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, its 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.