Branding: FLUFFY discipline or business booster?

Should you care about something fluffy like branding? Yes you should – and here’s why. Your business succes is more dependent on perception than you’d like to think. Why? Because in a world of information-overload, (potential) customers make guesses based on imperfect information. They have too little time and too much on their minds to compare and weigh all possibilities thoroughly. Besides, differences between suppliers are often hard to perceive: how to assess quality differences?

So they begin their search by considering the options that first come to their mind. From that point they tend to take shortcuts to decision-making and allow pragmatic and personal (often unconscious) rules of thumb to guide them. For example:

  • “If a company looks more professional it will be more professional” 
  • “If it sounds familiar it will be more reliable”
  • “If it’s expensive it will be of better quality” ( but is it?)
  • “If there is only one piece of jewellery in the window, it is probably very valuable
  • “I choose the one that looks most tasty”
  • “This hospital facade looks very outdated, I just can’t believe they’re any good”

Whether assumptions about brands (whether based on hearsay, their looks or messaging) are justified or not, they impact customer choices. This also applies to ‘high involvement’ decisions like choosing a hospital or consultancy company.

  • For advice from McKinsey, companies sometimes pay tons more than that of an unknown firm. But who says the small firm is not just as a genius
  • A Japanese car can functionally be just as good as a German. But do customers want to pay the same for it… And is a Volvo really safer?
  • For the security of a predictable room in a Hilton hotel, fans happily pay hundred dollars more than for an equivalent room at a similar (but unknown) hotel.                                                                                                       

What (potential) customers think and feel about your brand thus impacts their choice and therefore your business success. It’s not about how unique you are, but about how unique customers believe you are. 80% of all CEO’s believe their brands (products, services, companies, …) are unique in their market. But guess what: only 8% of potential customers agree (source: Bain & Company). Why would they choose for a brand that seems to perform, looks, talk and feel the same as any other?

Perception influences customer decision making. Branding is the art of influencing perception. The more your brand stands out (in the way it performs, talks, looks, feels, …..), the more likely people will remember it, prefer it, pay a premium price for it and talk about it with others. Simple as that. Branding if done well, is a huge business accelerator.

Strong brands, better financial results                                                                                 What (potential) customers think is true about your brand, affects their willingness to try and repeat buying your brand. Both in the short and long – term, a strong brand creates better yields. These results can be seen in terms of:

  • More information requests and/or trial purchases by new customers
  • More repeat business (70 % of all purchases are driven by loyalty)
  • Higher margins
  • Higher value when selling the company (as a famous brand with a loyal customer base provides security for the long term)

A cool logo doesn’t make a brand                                                                                                    Branding is about influencing what people think about you. Every contact with a customer is an opportunity to remind him of your existence and rub the difference you make once more in. This is not a matter of brand design of advertising but of systematically making your brand essence tangible for customers in everything you do. Take for instance Uber:

  • In a market where multiple taxi companies provide similar services against the same price (Ola, Meru), Uber promises and delivers the common man not just a convenient taxi-ride, but the experience of ‘having a private driver’. Everything consumers see from Uber supports this core concept. You directly connect with a driver, not with a taxi company. All it’s brand activations and partnerships are designed to enhance the ‘private driver’ experience. Uber plays your favorite music via Spotify, collects charity-give-aways at your doorstep, gets you an ice-cream and even brings you a kitten if required. The visual brand identity enhances the experience: as opposed to the average taxi service, Uber looks, talks and feels classy
  • The brand essence (the experience of having a private driver) is not just a slogan, it’s the source or inspiration and touchstone for everything Uber does. Uber makes sure it reflects in everything, from product and service to design and messaging.

Wired to stick to people’s minds                                                                                                        In the end the battle for mind- and market space is a memory game. Once a need arises that your brand can fulfil best, you want your brand’s name to pop-up in customer’s minds – including a notice of what makes it special. 

Getting started                                                                                                                                    

Branding is about systematically imprinting / engraving a brand’s name into consumers’ minds (brand awareness), evoking an expectation about what experiences it will give them, and ensuring every contact customers have with your brand reinforces the desired image.

Your brand image delivers customers, acting in line with this image makes customers coming back.

Once all brand manifestations are in sync, the challenge is to embed your brand in the long-term memories of customers as well as within the culture of your organization. So everything and everybody in your organisation is geared to (re)create the same brand experience for your customers again and again.

So….Is branding a fluffy expertise? Considering the huge impact of customers perception on business results, the answer is a big fat NO. Unfortunately there are a lot of fluffy brand consultants out there. They like to confuse their clients with loads of marketing mumbo jumbo and deliver complicated models consisting of gazillion profile words, character traits and metaphors. If you’re unfortunate enough to run into one of them, get out of there as soon as possible. They are just bad consultants.

Summary & checklist

  1. In a world of information-overload, customers make guesses based on imperfect information.
  2. They use brands as shortcuts to decision-making and make choices based on what they THINK is true about your brand. The difference they expect it will make for them (whether functional or emotional) and the experience they expect it will give them.
  3. What (potential) customers think and feel about your brand thus impacts their choice and therefore your business success.
  4. The deeper your brand is etched in the memory in your target market, the better it is for your business. Once they have a need you can fulfil, you want them to think about your brand first.
  5. From the combination of messages and experiences we get from a brand, we believe that we will receive a certain, distinctive experience from it. People mentally ‘add up’ everything they see, hear and feel from a brand.
  6. Building a brand is not just about creating a logo and building brand awareness. It’s about deliberately creating, influencing and delivering consumer expectations about a brand. With preference and life-long loyalty as the ultimate goal.
  7. Brand ≠ product or logo. Brand = the picture you have painted in the consumers mind (facts + feeling + images)
  8. Since customers brainspace is limited, the picture has to be simple and focussed.
  9. Painting a picture in people’s minds requires you to make sure everything the consumer sees reflects the difference you want to be known for; your brand’s essence.
  10. Brand building starts with focus: decide how you want to be perceived (and experience)

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