary? What are the drivers affecting your existing branding? What specific outcomes are you seeking? Define your goals and the KPIs for measuring success and developing a rebranding strategy.
Common examples of goals include:
- Increased relevance with the core audience
- Outreach and resonance with a new audience
- Responding to new standards affecting industry landscape
Do you want to be more relevant to your current audience? Do you need to find a way to resonate with a new audience? Are new standards affecting the landscape in your industry? How will you measure progress toward those goals and track ROI?
In addition to goal-setting, it is vital to determine how progress will be measured and ROI will be tracked.
Scrutinize the marketing strategy, as a company’s marketing efforts may be ignoring an important source of visibility and customer engagement by focusing exclusively on outbound marketing without inbound strategies.
Long-Term Planning for Brand Success
A successful brand is both an active part of customer lives and a series of positive interactions with those customers. That elasticity means that brands can change and evolve over time, but limited vision and short-term planning can offset that capability.
Set both short- and long-term goals to bolster success before launching a newly revamped brand.
Most importantly, remember that branding is the opposite of automation. You cannot put branding efforts on autopilot.
It is a bigger strategic lever that forms the foundation of an entire business, but branding can also integrate with backend buckets, too.
Even after launch, a good brand strategy is an iterative, ongoing process, and the impact of your message is a good indication of how optimized you are or not.