Mike Kueber's Blog

August 1, 2012

My brand

Filed under: Business — Mike Kueber @ 1:40 pm
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There’s an old Tim McGraw song titled “Back When” that waxes nostalgic about a time when “a hoe was a hoe” and “a screw was a screw.”  I remember a time when a brand was a brand – i.e., a mark burned into a cow to indicate ownership – but that is no longer true. 

A few years ago, people in marketing started using the term as a highfalutin way of describing a company’s reputation, and that usage proved to be so smart-sounding that the term has spread to other activities.  Just this week, I saw it applied to a local politician (“Experts say Rodriguez has shown he has a strong brand name, making the runoff difficult to predict.) and a major university (“The idea behind the change is to expand the reach of the A&M brand.”)  But most marketers would say that lay people are bastardizing the concept of branding and that it means much more than mere reputation. 

A quick survey on the internet reveals that branding is the subject of intense analysis and on-going refinement.  For example:

  • Brickmarketing.com.  “A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image. Branding is when that idea or image is marketed so that it is recognizable by more and more people, and identified with a certain service or product when there are many other companies offering the same service or product. Advertising professionals work on branding not only to build brand recognition, but also to build good reputations and a set of standards to which the company should strive to maintain or surpass.” 
  • Brandingstrategyinsider.com.  A construct that delivers marketing promises to facilitate the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller (or corporation) and its stakeholders based on functional and emotional values. 
  • Sethgodin.typepad.com.  “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.  A brand’s value is merely the sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose, the expectations, memories, stories and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.  A brand used to be something else. It used to be a logo or a design or a wrapper.” 
  • Aytm.com.  1. The Brand Promise – At its core, a brand is a promise to consumers. What will consumers get when they purchase a product or service under your brand umbrella? The brand promise incorporates more than just those tangible products and services. It also includes the feelings that consumers get when they use your products and services.  2. The Brand Perceptions – Brands are built by consumers, not companies. Ultimately, it’s the way consumers perceive a brand that defines it. It doesn’t matter what you think your brand promises. The only thing that matters is how consumers perceive your brand. You need to work to develop consumer perceptions that accurately reflect your brand, or your brand is doomed to limited growth potential.  3. The Brand Expectations – Based on your brand promise, consumers develop expectations for your brand. When they pull their hard-earned money out of their pockets and purchase your products or services, they assume their expectations for your brand will be met. If your brand doesn’t meet consumer expectations in every interaction, consumers will become confused by your brand and turn away from it in search of another brand that does meet their expectations in every interaction.  4. The Brand Persona – Rather than asking, ‘What is a brand?’ a better question might be, “Who is a brand?” Every brand has a persona. Think of your brand as a person. What is that person like? What can you expect when you interact with that person? From appearance to personality and everything in between, your brand persona is one that consumers will evaluate and judge before they do business with you.  5. The Brand Elements – Your brand is represented by the intangible elements described above as well as tangible elements such as your brand logo, messaging, packaging, and so on. All of these elements must work together to consistently communicate your brand promise, shape brand perceptions, meet brand expectations, and define your brand persona. If one element is awry, your entire brand can suffer. Remember what happened with the new Gap logo last year? Don’t make the same mistakes!   

Personally, my favorite attempt at defining the concept of branding comes from a guru called Harish Bijoor, who just a couple of days ago announced:

  • “Today, I remain in perennial quest of the definitive definition of a brand that is full and complete. In this long road of quest then, I have approaches to the definition of a brand that I present in this piece….  As I listened to this entire list, I wondered whether the understanding of the brand and its definition would ever stop with any one word or phrase. There were just too many going around. The brand is too macro a concept! So macro that one found it difficult to define and tie within a single word or set of words strung together tightly, as definitions attempt to do!  I looked at the German scholar of Sanskrit and told him that he just might be right! The brand is “Maya” for sure! In many ways, the brand is very difficult to define!  My years of living with the brand in the marketplace tell me the brand is a very different thing than what most of us imagine it to be. To many of us, the brand is what we perceive it to be. And each derives a whole set of perceptions all their own! After all, the brand in itself is a perception, and not a reality. To a big extent, it is indeed this ‘Maya’ bit the student of Sanskrit so proudly pouted.  The DNA of a brand is what we seldom understand. We understand the brand as a single word. A single special meaning.  In its entirety though, it seems a difficult thing to tie down!  And so, just some few years ago, I sat myself down under a Peepul tree of my own making, and in dawned some awakening. An awakening that made me probe a specific definition I tout today proudly from pulpits of wherever I happen to speak on the subject.  And we shall discuss that next week!” 

Sounds like Bijoor is going in the right direction and I look forward to reading his promised elaboration.  Maya, indeed.

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