Branding 101: It’s About Perceived Value and Distinctiveness
Branding is one of those words like “justice” or “equality”—it means something different to just about everyone, so much so that some people begin to wonder if it means anything at all. Well, it does mean something, something very important.
Branding is the reason you see “Nike” and immediately think “quality athletic products.” Branding is the reason people will spend more for Coke or Bayer Aspirin than they will for non-brand alternatives. Branding is the way you show customers your product is valuable and distinctive.
At its core, branding is an understanding, a promise you make to your customers that your product is special and different from other products like it. That promise involves an assertion of who you are and what people can expect from you.
In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was branded as an agent of change; John McCain was branded as the maverick. Obama was elected and, after six years in office, his approval rating is teetering around the 40% mark—some would argue because not much has changed in Washington, in other words, because he hasn’t delivered on his brand.
Branding is grounded in symbolic language, in instantly recognizable iconography—a logo. Your logo is the very foundation of your brand (you don’t have to hear “Nike” to recognize Nike—you just have to see that pervasive, cursive slash mark), and upon that foundation, your brand is built and extended, through web materials, packaging concepts and marketing strategy.
Every time you pay your monthly home mortgage, you add equity, value to your most important asset. Every time you successfully market your brand, you add equity to it. How much your product is worth is subjective, a function of what people believe about it—this is the essence of brand strategy, a strategy communicated through advertising, distribution, packaging, your website, social media and more. Brand strategy to be effective must be unwavering and consistent.
Just Love that Gecko!
Who would have guessed a dozen years ago that the way to sell insurance was by making it funny? Isn’t insurance supposed to be serious business? Well, it was, until Geico showed up with that genius branding strategy. Suddenly, everyone else is doing the same thing, and for a very good reason--because branding isn’t about logic—it’s about emotion.
People might justify their buying decisions with logic, but they make their buying decisions based on emotion. You might tell people you bought a certain car brand because of great gas mileage, but the truth is, you probably bought it because you were buying into carefully branded messaging, like financial success, making your neighbors envious and living the good life.
How to Define and Build Your Brand
Here are some quick tips to get your branding strategy started:
- Define It: Start with an objective assessment of your product’s benefits and features. Then, do some research to find out what your customers currently think about it. Finally, write down what you want them to think about it. Now you have your goal.
- Create a Logo and a Tagline: You want a cool graphic that is related to your product, memorable and instantly recognizable. You’ll probably want to get some help from professionals who do this for a living. You also need a tagline that connects effortlessly with your logo—again, Nike has a great logo, but also a great, well-connected tagline (“just do it”).
- Create Your Messaging: What are the 3 or 4 messages you want to consistently deliver? Keep them concise and clear, and include them in every communication.
- Make it Pervasive: Your logo needs to appear everywhere, and your messaging needs to be included through every marketing channel.
- Define a Voice: Your narrative voice is simply the way you communicate. It can be formal or funny, conservative or edgy. Above all, it has to be consistent.
- Deliver on Your Promises: Simple rule, don’t make promises you can’t keep because your customers will hold you to them. If you’re an agent of change, you better make some changes.
Branding might seem like something that’s just for the big guys, but the fact is that every business, including every small business, needs to know what it stands for and communicate that clearly and consistently to its customers. If you do, you’ll have a successful brand and reap its financial rewards for years to come.