What a Brand is Not.
By Russ Cornelius, Certified Brand Strategist
For those of us who specialize in brand development, our time has finally come – just listen to all the ‘brandspeak’ lately. I am somewhat troubled about all of this, however. I’m not sure I understand all the brand stuff I’m hearing and seeing. And if I’m confused, what’s the business owner or marketing executive to think? So if you, too, are out there scratching your head, I offer some understanding.
There is a difference between branding and brand development. Branding comprises the tactics
used to deliver a brand’s distinction and brand development is the discovery process used to find that distinction. Yet ‘branding’ is the Holy Grail spouted by most advertisers and ad agencies that claim it as their specialty. Thing is, you can’t have great branding without incisive brand development.
Here’s how I see it: again, branding is a tactic. And brand development is a discovery process that unearths a brand’s distinction. The very definition of a brand is “a claim of distinction.” Branding tactics are the consistent use of color, graphics and spokespeople used to communicate the brand’s distinction. But they don’t define the distinction.
Distinction is defined by the evidence of what separates a brand from its competitors, makes it stand out as extraordinary or different, or better yet, more valuable to the end user. Nordstrom and Walmart; BMW and Honda; Ritz Carlton and Motel 6 – all have very clear brand distinction, and then do a good job of branding because they have that brand distinction. Each has done a fine job of staking a brand claim within their specific marketplace. Has your business? Think about it, does your customer have a clear distinction of your business from that of your competitors?
Many of us do business with advertisers (or perhaps we are the advertisers) whose companies have been around for a long while, and to some degree, that is the main distinction. But when it comes to advertising, we tend to ignore it because we want to see the products or services. In so doing, we are careful to use consistent colors, graphics and spokespersons and to put the logo in the same position, with the same typeface in each communication.
Yet, when this is the case, the ads are doing nothing but competing with other products, not other brands. These are simply branding tactics and the ads don’t provide the ultimate reason for purchasing the products: the brand’s valuable, unique distinction that instills confidence in the consumer’s purchase decision.
When the company’s brand development process is completed, the next step is to operationalize the brand. That is, to make it a part of everything you do as a company. Because brand isn’t marketing on steroids. It’s a strategic initiative – that drives customer loyalty, differentiation from your competitors and market leadership. And to achieve it, everyone in the organization needs to understand his or her role in bringing the brand’s promise to life. This is where many organizations fail with their brand. They speak it, but don’t deliver upon their brand promise because the employees are not in alignment.
How you manage your company is how you manage your brand. It cuts across product, service delivery, distribution, pricing, finance and communications. Because a great campaign isn’t anything unless you can deliver on the promise.
Back in “the day,” one of the earliest manifestations of effective brand development happened at Maytag. Looking to define itself in the market, third-tier player Maytag conducted a discovery process to find out what unique aspects it offered vis a vis its competitors. The research revealed that Maytag washers and dryers outlasted competitors’ products and had superior service records.
The company then undertook a companywide initiative to substantiate and reinforce the quality performance of all product lines, internalizing the brand not just in manufacturing, but in sales, service, channel marketing, research, finance and development. After the company was secure it would fully deliver on the brand promise of quality and dependability, a branding campaign was launched, the cornerstone of which was the lonely repairman, an icon which has endured through four decades.
Again, you can see the need for a brand development discovery process and the rich rewards you can reap from an incisive brand. Without it, the branding tactics are simply communicating the consistent use of color, graphics and spokespeople.
And that is what a brand is not.
Russ Cornelius, one of 20 Certified Brand Strategists in the country, is President of Marketing Savants, a full service marketing agency and Brand Savants, a brand development firm. He is past president of American Marketing Association – San Diego and is also a member of American Marketing Association – Inland Empire. He can be reached at 951.680.0016 or firstname.lastname@example.org.