THE TRUTH ABOUT BRANDING

In How Branding & Brands Work – Part 1 we discovered two significant truths:

BRANDING IS THE RELATIONSHIP A CONSUMER HAS WITH YOUR PRODUCT OR ORGANISATION

[THEREFORE] BRANDS ARE CREATED NOT BY MARKETERS, BUT BY CONSUMERS

And again, here’s how these little gems work:

1. A product exists in time and space

2. But a brand exists entirely in the mind of a consumer

3. Because ‘brand’ is simply how a consumer feels about your product

4. Exactly like a relationship

Now, we’ll explore the ramifications of these revelations:

BRAND VS IMAGE

Possibly the most frequent and egregious misuse of the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ is in the advertising and design industry where people regularly conflate the terms ‘packaging design’ and ‘logo design’ with ‘branding’.

By remembering that branding is a relationship, you can instantly see how completely they’re missing the point. For example, what’s more important to a relationship:

  • Passion or typeface?

  • Commitment or colour?

  • Honesty or shape?

  • Fidelity or texture?

  • Respect or stripes down the side?

You wouldn’t talk about your relationships in terms of colour, typeface, texture, shape, and design. Neither should you talk about brands and branding in terms which correctly apply to livery, pack design, and corporate image, not branding.

Livery, pack design and corporate image make minor contributions to the branding process (which happens inside the consumer’s head, remember?) But in terms of relative importance, they are very small branches on a very big tree.

THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

People in the design industry refer to packaging and logo design as branding because they want you to think their graphics are more important to the success of your product or organisation than they really are. So they can jack up the price of what they do into the stratosphere.

Hence, otherwise commercially sensible companies can be fooled into paying obscene amounts of shareholder money for simple logo & livery designs, and can be persuaded that they’ve bought something of great value; some mysterious ‘essence of branding’.

Talk about the emperor’s new clothes. Less than 10% of the average corporate brand style guide is actually about branding.

The truth is, consumers don’t give a =flyingfuck=> about your new logo as long as it’s not too different to the old one. You know. The one they’re familiar and comfortable with.

That ten million dollars the ‘branding’ agency wants for some corporate design and some communication rules? Why don’t you just keep it in your kick. Or, better, use it to improve the relationship you have with your customers.

Or, better still, to pay a whole bunch of new people to start a relationship with your product.

NO PRODUCT WAS EVER LAUNCHED BY BRANDING

A new product is always an interesting marketing exercise: fresh, pristine, and bursting with promise.

Some might say ‘brand new’. But ‘brand new’ is a contradiction in terms: If a product is new, it has no consumers. In which case, no consumers have a relationship with it. Therefore it is not a brand, it is a product.

Products entering a market have to find their place in it based on consumer benefits. They have to be good enough to sell, before they can become brands.

Nevertheless, you still hear marketing and advertising people, before and during a product launch, talking about branding, brand values, and brand building.

Now you know they’re talking out the wrong end. Brand status happens later, after a sufficient number of consumers have bought the product and engaged in a relationship with it.

And now you also know that if a product isn’t intrinsically useful, beneficial, attractive, or better, it probably won’t survive long enough to achieve brand-hood.

BUT… WHAT IF MY NEW PRODUCT IS REALLY, REALLY EXCELLENT, BUT DOESN’T HAVE A DEMONSTRABLE COMPETITIVE BENEFIT?

Then why bother launching it?

Look. Don’t be lazy. Give it a demonstrable competitive difference. Make it better. Or, at least,  make it cheaper.

The recipe for failure is to launch a me-too product into a crowded market.

IN MARKETING THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO DO THINGS: THE SMART WAY OR THE EXPENSIVE WAY

Smart Launch

If you launch your new product with a features & benefits campaign based on its demonstrable competitive differences, more people will trial it sooner, and it will more rapidly attract a customer base from which a loyal group of regular users will go on to turn it into a brand.

Expensive Launch

If, on the other hand, you launch a new product with a brand or brand image campaign (as some quite serious marketers attempt to do) you will need very deep pockets to sustain the product through a period of low market penetration and slow growth until (if ever) you hit a critical mass of customers whose relationship with your product may (or may not) contribute to it becoming a brand. Good luck.

It is the height of profligacy (and stupidity) to launch a new product on an unsuspecting market with a ‘brand’, ‘brand building’ or ‘brand image’ campaign.

