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Branding – the Most Misunderstood Idea in Marketing

One of the most misunderstood marketing concepts on earth is branding. Ask 10 people what a brand is and you’ll get 10 different answers – it’s a name, a company or entity, it’s a logo, a consistent look and feel, it’s a culture, it’s differentiators, and on and on. We know that customers buy certain brands and don’t buy others and we want the former and not the latter, and yet without knowing what a brand is, there’s no way to make that happen.

The fact is that a brand is none of the above – and all of them.

Here’s what a brand really is:

If I go out to a group of your customers and/or potential customers and I say your name or show them your product, the thoughts, feelings and expectations that arise in the minds and hearts of those customers ARE your brand. Thoughts, feelings, and expectations.

So that’s why so many companies misunderstand branding. We don’t own our brands. Our customers do. And our brand is what those customers say it is – even if we don’t like what they think, feel and expect.

That’s also why its so hard to change a brand. It explains why popular brands hang on long after their products go downhill, and why better mousetraps don’t always prevail against well established brands – at least not right away. It’s hard to change people’s minds, hearts, and expectations. Really hard, as any sales person knows who’s heard a prospect say, “Sorry. We always buy (insert competitor’s name).”

But how do brands get developed? By interaction. By every touch between a company/entity and its customers. These interactions may be direct from company to customer like through the product experience or the advertising campaign, or indirectly by word of mouth. And – this is important – brands are formed not just through the interactions we would prefer the customers notice, but by everything! That’s why a company that spent tons of money advertising “free shipping – game changer” can lose customers when they charge triple for returns. They violated the expensively cultivated customer expectation that this was a customer-oriented company.

So “branding” can’t be just something that occurs in a tagline or this season’s ad campaign. It has to pervade every interaction between entity and customer.

Write down 10 things that you want every customer to think, feel, and expect when they see your name or consider your product. Make sure every employee worldwide understands those things and every communication represents at least a few of them.

With complete consistency, a positive brand is the most powerful tool in marketing because it leads to brand preference and “we always buy (insert your company name)”.

Blogging and Getting Your Teeth Drilled

The first time a person writes a blog it’s all excitement and self-expression. By the fifth blog, they’d rather go to the dentist. Blogs are vicious task masters. Because they’re way bigger than a tweet or a Facebook post, we figure each one has to be brilliant, insightful and original. Unlike a one-time magazine article, the blog sits there waiting for you to add to it! Combine these two things and you have a serious case of chronic stress.

Since blogs are so challenging, why do it? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Blogs can make you a subject matter expert – unlike magazine articles where you are required to follow intense editorial rules and requirements, blogs let you be expert, intelligent, and helpful in small bites and in your own voice. Have an opinion? You can voice it. Want to point to your own product as the solution to a problem? You’re allowed.
  2. Blogs are beloved by search engines – they help keep you in front of your customer.
  3. Blogs are social media – despite their potential to enhance expertise, they can be personal and informal in tone. They encourage conversation.
  4. Blogs allow dialog – readers can comment, ask questions and interact. This will happen most if you prompt those questions. Interaction builds brands.
  5. Blogs give a personality to your website – a visitor may read all the product descriptions and “Who we are” sections in the world, but if they want to know what you believe and know, they’ll sample your blog.

So there are lots of pros to blogging. That doesn’t erase the cons. Who has time to do it? That’s where a content expert (like Strategies) comes in! Establish a partnership with a content provider that can dive deep into your company’s markets, products, services, technology and culture, then turn the content provider loose on producing a steady flow of blogs. Yes, you have to check them for accuracy, but with the right partner, that will become a small job. You get the benefits of blogging – and none of the pain of the dentist drill.

Never Sell Any Customer Anything. And Succeed!

Have you ever said, “That salesperson really saw me coming. He wasn’t letting me out of there until I bought.” All of us feel that we’ve been sold something in our lives that we didn’t need or think we wanted. We think we’ve been persuaded to buy. That idea, in turn, influences our thoughts about what sales is and how it works.

In fact, none of us – no customer – ever buys anything that they’re not ready to buy. The reason is simple. If we’re not ready to buy something on some level, we don’t notice it. Among the millions of messages bombarding us at every second, a message for which we have no use doesn’t get through. So while we may later regret buying something, we were in fact ready to buy it.

This vital point is essential in understanding the role of marketing. It is not the job of marketing to sell. It’s the job of marketing to create an environment in which sales can occur by making sure that your product or company comes to mind at the moment that the buyer is ready to buy. This can be accomplished by making your message so compelling that it lingers in the back of the mind until the moment of need arises. Or, marketing can simply make your message so ubiquitous that the buyer sees it when they’re ready to make a decision.

You can argue that you remember the AFLAC duck even though you’d never buy the product. No, you like humor and funny animals. That’s what you bought. But if you ever need that kind of insurance or have to recommend to a friend, guess who will come to mind?

If we can get out of our minds that it’s our job to “make” people buy stuff, then we can let marketing do the job for which it was conceived.

Social Media – Are You Really Engaged?

Everyone talks about social media engagement. They describe it in terms of metrics. How many people liked, shared, replied, or otherwise responded to a given post? It’s important to track these metrics, but the truth about social engagement, is right there in its name – engagement. You don’t get engaged to someone who treats you like a number. Here are some thoughts on social media engagement –

  • Many people parrot the idea that “social media is social.” That statement is very misleading. It makes companies shy away from social media as a critical tool in their communications program thinking it’s really for people taking pictures of their dinner, or their dog. But social media isn’t social. It’s personal, and personally is how products and services get sold. This is especially important as many potential customers live in remote areas of the world and social media provides them with a way to reach out and touch a brand’s representative in a very personal way.
  • Customers want to interact with the brands they value. A few customers may have sales people who cater to their particular needs, but for the most part they’re the lucky minority. Social media provides customers with a ready channel for interaction – questions, ideas, complaints, praise. And being there as a company in a responsive, meaningful manner has long-lasting effects! It’s not about chalking that question up to a metric. It’s about creating a happy, satisfied customer or interested consumer. Any interaction is an opportunity to solve a problem, demonstrate expertise, create trust, and become a preferred source. How you solve the problem is more important that the number of questions a post generates. Solve one problem well – and you’ll earn more.
  • How “engagement” is handled after its received is the key question. Yes, great posts tend to generate more interactions, but if no one with real knowledge and expertise responds to a question or comment for a couple days (or never), guess who will engage next time? No one. It’s amazing how many social programs end at collecting the respondents name and email, rather than making the reply even more exciting and satisfying than the post.
  • You have to romance your prospect before you get engaged. Expecting someone to see one good post and leap on your company’s bandwagon is unrealistic. Post regularly with interesting, challenging content that people actually want (we’re talking product, technology, delivery, service, solutions – not dogs. Well, sometimes dogs!). Reply, respond, and solve every interaction you’re fortunate enough to receive. Your followers will see those responses and come to learn that your social channels are great places to meet you and get their problems solved.
  • Don’t succumb to fear. Companies get so spooked about the necessary speed of interaction on social media, they pull back, over-analyze, over-approve and consequently, miss the interactive nature of engagement on social media. No company has ever approved or controlled all the questions and answers in a sales channel or support call. It’s more important to respond quickly than to be perfect.

Social media engagement is like your sales channel and call-in support center together, but faster, more cost effective at times, and more accessible to customers, prospects, and those who might someday be both. It’s a vast person-to-person interaction the likes of which we’ve never had. Yes, measure the heck out of it, but don’t overlook the actual opportunity in front of you. It’s time to get engaged.