The words Brand and Branding are tossed around these days like beachballs at a pool party. Corporate branding, personal branding, growing your brand, maintaining your brand, destroying your brand, there are branding experts, and on and on. And there are brand symbols on just about everything these days. Athletes. Fine art. Food. There are whole lines of clothing that have no design at all beyond the conspicuous placement of a logo.
I've chatted brands and branding with many clients, and I've got an easy way to think of it. And it is a way of thinking of it that helps you to be proactive regarding your brand and your branding. But mainly, it's straightforward and simple, perhaps obviously so.
So, this is what branding is: branding is what you think of when you are reminded about something - a person, a company, a product.
Logos, ads, design, commercials, campaigns - these are triggers that bring the branding to mind - reminders for the target audience to think what they think of you.
You walk into Starbuck’s and you think, “This place is designed really well,” and maybe you feel like you’re a young, hip, professional - that’s the branding: that feeling, that thinking. Whenever you see the familiar Starbuck’s logo you might get a little burst of that feeling. The logo (which incidentally is being evolved by Starbuck's branding team to a green dot) triggers the feeling. The feeling is the branding.
While at the Starbucks you see an Apple Macintosh laptop, with the glowing white apple logo in the middle of the cover, and you might think, “Apple is cool. Glad it isn’t a Lenovo,” and maybe you reflect for a moment on your own, trusty Apple laptop, and when you pull out your iPhone while waiting in line for some overpriced coffee, maybe you feel a glimmer of pride that you’re part of Tribe Apple. Part of Tribe Starbucks. That's the branding.
Or.... maybe you look at that Apple laptop and think, “What an overpriced piece of shit. My Lenovo, which I customized myself, runs rings around it and only cost me $600.” And you get your coffee, which you think is too strong and too bitter and too much money, and you look around the Starbuck's, seeing not a bunch of hip people, but a bunch of deluded dreamers wasting their lives. And you’re kicking yourself because you could have gone to 7-11 and gotten a great cup of coffee for a buck. This is all branding, too. It's not the branding Apple and Starbuck's planned, but you get what you get, because a large part of branding is that you get what you bring.
The basis of branding is a personal experience with the product, the service, the person. If you've had a good experience, the branding for you is going to be positive. Not so good an experience, the branding is negative.
The worst computer I ever dealt with was a Dell. It was awful. It was slow and constantly needed updating and was ugly and I hated it. It wasn't mine, it was my wife's, and it had Windows on it and I'm a Mac user and I'm clueless on Windows, and it was probably riddled with viruses and a fragmented hard drive and my wife was constantly confused using it, which would upset her, and then I had to fix whatever problem was pissing her off, which would distract me from my work and on and on until I threw the damn thing out and replaced it with... a Mac.
I've no idea if the Dell was really truly the monstrous piece of junk that made me want to kill that it seemed to be. For the price it was probably fine. I'll never buy a Dell though. Ever. I wouldn't even accept one for free - I'm completely serious about that. There's no amount of advertising or marketing with testimonials and statistics and Beatles music in the background that will ever change my mind.
'Speaking of The Beatles, now there is a brand that resonates with me. I'm pretty much a goodie two shoes - never tried pot, never took drugs, etc. The Beatles took just about everything — Lennon was a heroin addict... and that's all fine, becauseI love the Beatles. It gets worse: the Fab Four were probably sexually abusive to women (John Lennon most assuredly so), which is something I cannot abide with at all... but I love The Beatles. Lennon was an awful dad — the stories his son, Julian, tells break my heart. I still love The Beatles. The brand, for me, doesn't change. There's probably nothing that can ever change how much I love The Beatles.
A huge part of the branding is you, me, us —what we bring along emotionally, from our experiences and connections with the product, the service, the person, the music. And research has shown that it can be very hard to shift that opinion using logic and facts. Donald Trump probably could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a voter. He could also broker a nuclear disarmament treaty with North Korea and 60% of the country will still hate him. His branding is set, and it's not changing.
So what is the take away here, once we sweep away Apple, Starbuck's, Lenovo, Dell and The Beatles?
The single best thing you can do to grow your brand and polish your branding is to do whatever you can to ensure your customers have consistently positive experiences. Now, that sounds remarkably obvious only because it is, but I'm amazed at all the things that companies do, or fail to do, that erode and diminish the customer experience: From distorted music playing in an endless loop while on hold to a maitre d' with a shit attitude to delivering a package late to slow websites with difficult navigation to boring and uninformative marketing copy to a rental car that smells- there are so many ways to cock it up.
I'm amazed, frankly, at all the different ways I've managed to shoot my brand in the foot.
It isn't easy to always be at the very top of your game, but if you can do it, your brand will bloom, and your company will thrive, and you'll build a clientele that will be ridiculously faithful.
Hmmm... faithful clientele, who love us because of great experiences... What about those potential customers who have yet to have an experience with us? What do we do with those people? That is marketing!