Tuesday, November 4, 2008

To Brand or Not to Brand?

“I don’t know what it is but I remember when me and my buddies used to drive them Yamahas we’d go out on the road for days and no one would ever look twice or stop to talk to us. But, ever since we started drivin’ Harley’s now it seems like at every truckstop or shopping mall, there is no shortage of folks who want to come up and start yakkin’ with us about our hogs”

Marketing and advertising people tend to casually sprinkle the words “brand” and “branding” in many conversations with business owners – without the listener clearly understanding the precise meaning of those terms. But if you ask well over a hundred different experts in the marketing and advertising arena, don’t be surprised if you hear well over a hundred different answers.

Just for fun, TSB decided to substantiate this theory with a Google search. Here are just a few of the thousands of definitions floating around in cyberspace.

“In a nutshell, branding is all about perception”.
"Branding is a way of helping non-knowledgeable customers make a low-risk buying decision for commodity product with little inherent differentiation".
"A brand is the most valuable real-estate in the world, a corner of the consumer's mind.
The intangible sum of a product's attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it's advertised".

Wikipedia reveals that “brand” is defined as: “a collection of experiences and associations attached to a company, product or service; specifically, concrete symbols such as a name, logo, and slogan and design scheme. A symbolic embodiment of all information connected to companies, products and services”

There you go. Clear as mud.

Isn’t it time to stop the insanity? Don’t we need clear understanding?

But, wait, there’s more!

Would you believe the Direct Marketing Association Website has nearly 30 definitions of branding?

Think about it in this context. How could any reasonable business owner be expected to cut a cheque, develop a brand strategy and implement a campaign if he or she doesn’t have a clear definition to work from? Clearly, “brand” and “branding” are terms that escape clarity for many of us.

This lack of clarity has created many misconceptions about the meaning of a single word – brand. Many people believe a “brand” is a product, something tangible you hold in your hand, drink, wear or place on your foot. Or that “branding” equals advertising or branding is marketing, and that it's the job of the marketing department. In our experience, only one definition stands above all others in terms of how it applies in the real world that any business operates in. And here we acknowledge the work of “The Branding Diva”, Karen Post, author of Brain Tattoos, for offering the following:

“A brand is a story, embedded in the mind of the market”

In our opinion, Karen's definition is THE one standing head and shoulders above the rest in terms of making most sense to business owners and other professionals, serious about growth. A “story” is an intangible. “Embedded” means the story sticks like glue in the brains of real people. And, the “market” could consist of anyone from paying customers to employees, suppliers or investors.

Why does this matter?

Just look up and down any grocery aisle and ask yourself what is different between national brands as opposed to the store and generic types. According to Harry Beckwith in his best-seller, Selling the Invisible, store and generic brands own about 7% of any market while name brands account for the other 93%. Name brands charge about 40% more for their products and services, spend less time and money attracting new business and in the case of Kraft Foods sell for about 8 times its book value. In other words, owning a brand equals competitive advantage; increased sales, market share and profitability.

Look at it this way:

Water is a commodity. It also happens to be FREE.

Water + Brand Name (Evian) = $1.50 / litre.

Water + Brand Name (Bling H2O endorsed by Paris Hilton) = $60.00 / bottle

Long before Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote their 1999 book, The Experience Economy, Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, Harley-Davidson was creating a drama and a dream for its thrill-seeking riders.

One H-D senior exec was once quoted as saying, “What we sell is the ability for a 43 year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him”. Harley-Davidson figured out long ago exactly what they were selling through its bikes and merchandise and precisely what its customers from middle-class family men to hell-raising outlaws were buying; becoming a character inside the drama of “riding the dream”, with absolute freedom of expression and freedom of the open road.

Whether we ride a Harley, sip on a Starbucks latte or comfort ourselves with a can of Campbell’s Chicken Soup, is it really the product we’re buying, or the feeling we get from using it? Great brands have discovered a way to seamlessly enter the conversation through the heart and soul of consumers and break through the advertising clutter by telling a better story. They relate to us at an almost primal level, marking their turf within our psyches.

It is this level of clarity that makes this type of advertising possible.

Once you have your story straight, so that it clearly stands for something a real customer would care about, only then can you Pass GO and digest the ideas of branding; the tangible process of creating and managing signals to transmit the brand idea. That little “ing” makes a big difference.

With “branding” think of tangible elements and activities a business does to communicate its story – everything from websites to washrooms; business cards to television and radio commercials; from wardrobe to the way the phone is answered. From that perspective, branding becomes everyone's job. Front of the house. Back of the house. Not just the guy who writes the ads.

If you're thinking your brand lacks traction, you may want to revisit your brand roots. Do an archaeological dig. What did your brand stand for originally? Why did it resonate with customers in the first place? What are its core values? Are they still relevant?

Some realities you should consider:

  • Brands are about feelings not facts.

  • Brands make people decide things.

  • Brands create differentiation.

  • Brands generate profit.

Every business or person has a brand. Either by accident or by design. Clearly, there is no “Get Out of Brand Free” card.

In the marketplace of the future, a compelling “story” will be the new currency and the ability of a brand to inspire its followers will become increasingly vital in the quest for mind and market share. When that “story” becomes embedded as a covenant with consumers,supported by an organization that can deliver on a brand promise with integrity, you are on a fast-track to occupying and monopolizing a most favorable position in your market.

Clearly, your brand is not part of the business, it is the business. And since every brand is a story and all the world’s a stage, do you have a story worth sharing?

One that can build its own audience?

And leave that audience wanting more?

“This above all: to thine own self be true” WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE



Darren said...

Nothing remarkable can possibly happen before there's BELIEF - behaviours won't change, processes and information won't get leveraged to their potential - and in the end the results won't be there.

It all starts with BELIEF --- on the inside first.

Dan G said...


Your posting gave me shivers.

Dan G said...

Excellent posting this morning. People should start sending you checks in the mail after they read this shit... it's hot and extremely valuable.