With all the doubletalk nowadays about brand strategy and the correct way to go about it, it’s no wonder so many companies are showing signs of brand schizophrenia. Brand experts would have us all believe that branding is either A.) very difficult and complex or B.) magic, created with mirrors and fairy dust.
Nonsense. Branding is a simple process based on sound principles. Companies just need to think it through. Branding problems really boil down to three main scenarios:
1. Companies that try to be what they think their customers want them to be
2. Companies that have done nothing about their brand
3. Companies that get mired in analysis paralysis – over-thinking market segmentation, competitive positioning, value propositions, long-term objectives, short-term objectives, qualitative research, quantitative research, etc. etc. etc. (All of this is important, of course, let’s just not get stuck here.) What few branding experts seem to be talking about is how companies need to be “themselves.”
Lost in the sea of sameness
Most companies don’t stand out in the marketplace “sea of sameness.” And because they don’t stand out, they are not connecting with potential customers. These weak brands strain resources and give the feeling of working harder for less. The main reason most companies don’t stand out is because they don’t know “who” they are. Some think they need to be like their potential customers in order to connect with them, so they bend over backwards trying to be what they think the market wants them to be. They try on many different looks and change with the trends, having many different images and personalities at the same time, or one after the other. This only confuses would-be customers and dilutes any competitive advantage. Some companies just don’t pay attention. Their business groups work in silos, and, under the guise of decentralization or pushing down authority, the brand has run amok. There’s no consistency for customers to grab on to or recognize. And still other companies work on their brands… and work, and work, and work. They go from one branding agency to the next, trying to get the “right formula” for success. Or they spend a bundle and two years worth of time doing research and having meetings and never making a decision. Or they make a decision, but after all that “work,” the brand solution is so beaten to a pulp that no one remembers how they got there or what the point was anymore.
What about being yourself?
Stop! Let’s think about this for a moment. Isn’t the purpose of branding to present your company to your audiences? (Bear with me here.) Don’t you actually want your customers and potential customers to know you, to recognize you, and to connect with you? And if marketing is like having a conversation, a relationship with your customers – don’t you think they should get to know the real you?
Companies need to be authentic with branding. They need to find their own identities based on their values, character, and personality, and translate these identities into strategic representations. Then, these authentic representations, when used with consistency over time, will help customers recognize and connect emotionally with them, so the company can gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Think about your favorite brands. I’ll bet dollars to donuts your favorite brands got where they are by being authentically themselves – think the freedom of individualism, like Harley-Davidson. Or cool design on a budget, like Target. Or a great brand experience, like Starbucks. You get the point. They’re themselves, and you love them for it. So, the next time you think about working on your brand, go ahead — it’s okay to think about what your customers want from you. And it’s good to do the research and analysis too – but start by looking inward, at your company’s authentic self. Your core values. Your culture. Your imperfections and your little-known secrets. Your brand will be the better for it.