“I want to build my brand!” declares Tom confidently.
I ask Tom what he means, exactly. I’m pretty sure I know what to expect, and he doesn’t disappoint.
“I want my company to be the one everybody knows – the one that leaps to mind when they need products like ours!”
Sally’s goal is to turn her product into a brand. For her, branding is all about sales: “The stronger my brand, the more I sell,” she explains.
Paul is trying to build his “personal brand.” He’s a business-development guy who spends part of his day trolling online discussion groups, adding his comments (and a few off-topic sales pitches). “If people know my name, they’ll be more inclined to buy from me,” Paul believes.
Putting the Branding Cart Before the Horse
Ask most people why they want to brand, and they’ll tell you something about the desired outcome. Like our three friends above, they’ll talk almost exclusively in terms of what they expect to get.
Certainly, branding provides a return. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do it. And most of us seek such benefits – better awareness, greater sales, improved loyalty and so on.
But let’s not confuse the outcome of the work with the work itself.
Tom, Sally and Paul are in danger of making a grave mistake. There’s a curious paradox in branding: If you focus only on what you get, you’ll find it nearly impossible to build your brand.
But if you focus on what you give – how you meaningfully, honestly serve your consumers – you’ll find you’re well on your way to a healthy brand. In branding, as in life, the giving usually precedes the getting.
The Hard Work of Branding
But don’t take my word for it. There are no doubt some brand-builders you respect and admire. Maybe it’s the CPA who has positioned herself as the go-to expert for progressive companies. Maybe it’s the landscaper who is the local leader in upscale designs. Track those people down, and ask them how their brands came to be successful.
I’m guessing they’ll tell you some or all of the following:
They started with a vision. Very few brands stumble into greatness. Most strong brands are driven by an idea to make life better for someone, even if it’s just a small segment of the market. They were born from a core notion of service.
They stuck with it. Branding doesn’t happen overnight. It develops through consistent execution over time. In other words, you can’t build a brand on an isolated moment of service, no matter how outstanding. You have to do it again and again.
They made bold choices. If you want to stand out in the market, you simply have to do things differently than your competition. This may seem daunting. But interestingly, once you’re clear on who you serve and how, these decisions can be remarkably easy to make.
They walked their talk. I’ve yet to meet a brand-builder who attributed success to a silver-bullet ad campaign. While some mention a sharp marketing strategy, it’s always in conjunction with a superior brand experience.
Think about the brands you use and love. Do you love them because of their marketing? Or do you love them because of what they do for you?
They’re not finished. Branding is not an initiative. It’s a mindset. Your organization is either dedicated to serving, or it’s not. And if it’s not, it will be hard to maintain whatever forward momentum you may generate. The great brand-builders are focused on serving today, and doing an even better job tomorrow.
Branding is no short road. It requires focus, discipline, perseverance and a number of other qualities that are generally in short supply in the business world. That’s one reason why those that do it right are both rare and difficult to imitate.
So you want to build your brand? Start by asking not what you’ll get… but how you give.
A version of this post appeared in the American City Business Journals column “That Branding Thing” on August 21, 2009.
About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win. Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.” His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation. Contact Matthew here. He calls Chicago home.
Copyright 2009 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.