Thinking About Brands

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September 4, 2013

Many of us use the word “brand” almost daily. We are all consumers and often refer the brands of products we buy (e.g., “That’s a good brand.” “What brand of cereal do you like?” “What brand of shampoo do you use?”) At work, most of us recognize and discuss the importance of our own brands, even those of us not involved in consumer products. Unfortunately, the wide use of the word does not translate to a universal understanding of what a brand is. When we ask clients what exactly a brand is, we get many different answers and almost as many questions. Often we hear the attributes of a brand rather than a definition: a logo, an image, a personality. All of these are important, but none of these gets to the essence of what a brand really is.

Put simply, a brand defines a relationship:

    A brand is a promise between an organization and its customers as perceived by those customers.

Thinking about, building, and maintaining a brand in this way is at the heart of what we do for our customers and how we build a relationship with them. Let’s break down the parts of the above definition:

•   A promise means a promise. A brand’s promise is what you promise to deliver and what the customer expects from you.

•   Between an organization and its customers embodies the bond, relationship and loyalty that you have to your customer, and your customer has to you.

•    As perceived by those customers means that a brand cannot be simply what you want it to be. It is what your customers really perceive about you right now. You can aspire to a future brand promise, but your aspirations are not part of your brand until the customer perceives the truth of your promise, built only by the things you do continuously to meet or exceed their expectations.

Every part of an organization plays a part in building and maintaining its brand(s). Everyone in the organization has a role in assuring that the promise is delivered and that customers receive what they expect from the brand. It could be product features, quality, customer service, or creating a particular image through advertising. Each activity works in concert with the others to build a brand.

It is easy to think that brands are all about advertising, logos and slick communications. We are all consumers and often buy products (cars, candy, soda, cereal, etc.) that we learned about through advertising. For most consumer goods, in fact, advertising plays an important role in brand building and becomes an inseparable part of the promise. However, in most organizations, advertising plays a much smaller role. The brand must be nurtured, protected, and built step by step, employee by employee, customer by customer. If our organization, big or small, is to succeed, we have to earn our brand reputation; only then will customers and potential customers recognize the brand, perceive its promise as credible, and confidently purchase our products and services.

Making a brand a part of the fabric of an organization is one of the most important things to ensure long-term success. First and foremost, understand your current promise from your customers’ perspective. Next, make sure all your employees know what that promise is and how they can deliver on it. Finally, align everything you do to keep your promise and meet and exceed your customers’ expectations, and the brand recognition you seek will take care of itself.