The point of branding? It’s a question of choice.
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Brands help people choose – between coffees, holidays, cars, schools, partners and politics. Be it a product, a personality or a political party, brands attempt to guide your choice – and the number of choices are increasing. Today, more than ever, we are bombarded by sounds of ‘anyone and anything’ intent on getting us to buy or do ‘something’.
The purpose of your brand is to work as hard as it can to ensure that you are the automatic choice in the mind of your key audience(s). It is unseen, at times unmanaged and imperceptible, and, when working well, the most valuable member of your sales team, the most effective part of your marketing mix.
The success of a business depends mostly on the positive or negative reactions that customers have to it. And the role of your brand will differ depending on whether you are talking about your customers who have experienced your business (the brand experience), or the customers you want, but who have not used your product or experienced your service (the brand promise).
For current customers, the role of your brand can be indistinct or even irrelevant and the brand may not affect the business’ bottom line. For those you’d like to have, there is now incontrovertible evidence of the link between a well-conceived, well-managed and applied brand to business performance.
The brand experience
Customers’ reactions to a business are based mainly on the direct interactions they have had with it. Put simply, if they have used your product or service before and it didn’t go well, there is little a brand can do to alleviate the experience.
No amount of investment by Apple (an obvious case study for this area) in image, advertising, product and environment design and positioning would atone for the launch of a product such as the iPhone that didn’t work. How many restaurants have you returned to where the service was appalling?
However, the implications of a positive product or service experience are clear in terms of customer (brand) loyalty and there is much fertile ground to exploit following a positive customer experience. This is positive reinforcement and is part brand management and part customer relationship building. This topic is for another day.
The brand promise
Let us assume you are concerned with winning the hearts of new customers. This is the key role of a brand – to put your product or service in the minds of potential customers. A potential customer’s reaction to a business thus far not experienced will be based largely on their perception of your brand, how relevant it is to them and how positively different it is from other brands in the same area.
This is achieved through positioning and placement. ‘Positioning’ refers to an idea, a sense, an association, an ideal, an image, a group you are part of. Owning a certain type of car, phone or computer will say something about you because of what it stands for. ‘Placement’ is the act of putting those messages, senses and associations in the right place, by advertising in the right publication, sponsoring the right event or endorsing the right celebrity or sportsperson.
This is the promise you are willing to make and to keep to your customer, and the promise that will create a positive emotional trigger in your target customer. This is where selling starts. And this is where brand has its most valuable role.
Done well, your brand will become the most effective and hardworking sales resource you will ever have. Because it manifests itself as an emotional response, a feeling created and stored in the mind of your potential customer, it never stops working. Once there, it is not only the most effective sales resource you have, but also the most cost effective.