Can You Imagine a World Without Brands?
It would look a lot like the generic aisle in the supermarket, with everything in simple black and white package. No product differentiation. No clear signs of value. No hallmarks of trust.
- Which products would you buy if you want only the best? If you want value on a budget?
- How would you express personality if all the clothes, cars and houses looked alike?
- How would you differentiate your business?
Branding: The Language of Commerce
Branding is the a universal language. A brand tells us what to expect from a product or service and how to interact with the company that sells it. The brands we buy reflect our priorities, passions, and other deeply personal characteristics without saying a word. They help us identify like-minded people, create community, and define distinctions.
Brand attributes speak volumes about a product and its purchaser. A woman in Chanel is a completely different vision from one wearing leggings from Athleta or a casual dress from Target.
While the same woman may own all three, she’ll choose her attire on any given day based on who she’s seeing and what she’s doing.
Our choices about things like what to drive and where to dine reflect an individual’s personality and priorities. Fox example, take a look at these two lists and see what you think about each person:
Is one person more appealing or approachable than the other? Warmer? Friendlier? Smarter?
The opinions you formed just by reading about these basic brand attributes illustrate the power of branding. Whether you are a label-loving consumer or a die-hard minimalist, the gravitational pull of a strong brand is undeniable.
Purchase behavior is influenced by brand attributes that resonate with buyers’ values and aspirations, even tapping into subconscious motivations. Buyers use brands to affirm their self-image, signal belonging, and instill confidence.
Power and Promise
Knowing that people identify with some brands and not others makes it easier for you to craft a brand that attracts the kind of customers you want.
Start with an intimate understanding of who your customers are and how they see themselves, then use your marketing to highlight the brand attributes that most appeal to those buyers.
In addition to these attributes, use a clear “brand promise” to express what buyers can expect from their investment in your business. Is it a practical promise of value, quality, and durability or something bigger and more personal, like looking good, standing out, or being accepted. Does your brand stand for trust, instill confidence, or create a sense of security?
Whatever your promise, the ability to fulfill it is critical. Fail and you’re toast.
This it’s so important for you as a business owner to understand the how buyers see the promise implied by your brand and what it means to your customers. What buyers perceive isn’t always what you expect, so a little research to validate your assumptions can pay big dividends.
Companies like REI that excel at delivering on their brand promise find themselves strides ahead of competitors.
The essence of the REI brand is helping people enjoy the outdoors. Their decision to close on Black Friday so people could #OptOutside was a perfect fit and a smart way to deliver on their promise.
Sometimes brand promises are broken. When that happens the impact varies depending on the importance of the commitment. In the case of Wells Fargo, the unauthorized opening of customer accounts was an egregious violation of the trust vital to a fiduciary relationship.
News that the illicit account activity was allowed to continue unchecked for years after it was first discovered by management resulted in significant damage to the Wells Fargo brand.
After the recession, Arby’s surveyed 6,000 customers to learn how they felt about that brand. When the results showed that 18% of their customers were responsible for 2/3 of Arby’s revenues, they wanted to learn more.
Using the skills of an anthropologist and sociologist, Arby’s invited themselves into the homes of some of these customers, and not for a short visit. The company spent two to four hours with the loyalists, often buying them lunch or dinner at a restaurant of their choosing.
The effort to cozy up was highly instructive. While some of their expected patterns of demographic and psychographic profiles didn’t pan out, a picture emerged of Arby’s ideal customer: a “salt of the Earth” person that loves Arby’s for its freshness and “honest” approach to food. These were real regulars, eating at the chain several times a week.
Using this knowledge, Arby’s developed targeted ad campaigns that didn’t appeal to everyone, but did appeal to the right buyers, pulling in new patrons that met Arby’s profile of its most loyal, high-volume customers.
The results were clear: Arby’s enjoyed nine consecutive quarters of same-store sales increases, while earnings increased over 70%.
Create a Dialogue
The value of a brand is much more than a few attributes and a promise. Real brand power comes to fruition as part of an ongoing dialogue with your buyers.
The days of one-way brand communication are long gone. Today, social media technology gives buyers booming voices that reach far and wide. Customers are not sitting silently on the sidelines, they’re actively engaged in conversation with and about the brands that interest them.
Dive into conversations with your customers to improve engagement with your brand. Build community and maximize the impact of positive customer experiences. Embrace customer input—formal and informal, good and bad—to improve your business.
Also, focus just as intently on who is NOT your customer. Avoid the trap of trying to please too everyone at once. Listen only to those who matter: your buyers. Make it easy for people who aren’t good prospects to quickly opt out of the purchase cycle. This will dramatically improve your profitability–without any hard feelings.
Land Your Brand in the Profit Zone
Put it all together and the combination of well-conceived brand attributes, diligent delivery on brand promises, and strong customer experiences that reinforce the brand are a powerful combination
I call this the Profit Zone, because close alignment between your brand promise and customer experience reduces friction in the sales and marketing process.
When your draw customers to your brand by word-of-mouth, reputation, and attractive brand attributes, revenue goes up and costs go down, as illustrated below. Closer alignment between your brand promise and customer experience increases the size of your profit zone, adding value to the bottom line.
Buyers rarely ask if they want to buy standout brands like BMW, Apple or even Rolex. Instead, they consider how to make that purchase happen. These companies all have large Profit Zones fueled by powerful brands.
You can, too, with careful attention to your brand, its perceived promise, and how your customers experience it.