If you ask ten marketers to define what “brand” means and how it applies to their company, I bet you’d get ten different answers. The concept of brand is an inherently subjective matter. In a world where information and products are becoming more easily accessible, a clearly articulated brand can be the only difference between being considered background noise vs. standing out from the crowd. In other words, developing your brand is fundamentally important to your business’ success.
SO WHAT DOES BRAND MEAN?
I think of brand as the type of emotional resonance created when a person thinks about your company’s products or services. To use a word game from the SAT's:
BRAND is to COMPANY
SOUL is to PERSON
A well-developed brand clearly and intuitively tells the story of a company in a way that helps potential customers build the emotional connection they need to make a purchase decision. Using our SAT word game analogy, finding a well-defined brand is similar to meeting a self-confident person. You just know that they've got "it" together. A positive brand image lays the groundwork for potential customers by giving them a reason to invest their time to understand the more tangible aspects of your business. When articulated clearly and consistently, a company's brand can be it's most valuable asset.
SO HOW DO YOU DEVELOP A GREAT BRAND?
Developing a brand is more than simply deciding on the tangible factors that your customer evaluates when making a purchase decision (ie: product design, pricing, feature set, etc). It is more than just a combination of the images, videos, text you decide to use in your marketing. A brand is the underlying foundation that should influence every product and marketing decision made by your company. It is the reason behind why you choose to price or describe your company in a specific way.
Ok, ok… You get it. Developing a brand is important! So how can you create a great brand? To start off, I highly recommend watching Simon Sinek's Golden Circle Ted Talk:
If you're in a rush, here are the Cliff-notes:
- Golden Circle: A system that adds structure to how you can communicate an idea so it best resonates with your audience:
- Why: Your purpose -- Why do you do what you do?
- How: Your differentiation -- How do you do what you do?
- What: Your product -- What do you do or make?
- How People describe their ideas:
- Most people think and communicate from the outside of the Golden Circle and work their way in (What > How > Why).
- Inspired brands and leaders think and describe their actions from the inside out ( Why > How > What).
- People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
- The limbic brain, which is in control of decision-making (but not language), reacts to a need for loyalty and belief.
- If you clearly articulate your "Why", customers will be open to buying anything you make because their limbic brains believe in your concept/process.
- Law of Diffusion of Innovation: If you want mass market acceptance of an idea, you need to reach 15-18% adoption of the population (your target). To do that, you need to have a compelling reason for the early majority to adopt your idea.
- Innovators: Makers of new things -- 2.5% of population
- Early Adopters: Testers of new things -- 13.5% of population
- Early Majority: Early Users of proven things -- 34% of population
- Late Majority: Require social proof from early adopters -- 34% of population
- Laggards: Adaptor of new things when necessary -- 16% of population
AN EXAMPLE -- THE WORLD'S BEST BRAND:
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Let’s take a look at what I consider to be the most developed brand in the world. No, it's not a fast food chain (McDonalds), a carbonated beverage (Coke) or even a hardware manufacturer (Apple) -- it's the good ole' US of A.
Since its inception over 200 years ago, the ideals that led 13 British colonies to secede and form an independent nation are now more recognizable than any other organization, team or product in the world. why has the USA become such a powerful & recognizable brand? Let's use Sinek's Golden Circle, to describe the brand of the United State's of America:
- Why: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
- How: Democratic governance & capitalistic economy.
- What: An independent federal republic, based in North America.
Love the United States of America or not, it has been one of the most influential entities in the world when it comes to politics, economy and civil liberties since its inception. I think it's fair to say that Thomas Jefferson focused more on describing the "Why" while writing the declaration of Independence than the "What". Had his message been flipped he would have been asking his neighbors to rebel in the name of establishing a new set of zip codes south of Canada, vs. fighting for their freedom. The reason the USA brand has grown to have such extraordinary influence is that people believe in why it exists, not in what it is or does.
Moral of the story: People need to understand the why before they will care about the how & what. Or, in Sinek's words: PEOPLE DON'T BUY WHAT YOU DO. THEY BUY WHY YOU DO IT!
How about a more business-focused example?
This website -- benjshap.com
To give you some context, I am not a consultant by trade. Before starting this business, the vast majority of my experience consisted of +13 years of in-house roles for various tech-focused companies. I've gone from selling phone service to SMB's to running the marketing department for VC backed startups. As my career has progressed, I have realized that I thrive in environments where my job is to focus on how and where to tell a company's story. I enjoy that type of role because I like being creative. I like working with motivated & positive people. I like autonomy. I like making order our of chaos. I like thinking about the big picture.
Ok. I know what you're saying... "Yeah, that's great and all, but I'm reading this blog post to learn about branding... not about you". Gotcha... The reason why my career background is relevant, is that is the type of information that you and your company should consider when thinking about your brand. My background is the context that led me to want to help multiple companies develop their brands. It is the intuitive understanding of the context behind your business that gets people excited.
Here's how I translated my background into benjshap.com's Golden Circle:
- Why: I enjoy helping businesses find an authentic voice that resonates with their target customers.
- How: I help my clients by walking them through a four-step process: (1) Brand Development, (2) Customer Segmentation, (3) Media Planning, (4) Channel evaluation & optimization.
- What: I am a Brand Development & Marketing Strategy consultancy.
The Big Payoff
At its core, brand is the expression of the inflexible truth behind why an entity exists. Developing a great brand requires you to be introspective about your motivations. While it rarely ever does so in a formal fashion, brand development should proceed your tactical marketing and product development efforts. Your product and marketing are really ways for you to express your brand story, re-packaged in a way that feels appropriate for the target customer & marketing channel. When developed correctly, a brand can create a strong and intuitive feeling of interest that pushes potential customers towards your product/service and away from your competition. If you' want to better develop your brand, try to articulate why you chose your particular line of business and work outward from there.
If you are interested in discussing this post or would like help developing your brand, I would love to hear from you!