“Brand” is a widely misused and misunderstood term, often referring to a whole range of devices, symbols and expressions that are no more than single elements of the whole.
Building a brand in the digital age of speed, idea cloning and ubiquitous communication is a real challenge, but those who get it right, win big time.
Just look at Apple. When Steve Jobs came back, it was just about broke, now it is one of the largest, and most successful corporations the world has ever seen.
Do you need any more evidence that branding in the digital age works?
While Apple is not the corner store, the foundations of Apple can be applied to every brand, and every business, from the corner store right up to Apple, whose retailing operations in the Apple stores are setting new benchmarks for retail performance.
1. Start inside. No brand can exist in isolation of the internal values and culture of the business they represent. No amount of smart advertising and slick promotion can substitute for great customer experience and value generation, which starts inside.
2. Seduce, don’t sell. Today’s consumers are smart, advertising sensitive and cynical, they need to be seduced by the superior value your brand represents, the experience it delivers. Purchase decisions are not always rational, and when a successful brand is involved in the choice, the equation usually does not have much weight on the price component of the value equation.
3. Lead, don’t follow. Brands have the capacity to lead consumers towards a place they have not been before, or not considered, as they create new value propositions. They look for trends that have the potential to crash into each other at some point, and change behaviour, and then see them before anyone else. Then they build an offer at the point of intersection, often creating the disruption themselves. The great ice hockey player Wayne Gretsky said he did not skate to the puck, he skated to where the puck would be. Successful brands do the same thing, lead, they certainly do not follow or react fads and short term “opportunities”.
4. Sweat the small stuff. Every potential touch point a customer may have at some point with a brand is an opportunity to enhance the brand, or add to the depreciation. Jobs’ fanatical dedication to making even the things no consumer was ever likely to see perfect is legend, but provided a platform for consumers belief that Apple was simply “better”
5. Commitment and focus. Brands that succeed do so because over a considerable period that stay focused on their core “Why” as Simon Sinek would put it. They do not succumb to corporate politics, marketing “short-termism”, and distractions from the market, they hunker down for the long term and deliver what the brand stands for at every opportunity.
6. Broad appeal. Really successful brands have a set of values that cross normal product category lines, and they are able to deliver in differing categories. They are able to accommodate shifts in consumer behaviour because they are not defined by their product attributes, but by their values and relationships with customers.
7. Relish and learn from competition. Marketplaces are demanding places, and only the best survive and prosper. Watching the steps and missteps of competitors makes brands stronger, and when a strong brand has strong competition, they both get better. That is the nature of competition.
8. Design is crucial. A well designed and executed product, and peripheral material like adverting, packaging, and look and feel of the product itself can deliver a unique message to consumers about the values that their purchase choice is delivering to them. Unmistakable, and remarkable are terms that every brand owner should chase for their offering.
9. Defy conventional wisdom. Unless a brand is distinctive, memorable and creates value, it will go unnoticed, and the best way to be noticed is to defy conventional wisdom. Do not do what everyone else is doing, find a way to add value by being different.
10. Communicate facts that resonate. Today’s smart consumers are less likely to be seduced by flimsy claims their parents accepted, they want solid information, facts that are relevant to them on which to make what they see as rational purchase decisions. They recognise preferences are no longer formed by fancy and extensive advertising, but by the realities that their target customers believe.
11. Design for people. Successful brands are never for everyone, their do not squander scarce resources trying to be so. In contrast, the design the brand experience is designed for the specific people who are most likely to be their loyal and lifelong customers.
A brand is more than a collection of attributes and deliverables, it is a long term strategic platform for growth and profitability. Why would you not invest in that?