In the old days, a brand meant putting your mark on something to signify the source or ownership. Animals were branded with the name of their owner to ensure that if they got lost they could be returned to the right owner. As time passed, companies started putting their names and logos on commodities they produced as a way to differentiate their products from other companies producing the same or a similar product. Today the definition of the word brand has become more than just a name – it is the perception that someone has when they hear or see your company’s name or logo.
Think about this for a second – a brand is a name that has the power to generate a certain feeling or emotion for a person. For companies, achieving this is important because people like to buy from companies that they feel strongly about. But yet, companies struggle to build brands, and there are only a small percentage that build memorable brands. According to Forbes, the companies that lead the charge for the most powerful brands in the world today are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca Cola and Facebook.
Why is Building a Powerful Brand So Hard?
- Building a brand takes time – Big brands are not built overnight. It takes years to establish a reputation and get people to think of your company in a certain way. It is even harder for companies that bring a new category of product to market. It can take upwards of 5 years to build a strong brand.
- It is hard to measure a brand and the activities that impact it – Companies use various activities to build awareness about a brand. These could include advertising – print and digital, press releases, sponsoring events, putting out content on social media and on websites via blogs, emails and posts – not only are these activities hard to measure, the value of a brand itself is also hard to measure.
- Companies don’t understand their customer – One of the most important goals for a company is to identify who their target customer is and to understand them. Only then can the company influence their perceptions and actions. With the inundation of information that is available, it is hard to fully understand the customer and what drives certain behaviors and perceptions for them.
5 Best Practices for Building a Brand
- Create a strong company mission – Companies that have a strong mission sell their mission and not their product. Take Athleta for example. They make sportswear for women. Their mission is empowering women and one of their tag lines is, ‘The power of she’. Whenever I think of Athleta I picture a company that is dedicated to advancing women in sports in particular and in life in general. Though there are other companies that sell the same products, I buy from Athleta as I identify with the company’s mission.
- Be transparent – Customers value honesty and integrity in a company. Companies that are open not only about what they are trying to achieve but also about what their drawbacks are are successful in generating trust and more loyal customers. Take Patagonia for example, a company dedicated to making great products while preserving the environment. They are completely open about which products have a large environmental cost and they encourage customers not to buy these. Customers love this and become even more loyal to Patagonia.
- Establish an emotional connection – The strongest brands have a strong emotional connection with their customers. Let’s look at a non frontline product such as Intel. They re-positioned themselves from ‘Intel Inside,’ a hidden processor that people didn’t understand the value of, to ‘Intel Inside that drives great experiences outside,’ with images of Intel powering extreme performance sports. Now people are starting to associate Intel with superior execution both inside the PC and in ‘real life’, creating a perception of high performance for the Intel brand.
- Differentiate yourself – For companies pioneering a new product it is important to educate the market about the benefits of your product/service. For companies entering an established market it is important to ensure the customer knows why your product or service is different from and better than others. Take Nature’s Bakery for example. They entered the crowded organic food market but went the extra mile to position their snacks as the highest quality being non-GMO, cholesterol-free, dairy free, kosher, whole wheat as well as gluten free.
- Optimize moments that matter – The ‘wow’ moments in an experience with a customer is what they will remember about a company. A good example is LensCrafters. They send you an email reminding you of your appointment. Once you get to the appointment, they will greet you by name and welcome you. To help you decide what eyeglasses to buy, they will show you a live demo on an iPad of what the glasses will look like on your face. And if you decide to buy, your items will show up on your doorstep with your correct prescription, exactly when they tell you they will show up. A seamless experience designed to delight the customer at every step.
Whether you sell to consumers or to businesses, the principles above apply. Starting with a powerful mission that matters to your target audience and being honest and open about what your products and services can do will help you establish an emotional connection with customers. Differentiating yourself and optimizing the moments that matter in the buying cycle and beyond will create a favorable impression with the customers and start to create brand value and loyalty for your company. But remember to have patience and a relentless focus on measuring all activities and in time you will start to grow your brand.