What is a Brand?
A “brand” originally referred to the name or maker of a product, such as “Ford”, “Tide”, “Lego”, etc. More recently, a distinction has been made between a “brand name” and a “brand.” The name of a product or service or its maker would be the brand name, like “Avis”, “Federal Express”, “Apple”, and so on. The brand has come to denote the perception and even emotion associated with a product or service in the minds of consumers, how it is presented and packaged, etc. What do you think of when you see the Apple logo? What do you perceive or feel when you hear the phrase “United States Army”? When you are in the soda aisle and you see “Coca-Cola” and its red and white packaging, do you feel compelled to reach for it over other “colas”? These questions all relate to the “brand.” There is now a field called “branding” which distinguishes itself from “marketing” although it is really just a subset of marketing.
The term “positioning” was introduced about 40 years ago and is still highly applicable today in our world of social media and market oversaturation. The subject is described in detail in the book Positioning – The Battle for your Mind written by Al Ries and Jack Trout. In brief, “positioning” refers to the position of a product or service in a person’s mind. I use the singular “person” because any demographic or “target market” is really just a group of individuals that may or may not share common characteristics. In the example of the soda aisle, when you think “cola” or “soda” what comes to mind first? What do you reach for first? If it is “Coke” then Coke takes the number one spot for you personally. Positioning can also refer to an association between one thing and another thing. Sticking to the Coke example, if you found out that people were looking for something “real” then you might develop a campaign about Coke being “The Real Thing” in order to affix in people’s minds that “Coke” and something “real” were one and the same. “Coke” and “real” are then positioned side by side.
Positioning works negatively as well. If you market a “Chevy Nova” in Latin America, you will be telling people that the car “doesn’t go” because “no va” in Spanish means “not going” – to cite one outrageous example.
Perception vs. Reality
There is a phrase I’ve heard which is that “perception is more important than reality.” I believe this to be both true and untrue. It is true in the sense that you can create a perception of something in order to attract customers and sell them something. A good example of this is the “SALE” signs plastered all over the mall. “Buy One Get the Second One 50% Off!” creates the perception that the person is getting a deal. They may or may not be getting much of a deal and they walk out having spent more money, but they have a smile on their face because they perceive that they “got a deal.”
But the statement is untrue in the sense that any business must always deliver something that people need or want, regardless of how it is presented. The reality will always be more important than the perception. Selling something useless or harmful under misleading or false pretenses is not only dishonest but it will backfire on the purveyor sooner or later. Deliver what you promise or exceed it – plain and simple.
A Brand Within a Brand
You can also have a brand within a brand. “Subaru” is a brand that designates a Japanese car maker with roots in airplane engines whose automobiles feature a unique all-wheel-drive engine design. The cars are extremely popular in certain areas of the US, in particular the Pacific Northwest.
“Subaru Outback” is a brand within a brand and refers to a sporty station-wagon type vehicle that appeals to outdoorsy people and families that own dogs. “Subaru WRX STi” however is designed for fast car enthusiasts who appreciate turbochargers and maneuverability. Subaru customers of any type tend to be loyal to that brand for life and even spanning generations. Subaru owners hand their Subarus down to their kids and then buy a new Subaru. Subaru, the company, seems to have a very good handle on its target markets and what they expect and appreciate in the brand.
Your Brand in the Fullest Sense
Your “brand” isn’t just a marketing term. It is something that pervades every store, office and cubicle of your business whether you are a local grower of organic foods or a global manufacturer of quality clothing. Your brand designates not just how people perceive you, but what you ARE and what you deliver. It relates to your products and services and HOW you deliver them. Do people know they will get their money’s worth? Will they be so happy with the item that they keep coming back again and again? Is the item delivered with punctuality and courtesy? Does everyone in the business understand your brand and what it means? Is this forwarded and emulated at every point of customer contact and even internally?
There is no shortcut to defining and delivering your brand in the fullest sense of the word. A car has to run as promised. A watch has to tell time and keep ticking. An app has to work as intended. When the customer perception of what you ARE and what you truly ARE merge together as one and the same, and it is what you intended, you have achieved the mission of branding, right? Wrong! That is only part of it. The real measure will be your prosperity, earnings, customer satisfaction and loyalty, longevity, expansion, etc. Then you’ll know if all the work paid off. So you’ve got to keep track of the effectiveness of your branding and marketing as you progress. Only then will you know if what you are doing is working or not. Only then will you know to continue something, modify it, remedy it, reinforce it, discontinue it, etc.
Your Brand and Growth
A large corporation will have an active marketing department and probably outsource a lot of the advertising, surveying, etc. A smaller company will often do a scaled-down version of the same activities. A store or coffee shop will note who is buying what and how often. They will do this through direct observation and by tracking the various numbers. As the small business expands, it will find a need to get more sophisticated in how it goes about branding and marketing. In fact, expansion is often the problem for many businesses. They get bigger and their small version of doing something is no longer adequate, but they do not adjust and get better organized, cannot handle the increased volume and so contract. So, managing expansion is an integral part of successfully forwarding your brand into the future.