The List of Brands in your Head
When most of us think about a brand we think of the major product or service companies. Write down the first 10 brands that come into your head. These will be a mixture of brands we have selected or use regularly, they could be:
- mobile operators
- insurance companies
- computer manufacturers
The chances are though that in that list of 10 there are a few aspirational brands, things you have placed in a subconscious list for the time when you can afford to treat yourself. These are typically luxury brands which are ‘wants’ not ‘needs’, the test is if you had to write a business case for their purchase the reviewers would suggest something cheaper that does the same job, these might be:
- Shoes and clothes
- leather goods, bags and wallets
- high end watches
- jewellery of any kind
- sports cars
These are our personal and family lists but we also have similar lists in our heads for the companies and suppliers we deal with.
The point of this exercise is that whether or not its a brand you use or aspire to you will know a great deal about it. You will be familiar with the logo and products, perhaps the latest advertising in print or video but a brand is much more than what we see printed on the pages of a newspaper, online or a magazine. There is definitely a ‘head’ dimension, something subliminal that occupies part of your brain and makes you either satisfied with the brand if its one you use or aspire to it if its one you don’t yet.
Company Brand Strategy
All businesses should manage their brand and furthermore the perspective of many company boards that the brand is just a logo and advertising should be banished! The company’s brand strategy must be to make their brand, in both visual and emotional forms occupy a slot in the list of brands in their customers heads.
Remember customer loyalty schemes? This is a marketing attempt to sustain repeat business by hooking the customer onto a low value benefit such as a loyalty card whereby if you have 15 cups of coffee from the same shop you get a free one? Who really falls for this these days? We go to the same coffee shop either because it’s the only convenient one or because they serve great coffee and give excellent customer service.
There is a renewed acknowledgment in business today, perhaps born out of the more challenging markets many businesses find themselves in, that customer centricity and the customer experience is the most important way to get repeat business. Great service will drive a positive reputation which will sustain business from loyal customers. This is fine if you want to retain the same set of loyal customers plus a few referrals but what about ‘growth’?
Somehow your product and service has to be subliminally linked to your visual identity to form a set of brand values and if these brand values correlate well with the customers own values then you are in line to be in their subconscious lists and the important thing to remember is the list is made up of products and services that they already buy plus those that they would like to buy i.e. your business growth targets.
So the brand strategy needs to consist of:
- Strong, relevant and congruent visual and audio cues, logos, colourways (by congruent I mean they have to relate to your product or service)
- A set of Brand Values that will correlate well with your existing and prospective customer base
- How, where and what you communicate, what is the voice of your brand, serious, zany or sexy?
- Relevant distributions channels
A successful brand strategy will cost your business money to implement but it will also generate brand equity and some companies value this on their balance sheets. After all, the result of brand investment may not be as tangible as a new building or piece of equipment, but the investment and return on that investment can be measured in the same way.
If your brand equity is good you will end up being able to charge a premium because the demand will still be there.
Company Reports & Strategy Documents
All this aside it is unusual to find brand and identity taking centre stage in company reports or strategy documents and yet it is the single most important key to growth if everything else is already in place.
The brand and identity deliver value to the business by delivering new customers and retaining old ones.
When Branding Goes Wrong
We can all think of examples where a change of branding or a change of product placement has had disaterous results on businesses. In most cases once the business realises what it has done it makes a U-turn. How many of these do you remember?
- 1985 New Coke – U Turn
- Pepsi brings you back to life – didn’t go down well in China
- Pizza Hut and The Hut – U-Turn
- London 2012 Olympics – Ok they stayed with it but it was badly received
- Apple Maps replaced Google Maps on the iPhone – underdeveloped app
- Gap new logo in 2010 – U-Turn after 2 days
The thing is these are all classic examples of the companies believing that they were just updating a logo when in fact they were risking de-linking their brand from the subliminal list in their customers heads.
Reputation and Brand
Your company’s reputation is a result of how your customer’s feel about what your products or services do for them. So they own it and you can influence it.
By contrast your company’s brand is yours to own to control as seen by the faux pas above, it is the job of your brand management team to ensure your reputation and brand are consistent and reinforce each other.
Ok, lets assume that your brand strategy is in place and your brand values are strong, your reputation is good, customer loyalty is real and not bought by a crass loyalty scheme. So all is good?
Unfortunately no there is one more thing that can derail it all. Your People. Elsewhere in this blog I have written that ‘People Make your business Succeed’ and this is something that you must not forget in this context.
Your people need to be 150% behind your brand and the brand values, if they are not they will systematically degrade the performance of your business.
If your business has a strategy, you have to engage your people to enact it. In the same way you must communicate your brand values to your people, make them proud to be a part of your business, make them enthusiastic ambassadors for your brand and business and the rest will follow.
10 Pointers to help your brand succeed
- Get the basics right in your business first, a less than solid foundation will make it impossible to build a brand
- Customer experience must be paramount and all processes must contribute to it in some way
- Ensure your logo, colourways, audio cues, marketing is consistent with the market you are trading in. Colour is important. Look at IBM, look at Vodafone.
- Remember you don’t own your reputation you cant directly control it, it comes from the minds of your customers
- Remember you are in control of your brand and marketing materials and where and how you advertise
- Don’t change a logo or branding for corporate consistency or to update it without considering the consequence to your subliminal linkage
- A brand equity can give dramatic business results from the ability to premium price
- Develop your brand values and ensure they correlate to your target customers
- Consider the voice of your brand, think of Jony Ive Apples VP of Design who has become their calm soothing voice http://www.apple.com/iphone-5c/videos/#video-product
- Ensure your people understand your business and brand strategies and that they are bought in.