The most important asset in the marketing toolkit is all too often overlooked or worse, taken for granted. Businesses large and small tend to focus their marketing on transactions, often called the bottom of the purchase decision “funnel”. Marketers relentlessly seek and measure clicks and revenue, which is fine, but an incomplete view of consumer engagement.
Unfortunately, the digitization of media and content has exaggerated this hyper-focus on transactional marketing.
We know the funnel has changed radically. The progression from awareness to consideration to decision to purchase is still valid. But today’s consumer leaps from brand awareness to purchase in a matter of a few clicks: an ad drives a Google search, a click to a site, a quick look at the product and price to verify it meets the buyer’s needs and voila, a transaction is made. Sometimes, the consumer might look at reviews to validate the decision.
Marketers then pat themselves on the back for succeeding by connecting their site to the right search term and converting the click to a sale.
But sitting above the transaction, especially for any considered purchase, is the Brand. It’s the very thing that provides true product differentiation from your competitors. Product advantages are few and far between – what is the primary difference between Coke and Pepsi, Toyota and Nissan, or Bud Light and Miller Lite? You might struggle to come up with much besides their Brand. Product advantages are easy to imitate, and a competitor can always underprice you. But no one can claim your Brand. It is the most lasting of all components in the marketing arsenal.
Building a Brand is not like selling a product. Brands are constructed. Products are sold. Products can quickly change price and features. Shifting Brand perception is much more difficult. Let’s try and define Brand:
Here is what a Brand is not: a mission or vision statement, a name, logo, typeface, or style guide. A Brand is not a product or service – it sits “above” what is sold. What’s most interesting about your Brand is that while you may manage it and shape it, you can’t own it, because your Brand lives elsewhere.
“A brand is a promise that lives in the hearts and minds of the consumer.”
– Allen Adamson, Brand Simple
Now, close your eyes and think of some brands you know. What is their promise? What is your takeaway when you think of Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Ferrari, Costco, Trump, Krispy Kreme, Kiehl’s, Amazon, UPS?
What shaped your sentiment towards those Brands? Some of them, like Costco, Ferrari, Kiehl’s and Krispy Kreme actually do almost no advertising.
There are three primary components marketers use to shape their Brand:
Planned: What We Say We Will Do
These are deliberate and controlled actions, created and paid for by the Brand.
Generally, this is advertising: where the Brand sets expectations through traditional or digital advertising channels using purchased media. It is where the Brand establishes a voice and gets to say what it will deliver. How the Brand tells its story has a huge impact on consumer sentiment. The Brand’s voice becomes real through advertising: A Brand can be all the things humans are – funny, serious, relatable, authoritative, friendly, intimidating (or irritating).
Planned actions give the Brand a voice and it is how expectations are set. If the Brand overpromises, it will lead to disappointment later.
Brand Experience: Meeting Expectations
This is the consumer experience (CX – a hot topic these days). It is the total personal interaction with the Brand – the purchase process, product (expectations set by the Brand and the marketer) and the service experience.
This is where the Brand has the opportunity to prove itself. It often starts with the web site because that is often the first encounter with a Brand. Consumers want easy navigation and want to get their info or order quickly, and to have problems easily resolved whether on a mobile device or desktop. A poor checkout experience will taint the Brand.
Of course, the Branded product or service must deliver. And the retail experience – if applicable – has to deliver as well. CX is best tackled by creating a customer journey map to plot all potential interactions and adjust to exceed your audience’s expectations.
Social: What Consumers Say to One Another
This is largely out of the Brand’s control. It is where consumers get to confirm – or not – what the Brand says and does. Social media plays an important role, but perhaps not as important as a conversation between friends, neighbors, and family members. The more trusted a source, the more likely it is to be believed. A Brand may get hundreds of upvotes and positive feedback on Yelp but if my buddy at work says, ‘don’t eat there’, I won’t.
Review sites, social media posts, forums and discussions all must be monitored and seriously paid attention to – many gems about the CX come to light via social media. Bad news travels faster and speaks louder than good news, which makes listening to social media using sentiment analysis and other less sophisticated tools (like a dedicated member of the marketing team) so essential.
Books have been written about Brand building as well as entire agencies and consultancies devoted to it. It’s a passion of mine – and I am a regular lecturer on Branding in MBA programs. It’s a big topic and a critical one – much bigger than this post, so if you want to continue the dialog, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.