There are an awful lot of misconceptions about what branding is, how branding works, what purpose it serves, how much time, money, and energy should be devoted toward brand and branding activities. We see it in our practice, usually from business owners whose job it is not to ponder such things at any depth, but to have enough grasp to understand when someone more informed uses the term in a meeting.
This isn’t new.
Ad agencies and their clients have been hosting a debate about branding activity for decades, usually to persuade their clients to increase their spend on TV and radio branding ads for their products, if for no other reason than the products brand was a multi-faceted one, which required a lot more work to encapsulate in a :30 spot, and it was easier to do several ads with different focus or messaging and run them all in series to get the job done.
Most purveyors of products or services have a sense of what brand is, from a rather shallow perspective – in their minds it involves logos, online buzz, color palette, some minor but repetitive messaging points, and that’s where their story ends. I contend, along with some other professionals, that the surface stuff that gets readily recognized as branding is just the tip of the iceberg.
Branding in our experience involves a showcase of authenticity, consistency, values, reliability of delivery, and transparency of presentation that transcends all the hype, the spin, the gloss, and is a set of characteristics at the root of why the company and its products work and perform as they do. The more the members of a given company live, breathe, work and display the characteristics of the firm as a whole, the more effective those branding efforts become. That level of authenticity can be achieved, but it requires a company-wide commitment to those same values, and a mind-set that allows each and every employee to deliver on that promise, no matter what it is, each and every day for each and every interaction with customers, vendors and others. That’s a pretty tall order for most companies, but look how successful those who achieve it can become.
Some great examples in a number of sectors include: L.L. Bean (who doesn’t know that their stuff is rugged and practical, but also can be returned over it’s life, no questions asked, no fuss, free), BMW (widely through of as at the peak of commercial automotive performance engineering for the masses) Harley-Davidson (tough, patriotic, ruggedly individual customers who have a passion for things mechanical and cool), Campbells (feel-good, inexpensive, but consistently healthy and sensible simple meals in a can), Clorox (when you want something white, clean, back to it’s basic elements, synonymous with bleach) and so on. It’s all about delivering something people desire consistently over years and holding that trust with the customer to deliver in a way that’s familiar.
For those in the know, branding isn’t a fad or a new buzzword – it’s a way of being. It’s not just the packaging, it’s what and how that package is delivered, time after time, to those who know and love it. To those with a slighter understanding of the idea, the buzz talk may be overwhelming, even tiresome, because their definition is so limited and they don’t see what all the fuss is about.
There are quite a few business tomes penned by quite informed and well-educated authors on the subject, but I won’t make any recommendations here as I would certainly run afoul of those I omitted. Suffice it to say that if you select a few of these to read in your spare time, you’ll come away with the clear idea that few have a clear idea of what it is, and how to maximize it’s value – the top practitioners of the art are the ones that really get it, and they’re too busy working to maintain and burnish their company’s brands to write books. Branding is still as much art as science, and those with an intuitive understanding of the art, with a gut sense of what their company’s brand represents will be the victor in the war for consumer mindshare.