The brand’s not important

I’ve read a fair few books on Marketing and Branding and also taken part in some discussions within LinkedIn about what a brand is, what makes a strong brand, etc.  What I’ve noticed (and I’m sure I’m not the first) is that marketing professionals have largely diverse understandings of what a brand is and therefore the discipline of branding.

If you look in Amazon, you have a total of 17,522 books about brands and branding.  I’ve not gone through them all (nor do I wish to) but I would bet that they present c.9,000 differing (and often contradictory) views on the matter.

Below are some of the proposed definitions for what a brand is:

“A brand is the living personalization of the culture and the emotions that a company builds into its products and services.”

“A Brand is the Face value of the Company.”

“A brand is nothing but promise delivered.”

“A brand is both the sum total of perceptions people have of a named entity (company, product/service, country, person, etc) as well as the economic value of these perceptions.”

All valid views but, I hope you would agree, diverse. Some believe it is an intrinsic ‘gut feeling’ about a company/product, others talk about the economic value.  Some think it is a controllable aspect, others feel it is something that is in the eye of the beholder.  The issue is that there is not a consistent understanding and definition making it difficult to compare apples with apples when quantifying and qualifying success.

Out of all the above, the last one is the one that more closely matches my own view.  To me a brand is not something you build but rather it is something that people (staff, customers, prospects, etc) attribute to your company/product as a results of their interactions with it – be that a phone call, a store visit, an invoice or a product purchase.  Brand managers need to understand and acknowledge that they are not in control of their brand.  They can try to influence perceptions but ultimately it is out of their hands.

Whilst I don’t believe ‘value’ enters the equation when talking about the definition of a brand, ‘brand value’ is absolutely vital to a business.  As the book Ad Contrarian states ‘The first order of business is to sell something to someone.”. The value people place on your product/service will determine (a) how much they are willing to pay, (b) how often and (c) how susceptible they are to be swayed by competitors with better availability, better price, or better innovation.

For example, my perception of an Aston Martin or Porsche is that they’re both high quality vehicles with great design.  However, I will never contribute to their P&L.  If everyone in the world was like me, neither of these companies would be in business as they would never have sold anything.

So the key for any business is to develop brand value – i.e.  maximise people’s relationship with the brand by ensuring it is as much intrinsic as transactional.  How can companies do this?   Assuming someone has never heard of you, it should go something a little like this:

  1. Get them to buy your product – through incentives/promotions, product advertising etc.  Get them to change their behaviour from buying a competitor to buying you.
  2. Delight them in the product experience – both in terms of quality and/or service. Be honest about what they should expect from your product/service – i.e. don’t lie to them because they will know straight away when they try the product and you’ve then lost them
  3. Expand that positive image you’ve started to build up through further promotions, online etc
  4. Reward them for coming back – it costs you relatively little and it is more profitable.
  5. Sell them something else.  Now that they have a view of what you are about, tell them something that they didn’t know you did that is of value to them.  If you make soap, tell them you also make hand cream.  If they’re businesspeople and you’re a hotel, tell them you have a new express check-in at a hotel where they may never have stayed but should try

The key is ensuring that all your touchpoints are geared towards getting customers to try/buy, to buy more and to buy more often.

I thought I’d end this post with some of the highlight quotes from Ad Contrarian book, which I’ve just finished reading and thought were interesting enough to share:

(on branding) “It’s the Dennis Rodman school of Marketing: if you don’t have a personality, get some tattoos.”

“You want a strong brand? Quit branding. A strong brand is a by-product. It comes from doing a lot of other things right.”

“the thing that is all the rage is often being oversold and undermeasured.”

“there is nothing stupider than the people who had the job before we did.”

“the hard part of solving marketing problems is not getting more information – it’s figuring out the meaning of the information we already have.”

“We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand; we get them to love our brand by convincing them to try out product.”

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