Friday, December 30, 2005

branding v. results...who wins?

I got into a discussion about this the other day, and it's been nagging me ever since.

It was a debate about the importance of branding, as it pertains to results in your business. In fact, I squared off on this issue with two different gentlemen, both of whom were trying to justify their belief that branding isn't important. Results are what's important, they said. Execution is important.

Well, I would have to agree, results are king. But how do you make massive sales and grow your company like a virus? By being remembered. One begats the other. Establish a great brand, and people will fall in love with your story. Only by telling a great story will your business get the results you've dreamed of. Your brand is the headline of that story, and it goes beyond the look of your business card, the colour on your sign or the cleanliness of your uniforms.

Branding is about positioning. Being unique, and memorable. Execution (great service, a clean shop, a commitment to excellence) plays a huge part in your branding, and the whole package is what determines great results.

I'm starting my own company, specializing in building brands for small business. By small, I mean the independantly (and expertly) owned operations who know their craft, but find themselves lost when it comes to marketing. They've got some cash to get the word out, but not the kind of BIG AGENCY budgets that are necessary to squander all of one's profits on mass media. (ouch, was that a dig? Tv's dying kids, at least as far as ROI for your ad dollar is concerned)

In planning my endeavor, I have been stewing over trying to create a great brand, one that is exempliary of the kind of image, story and success that I wish to project onto my customers. Can you believe that I actually had a marketing student tell me that the name of my business, logo etc. weren't important? I'd like to meet the crusty old professor that taught him that phooey.

If I'm going to be selling branding, I have to be able to prove that I know what I'm doing when it comes to my own story. Half-way might keep you in business, and likely it will get the student in question at least a B on his exam, but this is the real world. In order to run an exceptional business, you have to be exceptional in every way.

But then again, I'm just ranting. And I, too am just believing what I've been taught. I guess this is a good time to thank Mom for getting me the books I asked for Christmas.


At 10:12 PM, Blogger Ryan said...

Ivan Pavlov won a Nobel Prize for his research into branding in 1904. Remember the story? Day after day, Pavlov would ring a bell as he rubbed meat paste onto the tongue of a dog. The dog soon began to associate the taste of the meat with the sound of the bell until salivation became the dog's conditioned response. In psychological terms, this is known as "implanting an associative memory." In other words, it's "branding" in all its glory.

There are three keys to implanting an associative memory into the minds of your customers:

1. Consistency: Pavlov never offered food without ringing the bell, and he never rang the bell without offering food.
2. Frequency: Pavlov did it day after day after day.
3. Anchoring: When implanting an associative memory, the new and unknown element (the bell) has to be associated with a memory that is already anchored in the mind (the taste of meat). Frequency and consistency create "branding" only when your message is tied to an established emotional anchor. Pavlov's branding campaign was anchored to the dog's love for the taste of meat. If the dog did not love meat, the frequent and consistent ringing of the bell would have produced no response other than to irritate the dog.

The buying public is your dog. If you desire a specific response from it, you must tie your identity to an emotional anchor that is already known to elicit the desired response. If you make such an association with consistency and frequency, branding will occur.

In essence, if advertising is "getting your name out," then branding is "attaching something to your name." A brand is the sum of all the mental associations, good and bad, that are triggered by a name. What does your name stand for in the mind of the public? What associations are triggered by your name? Getting your name out isn't worth much when there's no mental image attached to your name.

Unaided recall and top-of-mind awareness are excellent ways to measure name recognition, but they don't tell you anything about the strength of your brand. York, Lennox, Rheem, RUUD, Carrier, Bryant, Trane, Armstrong, Friedrich and Fedders are leading brands of air conditioners; you've probably heard of some of them. But do you have significant feelings about any of these companies? Although their corporate executives would never believe it, and their advertising agencies would vehemently deny it, these companies' branding initiatives have failed. But each one thinks it has a brand.

Branding is much more than name recognition, a color scheme, a logo and a slogan. Brand essence is the complex mental image summoned by a name, even when that name is heard silently in the mind. Unlike a mere visual image, a mental image is a complex composite of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, opinion and mood. Brand essence is everything a brand stands for in the heart of the customer. What does your brand stand for in the heart of your customer?

Don't mistake company size for brand strength. Wal-Mart and Dell are big, profitable companies, but neither is a particularly strong brand. Low prices and quick delivery measure only operational excellence; they tell us nothing about the heart of the company or the devotion of its customers. Conversely, Starbucks and Apple are smaller companies but bigger brands.

The best branding campaign ripples outward from a company's core culture and nonnegotiable standards. This brand essence is then transmitted through every contact point with the customer: advertising, merchandising, d├ęcor, staffing and policies. The degree to which your corporate values resonate in the heart of your customer is the measurement of the strength of your brand.

Your brand must be anchored to core values buried deep in the heart of your customer. To what values is your brand linked?

The powerful Harley-Davidson brand wasn't built on the motorcycle itself, but on the values of nonconformity and the freedom of the open road. Owning a Harley is a statement of rebelliousness and self-determination. It is a magical talisman that grants you entrance to the Island of Pirates. Has there ever been a boy who didn't dream of being a pirate?


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