What do you think of, when someone mentions the word, “Brand”?
So much editorial on the subject centers around comparatively superficial elements like logo, visual identity, color scheme, typography, ad campaigns, and so on. To be sure, these aren’t unimportant. But they’re not a brand. They’re articulations of your brand. This is branding, with a lowercase b.
Brands are defined by how they behave. Because modern marketers understand that a brand isn’t what we tell consumers it is; it’s how they perceive it. And they perceive all facets of behavior, not just what we say they should perceive.
Strong brands express a point of view on the world. They stand for something.
For example, in an industry dominated by long-established and entrenched brands, Away established a foothold in luggage by delivering strong price:value with their stylish products, while advocating a love of travel among a generation and consumer that prioritized experiences over possessions. They stood for something emotional, while delivering upon the functional requirements for that type of purchase.
Strong brands are also built around a purpose, ideally one that hasn’t been retrofitted after the fact. Method cleaning products all fit a brand purpose of providing environmentally-conscious, thoughtful and aesthetically appealing solutions to everyday needs for which there are dozens of options. Everything from their packaging, to their messaging, to how they make their products delivers on this purpose. Most of their competitors don’t even engage in these conversations.
Strong brands make a mark on advocates who would care if their favorite brands weren’t around tomorrow. To highlight what Burger King already knew about its most important customers, they created the “Whopper Freakout” campaign, in which hidden video captured the reactions of customers who attempted to order the flagship sandwich, only to be told it was no longer offered by Burger King. To put it lightly, they freaked out, in disbelief that the iconic sandwich could have been taken off the menu.
If your most important customers would just shrug and head to the next competitor if they heard you weren’t there tomorrow, you’re selling an easily replaceable commodity, or something close to it. That’s a shaky place to be.
Stand for something that matters to you and your organization. And figure out how to define the customers for whom that’s really important.
That goes way beyond demographic information like household income (HHI), geography, gender, age, education and so on. It’s smarter than “moms who like to dress their kids stylishly.” It encompasses beliefs, needs, desires, behaviors and attitudes. If you don’t have a good description of your most important customers that includes these components, it’s worth figuring that out. We’ll save a deep dive on getting to that for another blog post!
Make sure your brand is meaningfully, sustainably different from the competition. Have a plan for how that will evolve over time to make it impossible for competitors to keep up, even if they’re great imitators.
What does this look like in practice? It’s a lot sharper than a generic mission statement or fluffy vision into which one could easily substitute a competitor’s name. More importantly, it’s hard to act against a mission statement – even well done, it generally defines an aspiration but not the path to get there or the guardrails for how your organization will do it differently.
I’m going to close with 7 tenets that comprise behavior for actualizing a brand. The power behind this approach is that it is a democratic, enabling approach that is not just the purview of the marketing department but easily brought to life by anyone in the company. It is shared beyond the marketing team and executive leadership so that everyone understands how to govern their behaviors in a way that reinforces the brand.
Because strong brands don’t come from strong marketing teams – they come from a strong way of being that is delivered consistently by everyone in the company.
Your brand’s defining AMBITION. What do you want to be? How would you describe your brand’s sense of self and purpose? This is not about “personality,” but about vision and where you want to go. Think in terms of the headline you want to be written about your brand 5 years from now.
What MOTIVATES your brand. Beyond the drive to make a profit, why was the company started? What problem was it built to solve, that someone believed could be done better by that brand than anyone else? And for whom? This is at least as important as the ambition itself.
How your brand CONDUCTs itself, if done coherently, paints and reinforces a clear portrait of the role your brand aspires to play in the world, and how it goes about doing that. This is the closest to what many would define as personality, but it’s more about how that personality translates to action.
How your people approach their work – your METHOD. This isn’t about how you deliver experiences – it’s about how your organization goes about creating, building, and delivering what are hopefully unique experiences.
Defining the [My Brand] EXPERIENCE. Beyond rational and pragmatic considerations, desire and demand are driven by an expectation, anticipation, and ultimately fulfillment of a particular kind of experience. At their best, iconic brands are identified with an experience that only they can provide in ways in which only they can deliver.
Your brand’s RELATIONSHIP with the world. Every time a customer involves emotion in a purchase decision – beyond price and commoditized factors, it is a highly personal decision. What is your brand doing to navigate the balance between larger-than-life and an intimate sense of “my brand” for your customers?
Your sense of RESPONSIBILITY. Every great brand seeks to build its social capital by behaving in ways that engender trust and respect. This duty to employees, communities, shareholders, partners and customers is at the core of a brand’s pride of association.
So there you have it. If you can define these seven tenets in everyday language, convey them broadly through the organization, and empower people to live up to those behaviors and raise their hand when they’re being asked to act at odds with them, you’ll be on your way to becoming a strong brand.
It’s likely that many of these ideals exist in the minds of some people within the organization already – unlocking that magic box can unleash that power throughout your organization. And if you step back and realize you don’t have answers to these ideas, it’s good to sit down with your trusted employees and articulate them. We’re always happy to help facilitate that as well…