As humans, we can form and communicate abstract ideas and concepts. A brand is a collective idea we keep in our mind, like numbers for example. You can’t touch a number, but we all agree that 1+1=2. The same way, you can’t touch a brand. You can use a product, but that is not the brand. Keeping that in mind, what makes a brand to be so effective that just a sound or a logo can trigger a strong reaction within us?
A brand is “… a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect. It’s simple and difficult as that.” - Al Ries
According to Scott Lerman in his book “Building better brands”, for a brand to be effective it needs to be true, actionable, and compelling. Only two of them won’t cut it, you need to have all three. A true brand is one which keeps its promise. Actionable means everybody in the organisation knows what they have to do to reach success, and to be compelling it must be inspirational and aspirational. All these characteristics must be consistent throughout the years.
Several elements form a consistent brand: the identity, the arena, the position, the character and the experience.
These are the elements which make the brand unique and recognisable: logo, colors, typography, graphic, mnemonics, catch phrases, name, etc. The identity is the main entry to connect with your audience. People may recognise a brand even before knowing what it does. Brands like Google, Xerox, or Thermos went a step forward and became a generic word for an action or product. This phenomenon is called “genericization”, google it!
Arena is where you will compete. What is your product or service? What is the reason of being? You can start a company to solve a problem in the world, or you can establish a company because of passion. Knowing the answers helps to position yourself on the market as well. Let’s say you opened a local coffee shop because the coffee shops in your area have imported coffee and you wish to boost local economy. Now it’s much easier to choose where you’re going to print your packaging, where you will market your product and with what people you prefer to connect, find your competition and figure out how you relate to them.
In our competitive market, you need to stand out. Why would someone choose you? How do you stand out from your competition? The most successful companies narrowed their focus to the point of creating their own market. You can’t be everything to everyone and you shouldn’t try. You can narrow your offer so much that the market is inexistent. Let’s say you make socks. Now you need to compete with all the other socks companies. But if you decide to make socks only for dogs, even more, socks only for German Shepards, maybe you have the chance to define that market and be the market leader.
People want to associate with brands because of their prestige, mission or what they stand for. This is the primary driver of choice. Quality and price comes second, contrary to popular belief. The character plays a big role of winning people over and making them identify with the brand. Brands that act as tribes connect with their target audience and turn potential customers to loyal fans and brand advocates, sometimes even fanatics. Don’t need to go further than the typical Apple fan example.
How do they do that? They deliver a constant experience over long periods of time. This is the brand’s reputation or promise.
If character brings people in, the promise keeps them. It’s not like you have a fan and it’s there forever. This is a process that needs to be iterated constantly, refined and adapted because markets change, people change, drivers of choice change. How you will stay relevant and connected to your audience will be the primary factor which determine if you’re going to be on the market in the next 10, 20 or 50 years from now. A brand’s success is measured in decades not in years. Markets, companies or target audience do not define brands. People define them.
“Brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is” - Marty Neumeier
You can’t control people’s perception, but you can massively influence it through the process of branding. Figure out who you are, what you stand for, pick the right name, create a cohesive visual identity and apply it throughout your product line and marketing campaigns. Find out who you’re speaking to and how. Craft a customer experience that enhances your promise and position on the market. When you know who you are is much easier to make decisions. This way you will own your place in people's mind.