But at least now you know that building a brand takes time, and you need to get out there and sell some product before you have a brand to sell.

SINCE A BRAND IS A RELATIONSHIP, IT SHOULD OBSERVE THE RULES OF RELATIONSHIPS

What you do as a manufacturer or marketer affects the relationship your customers have with your product.

Which is why, when managing your brand, you need to follow the well-known rules of relationships:

1. NEVER PRESUME

You mustn’t treat the customer as if a relationship exists, when it doesn’t. Relationships start when both parties agree a relationship exists. Not before. You can’t ‘do branding’ first and attract customers later. That’s ass-backwards and illogical. You need to …

2. BE PATIENT

Branding doesn’t happen quickly.

You can try to rush the process by creating artificial demand through price cuts, or by spending heavily on marketing.

But you’ll attract the type of customer who is easily persuaded by cheap tricks to enter a relationship – the flirt, the tease, the leg man – who will quickly move on to a new relationship with another product just as soon as you turn off the financial inducements.

That kind of customer will love you short time and then leave you.

Building a brand takes time. So, to attract customers who will remain loyal, you have to play the long game; display dogged determination, true grit, faith, in other words, you must …

3. BE CONSISTENT

Be wary of springing surprises.

People in relationships abhor the emotional uncertainty of sudden change. (Unless one of your brand attributes is to deliver a constant succession of surprises to your consumers. In which case, surprise away.)

But for people who haven’t signed up for a series of adrenaline rushes, surprise is a dirty word. Consistency is the key.

Introduce a major price hike or deep discounting and it hurts the relationship.

Change the product taste, formulation or performance and it hurts the relationship. (Remember ‘New Coke’? Thought not.)

Change the packaging or the way you talk about the product, and it hurts the relationship.

This is not to say change is impossible, but it must be managed. Brand change should be pre-announced, evolutionary, incremental, and made with the tacit approval of users.

When making changes to a product or it’s look & feel, it is easier to lose the loyal customers you have than to pick up a new group of customers.

When you make changes to a brand, you are walking on eggshells.

4. BE TRUTHFUL

You will not acquire loyal customers if you try to short-weight them in terms of overstated or under-delivered quality, quantity or performance.

Honesty means that if the marketing makes a promise, the product and/or the organisation must keep it.

People in a relationship with your product will see you through the most trying times as long as you are transparent, and let them know what you, as the brand custodian, are doing to protect and preserve their relationship.

And never pretend your brand is more than your consumers believe it is.

As our cigarette chart (see Part 1) showed, you don’t have to make false claims about quality to attract loyal customers. Many consumers aren’t looking for a gold-standard relationship. Instead they’re looking for an affordable long term relationship with a product that delivers lesser quality at an economy price.

They are more impressed by honest value, which comes from delivering the right mix of price and performance.

5. REWARD LOYALTY WITH LOYALTY

The success of your brand will not be determined by the number of short term customers you attract via discounting, but by the number of long-term, loyal customers you can attract and keep because they genuinely appreciate your product and your service.

Loyal customers are worth the effort of acquiring, and of keeping, because they are one of your greatest marketing assets. They will not only turn you product into a brand, they will defend your brand when it is under attack. And they will build your brand by promoting it to their family, friends, colleagues and, if you play the game right, their social media networks.

OMG! IT’S ALIVE!!!!!

Because a brand is created by its consumers, it is never as precisely defined or as predictable as you might think.

It has its own personality; its own mass. It will react, evolve and grow. And will change as its consumer base changes.

You only have indirect control. You apply the inputs, and then you have to wait while consumers absorb those inputs and respond by reshaping their perceptions of the brand.

It’s a very long feedback loop, with built-in elasticity and inertia.

BEWARE THE BEAR

I’ve always thought of brand management as like managing a dancing bear. It’s a big beast with mass, energy, momentum, and a mind of its own.

Yes, you can make money off it, but it never does exactly what you want it to. If it wants to lurch over there and smell the flowers, you can’t stop it, so you might as well plan for that contingency and build it into the act.

And it’s a bear. Don’t piss it off.

As a marketer, you will always have less control over your brand than you would like.

Which makes sense.

Because although you might own the product, at the end of the day, your customers own the brand.

 

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