Renae Cleberg Krause
What you don't know could be hurting yours
Brand is a popular topic and plenty of people have plenty of opinions about it. But what does "brand" mean for you? Let's start by admitting there's a lot of bad information out there and that makes it more complicated than it should be, not to mention the fact that many people throw the term "brand" around without really understanding it.
So here's some insight you can actually use, presented as a short list of five simple myths about brand:
Myth #1 — Brand is a name or logo
Those are certainly things a brand is associated with, basically the triggers for a brand, what identifies one brand from another. But to understand brand, we need to go deeper. A great explanation of brand comes from Marty Neumeier, who suggests brand is "a person's gut feeling about a product, service, organization or company." And that's an important distinction to make, especially when we consider Myth #2...
Myth #2 — You own your brand
Actually, no...and that is completely counter-intuitive. You might own a name or logo, plus a tagline, website content, etc., but the "gut feelings" people have to those things are uniquely theirs. You can't own that, and yet that is the essence of a brand. So what you CAN own are the elements that impact the experience people have with your physical location, product or service—and you should, because it's exactly what everyone else is using to develop their perception of your brand. From obvious things like quality and innovation to subtler items like showroom layout and design, website design and on-hold wait times, the elements that impact your brand are all around you.
Myth #3 — Branding is putting our name or logo on things
It's certainly a part of it, but only a small one. Want to know the biggest, baddest, most impactful way to build a successful brand? Ensure the customer's experience matches their expectation every time. Of course, knowing it and doing it are completely different challenges. But the fact is, Apple is known for innovation, Google is associated with results, and Amazon is trusted—not by accident, but because way more often than not, those brands have delighted people by delivering beyond expectation. What that takes is a positive experience consistently delivered, which builds trust, which in turn builds brand.
Myth #4 — Branding is the same as marketing
They are certainly related, but definitely not the same. Think of it this way: marketing is about delivering the message to your audience; branding is about delivering TO the message FOR your audience. In fact, an effective way to think about branding is "experience control"—all the work, effort, and strategy to ensure that what people experience is on target. That can be everything from how personnel greet customers at the counter to how quickly a problem is resolved with a customer. Consider that no matter how slick and new an airliner may be, the company logo sparkling on the bulkhead, that isn't the airline's brand; the surly flight attendant who snaps at you and messes up your drink order, for you, THAT is the brand. Ultimately, everything in the brand experience needs to deliver to a single message to build trust and preference.
Myth #5 — There's no such thing as bad press
This lazy approach to branding has seen some impressive names disappear over the years, even more so with the emergence of social media and the easy sharing of experiences. Today, unrestricted by any professional oversight, every blogger, every Yelp star, every Google "+1" is all potentially a part of what people think (and feel!) about your brand. And the worst thing to do when something negative is shared is to do nothing at all, hoping the problem will go away. It won't. So it's important to keep the experiences and the conversations focused on the positive.
So what does this mean for you and your brand? Well, awareness is the first (and biggest) step. Always consider your brand from the audience perspective; not by what you're doing, but by what they are experiencing. How easy is it to find things on your website? How accurate are your orders? When something is wrong, how quickly do you fix it? Those kinds of experiential things are just as important to your brand as any logo, slogan or print ad.
Knowing and understanding your customers' perspective is critical to building a brand experience that can meet the expectations of those customers who will build—and talk about—you and what you deliver. Think about it as a customer, then make sure your customer experience matches up to your brand.
Renae Gonner is a partner at ER Marketing in Kansas City, MO. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.