You’ve been there -- those meetings where everyone is throwing around the word “branding,” yet no one seems to be able to explain what branding is and how to brand a company. Everyone agrees that developing a brand strategy is important, but few people can articulate how to create a successful brand.
So, what does a brand mean? First, let’s clarify what a brand is not. A brand is not your logo, your collateral material, your packaging, or your tagline. These may support your branding efforts, but they are not your brand. Just ask yourself a simple question: how many people can describe the colors or design of some of the world’s most powerful brands? Surprisingly few. When I ask participants in the branding workshops I lead to describe the logos of well-known brands, it is rare that more than a handful of folks gets it right. Their taglines? Forget about it.
Sadly, logo and tagline creation, as well as packaging and collateral material development are often pursued before a company’s brand is clarified – this is the epitome of putting the cart before the horse.
So, what is brand? Simply stated, it is the fundamental emotional experience that you want your target audience to have every time they come in contact with your company, product, or service.
Each year, millions of consumers are willing to drive further, pay considerably more, and wait in line longer to buy their cup of coffee at Starbucks. Why? It certainly isn’t because their coffee is the best tasting (McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts usually beat out Starbucks in blind consumer taste tests), and it isn’t because they offer the best value or quickest service.
The answer is the strength of Starbucks’ brand. The emotional connection that Starbucks tries to make with every consumer helped generate revenues of $21.3 billion in 2016. Starbucks wants you to feel an Italianate sophistication, and like you are part of what many brand experts refer to as a “coffee house” community. That is the Starbucks brand DNA: sophistication and community.
Starbucks’ branding strategy is why every store calls their cup sizes Grande and Venti, not medium or large. It is why every store has a “barista” personally making the coffee for you at a separate counter, never behind a wall or out of sight from the customer. It is why stores have tables and chairs for congregating, and many have plush sofas and armchairs. It is why they encourage people to read or work at the store and have even installed wi-fi so visitors can surf the Internet all day long.
Now think about Starbucks’ largest competitor, Dunkin’ Donuts, which sells more than a billion cups of coffee every year. Both Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts sell comparable coffee products. So why did you choose to buy your coffee, more often than not, from one and not the other? The answer is because they have very distinct brands and you connected with one more than the other.
The importance of branding cannot be understated – it’s the cornerstone of any successful business. As Scott Bedbury, the former Chief Marketing Officer of Nike and Starbucks, eloquently laid out in his book, A New Brand World: “Everything you do with your brand — every piece of paper, every ad, every press release, every product, even the music that callers hear when placed on hold-must connect consistently to your brand. Brand cohesion does not happen by serendipity. It needs to be engineered.”
So, who’s engineering your brand and what unique emotional connection are you selling? If you want to build greater demand for your products and services, a happier workforce, and the ability to generate higher margins — then you want to make sure you have good answers to those two questions.