What is a brand and 5 ways to create instant impact.
Introducing the metaphor
Defining brand is almost like being asked to define yourself. Should you start with your title and achievements? Perhaps from there some history and then to share your dreams? Do you point at your body and say "Here, this is me. My body which holds a personality." Or the more philosophically minded may say "I am a work in progress."
It's elusive and every label we use, like our age, our marital status or our role is impermanent and therefore not who we really are. As a coach, I've come to recognise that we are the stories we tell ourselves and this has impact on the world around us. This impact creates either a connect or a disconnect with others.
Using the same metaphor, let's break this down a bit, using brand definitions from various sources as a way to illustrate the connection to brand.. Your job here is to read these quotes as if they are describing you. Here goes...
Who are you?
The business dictionary defines brand as, "A unique design, sign, symbol, word or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product." It goes on to say, "Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality and satisfaction in the consumer's mind"
Mmm, so what we're saying here is that if we look the part by wearing the right shoes, the designer jacket and keep our hair trimmed we eventually (over time) create credibility with people. What if who we are has nothing to do with how we dress? Perhaps our outward appearance is just an expression of our inner story? And what if credibility could be assured from the get-go?
Tech Target defines brand as "a product, service, or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services, or concepts so that it can be easily communicated and usually marketed."
Again, mmm. Still doesn't seem to hit the mark for me. This says that we are whatever distinguishes us from others. But what if what makes us unique isn't valuable or leaves a bad taste? We may loose friends or our job right?
Ok so David Ogilvy gets warmer with "The intangible sum of a product; its name, packaging and price, its history, its reputation and the way it is advertised."
This would mean, using our metaphor again, we are the sum of our name, what our bodies look like, how we dress, what we offer, where we're from, our reputation and how we communicate. The key word here is reputation but we're still not hot.
Ok so what is it then, who are we and therefore, what is a brand?
Marty Neumeier, author of All Things Brand gets to the crux by eliminating what a brand is not, “A brand is not a logo. A brand is not an identity. A brand is not a product.”
Loving this. Let's continue.
He goes on to say that “a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization."
Yes, Marty yes!
In his book, The Dictionary of Brand, brand is defined as “a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organization.”
Great! So going back to the metaphor of 'Who am I?', we are beyond our external labels, body and history. We are impact. We are whatever others experience us to be based on how we have made them feel. This is partly in our control by how we take responsibility to be, for example, kind, professional and valuable to others and partly on the story others already carry as a perception about 'people like us' and this we cannot control unless we choose to understand.
Et voila! This is brand.
Let's summarise as I am sure some of you are not sure where the metaphor ends (who am I really) and where brand starts. Good! This was the point. It is the same thing. A brand is the impact felt by your customers based partly on their conditioned perceptions (or stories) and based partly on what experience your brand chooses to leave behind. Simply put, how a brand chooses to engage, understand and add value to the market.
Where your brand does not know those internal stories of your customer, stories that are important to them. stories that drive their buying behaviour, you must set out to listen to them. These are the stories or perceptions that make or break the connection to your product.
A brand is NOT a logo, a product, graphic representation or its packaging. These elements, as important as they are, are expressions of the brand purpose and how it chooses to impact people. A brand's primary focus must always be the ultimate experience felt by the customer and to leave meaning and value.
"People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" - Simon Sinek
Going back to the original metaphor of defining yourself, we have to agree and it is well repeated that people remember how we make them feel. You can dress how you like, say all the right words, and have the right credentials but if they walk away feeling 'something just doesn't sit right with me', you're out.
It's all about the customer
So in walks Customer Experience and why this has now become so inextricably connected to brand value in our modern world. Is your business implementing UX (user experience), CX (customer experience) and user journey testing? How does your brand make people feel? Every business can succeed if their brand connects with customers (and employees) on a meaningful level.
How to kick-start a positive and impactful brand strategy:
Is your brand meaningful?
A brand will ignite greater impact when it has a powerful emotional connection to the customer. This creates meaning and stickability. A brand that’s meaningful is more compelling and more valuable than a brand that isn’t.
Is your brand empathetic?
Behind every UX and customer-centric methodology is empathy. Empathy is understanding your market at a deeper level and what drives them internally. What matters most to them? For a brand that wants to matter to people, there is no substitute for empathy.
Is your brand led by purpose?
According to Donald Miller, author of The Brand Story, every successful brand has a philosophical problem they are fulfilling for their customer. When people see that a brand stands for a higher cause, they pay attention. A purpose-led brand simply means supporting a higher value or purpose that all your customers share.
Is your brand consistent?
There is nothing that creates worse impact than a brand that doesn't deliver on their promise. This means consistency of orders, delivery, quality, service and everything in-between. Remember that a customer buys an experience so make sure this experience is consistent or better every time.
"Even the best brand strategy isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless you act on it. Brands are brought to life by behavior...details count. Big things count, little things count and everything in between counts." Tracy Lloyd
Is your brand authentic?
How many times have we read in the media about a failed brand after launching its product in a new market or country, without researching its relevance. Or the countless unprofessional and arrogant responses a brand sometimes provides a complaining customer. Authenticity means getting real and being honest, saying sorry when your business has messed up or advertising to meet the authentic needs of your customer.
Let's express this brand
Now for the fun, creative part. Once the brand meaning is clear it can be expressed beautifully in the form of a logo, graphic representations, clever campaigns and packaging. Creatives a-go!
But back to you, as the metaphor (Who am I really). Make sure you bring meaning and connect authentically to people around you. Let your dress sense, speech and offering then naturally align to the impact you desire to achieve. So if anyone ever asks you who you are, you now have the answer, "I am impact. I am what you choose to take away, based on your personal experience of me." Sounds like a great conversational piece at your next dinner party.
This is why brand agencies should never simply focus on the look & feel of a business. The reining king is always going to be the experience of the customer and how they percieve your business via development of brand meaning, its values, efficient user processes, clear messaging and internal culture.
Every element in the company must mirror this brand meaning and every task performed must be led by purpose. Whether we like it or not, customer experience takes its place on the throne and all else is built and created to maintain it's royal cheer.
Who is Simone Berger?
Founder of Univation, Simone Berger spent 15 years within the Entertainment Industry. She headed up or supported the marketing for well known brands such as SABC1, FOX, Dreamworks, Cell C Black and Kwesé.
Her main drive was to connect viewers to their most-loved shows. Utilising the seven-step formula of storytelling, Simone supports brands, across all industries, to cut through the noise, capture the attention of their customers and increase brand trust.
She's passionate about giving value, and always open to a coffee or chat. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 84 7778870.