A Brand is:
- A name.
- A logo.
- A mark or symbol.
- A famous company or product.
- A set of values.
- A name and logo.
- An advertised product.
- An identity.
- An image in someone’s brain.
- One’s perceptions and feelings about a product.
When I ask a group of students or non-marketeers what a Brand is, these are the typical kind of answers I hear. If you read a lot of fancy consumer books on the subject, they so often take a different tack and produce high brow quotes like: “The sum total of all the buyers impressions and values associated with a product”.
However, if you are the marketer of the product, the answer is very simple:
A Brand is a Promise
Perhaps you want to print that statement out as big as possible, and stick it on your wall. Your brand is not your corporate mission and strategy. It is neither your slogan nor your “elevator” pitch, nor your name and logo, nor the values under which your founder went into business.
To clarify a brand even further, a promise of what? Well, that is also simple to state:
A Brand is a Promise of an Experience
At every branding meeting and other marketing, sales, support, engineering and other business discussions, if you remember nothing else other than your brand is your promise to your customers of their experience with your company, products and service, then you will be way ahead of the non brand-centric competitors.
A brand exists solely in the customer’s mind. It cuts through the clutter of marketing and product messages and carries an implicit and powerful message of differentiation. The experience of this brand promise creates loyalty. This is both an emotional and factual bond between you and your customers, however technical the products or services.
So now that you know what a brand is, please answer the following little quiz:
The most important thing in developing a brand is:
- Technical Features
- User Benefits
When this question is asked in a marketing class or non-marketing department, a lot of the votes end up being placed for items 1 to 5 in particular. But when this question is asked of branding professionals, 95% of the votes are for item 11 – Trust.
Once again, we have an elegantly simple answer to a very complex question:
The most important factor in developing a brand is trust.
Easily said. Very hard to achieve! Which department in your technology startup is in charge of trust? Who can we delegate to do this? What will it cost and how do we make it? Should we hire an advertising agency? Please say, ‘No’ – they do advertising. Rather brands are built across all departments, as you will see later. For example, the internet was like the wild wild west in its early days and there were lots of “technology cowboys” involved. But now marketing has to find rules and boundaries for creating a trusting relationship and most users have migrated to brand name service and equipment providers.
Do you have to develop a brand to sell your products? No, of course not. In fact, for a few products or services it may even be a complete waste of time and money. But most products are sold to people. Most investors are people too. Humans are brand buyers. They want to trust the products they buy. They want a positive experience. They want to spend their money with confidence. They want to be informed, supported and treated as individuals. They don’t have much time to research every single detail of every purchasing decision. Especially when it is for their business and not for themselves.
Have you noticed how many generic products are on the shelves at your local supermarket? Even the bananas and tomatoes have stickers on them nowadays. At the home hardware store, the signs even proclaim, “genuine Oregon pine lumber”, or “Idaho seed potatoes”, or “Dutch bulbs”. At the computer hardware store, notice how even the disk drives have rich names, and how you trust your data much more to be stored on a disk drive from a ‘brand-name” manufacturer.
The only place where generics have achieved some market traction is at the pharmacy counter. But think about it. We trust the promise of the FTC, our doctor and our pharmacist that such drugs are good and safe. And we are shopping for them in a reputable brand name drug store that we trust to lead the community’s health supply needs!
If you don’t consciously manage and develop your brand, the marketplace will implicitly develop it for you. Perhaps even with conflicting message help from your different product, sales, and marketing campaigns. It may take a long time. It may not come out the way you like. It may even have many business, financing and legal pitfalls along the way. What could be worse than that? If you don’t build your brand and position your products and company, your competitors might do it for you!
But if you do manage and feed and develop a brand, what will the payoffs be for your company? Well firstly, it has sometimes been said, that marketing’s primary function is to shorten the sales cycle. No where is this more true than in branding. A good, or at least known brand name, will:
- Accelerate all aspects of the sales cycle
- Dramatically reduce the purchasing decision time
- Allow for improved price protection
- Allow for better product margins
- Create company value and awareness with every product sale
- Improves valuation of your company
- Speed all your operational business transactions
- Simplify many operational and administrative ones
- Allow you to rapidly bring new products to market
- Create instant awareness for new strategies
- Allow you to more easily enter new marketplaces
- Provide you access to more senior executives, partners, and organizations
A brand does not have to be a company or a product. It can be a place, a person, a group, a hospital, a university and, of course, a service. Many technology companies emphasize their Silicon Valley roots, even though there is no such place on the map! But certain promises are implicit in the use of the term.
Similarly, graduating from a brand name university is definitely going to speed up your time to a job offer and a bigger salary. And you are going to help spread the brand, by your words, actions, clothing and bumpers stickers. For example, as an ex-Harvard grad, you may even name your firm Crimson Consulting as Glenn Gow did. With this clever move, he is “borrowing” a little of their prestige, aura and brand values.
A brand can be a real person like Oprah Winfrey, or a cartoon character like Dilbert. It can be a company like H-P, Sun, Intel, Apple or Intuit. It can be a product like LaserJet, SparcStation, Pentium, iMac or QuickBooks. And for many other companies, the company and product family are the same brand, like at Cisco, Cypress, Brocade, EMC2, eBay and Yahoo.
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