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This above all to thine own brand be true...

(by Scott McKeel)

Branding” seems to be one of those “buzz-words” that gets thrown around a lot in the media and marketing. But exactly what is Branding? Is it a logo? A name or a slogan? A graphic design element or a color scheme?

Your brand is the entire experience your prospects and customers have when dealing with your company.

It’s what you stand for, a promise you make, and the personality you convey. And while it includes your logo, color palette and slogan, those are only creative elements that convey your brand. Instead, your brand lives in the day-to-day interaction you have with your market:

  • The images you convey
  • The messages you deliver on your website, proposals and sales materials
  • The way your employees interact with customers
  • A customer’s opinion of you versus your competition
  • The trust your customers have in the value you provide

There are many companies whose marketing and “branding” efforts are at odds with the reality of the experience their products and services provide. In today’s technology age where information is simply a mouse-click away, more and more often people do not blindly believe what marketing is telling them. We are turning to reviews, comments and discussions on blogs, forums, messages on Twitter and Facebook, and a gazillion different websites to find out about other peoples’ opinions and real experiences with a company’s product or service. If a company says something different about itself than what these other sources are saying, the trust we come to expect is broken, resulting in a bad brand for the company.

Branding is not something that you can “do”. Branding is something that develops over time. It is a side effect of the experiences your customers have with your products and services. Branding becomes important when somebody wants or needs to buy something and has a choice between your product and your competitor’s product. A brand is most powerful when someone feels a certain way when close to your product and this feeling causes them to buy yours. Many companies use a convenient symbol that can re-evoke that experience on demand. The only part that marketing has control over, is that symbol.

I am sure that you have heard of a Yugo. Most people think of it as a cheap piece of junk car. People’s emotional experience associated with the symbol (Yugo) was negative, and that has become their brand.  Could it have been saved by marketing?  Sometimes, a company can sell a piece of junk for a long time before people realize where that bitter aftertaste in their life is coming from. “Good times”, such as what we just came out of prior to today’s economic situation, buoyed this misperception of branding for a long time.

Marketing can not build your brand. It can drive people to try your products and services. But, it will not be able to convince your customers in the long run that your products and services are something other than what they experience.

Toyota recently recalled vehicles for defective braking and accelerators (now there’s a bad combo). Unless you’ve been lost in Antarctica or the Amazon jungle for the last several months, you heard about this. One of the reasons for this news spreading like wildfire is that this incident failed Toyota’s brand (Quality and Reliability), it broke our trust. At about the same time, Honda issued a large recall of their car models due to faulty air bags that might expand with too much pressure potentially leading to injury or death. The reaction to news coverage about Honda's recall was comparably minor to Toyota’s; simply because Honda’s marketing message is not focused heavily on reliability.  

To sum this up, put your money where your mouth is and evaluate your own brand.

  • Make sure you are delivering what your customers expect
  • Regularly ask them what they expect and how well you are doing
  • Does the answer match the marketing message you send out?
  • Is there a problem that you need to take care of (such as a quality issue)?
  • Do you need to change your message?

Be careful what you promise in your marketing messaging, if there is any chance that you may not always be able to deliver the promise, don’t promise it.


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