We all use the word “brand” as though everyone else’s understanding of it were the same as ours. Yet, chances are it’s not.
Logo is part of brand. TV and social media are parts of brand. Naming is part of brand. So are your product, your customer experience, and your SEO tactics. So are your font, your tagline, your business’s personality, and the color of your employee uniforms. But none of those are, by themselves, brand.
To make smart decisions around shaping and communicating your brand strategy, it’s important to understand all the aspects. Here are seven layers of brand:
Brand Is What You Stand For
It’s what you mean to your customer. It’s the place you occupy in his or her mind. Everything your business does either reinforces your meaning, solidifying, and growing its place in the customer’s mind—or it weakens that meaning, blurring its place in the customer’s mind. If you sell shoes that enable customers to run fast, everything you do reinforces or blurs your meaning of fast shoes. If you sell hospital software that streamlines patient check-in, everything you do reinforces or blurs your meaning of streamlined check-in.
Brand Is a Relationship Between Your Business and Your Customer
These relationships have existed for millennia. The pre-Industrial Age, small-town butcher made a promise and faithfully fulfilled it time and time again, making his relationship with his customer ever more meaningful for both. Today, with the web and social media and the countless ways customers can communicate with a business, it’s even more important to deliver value.
There was a time when the business with the most spending power had the loudest megaphone and, therefore, the most powerful brand. Now, the customer has a megaphone, too, and once again carries clout in the relationship. The feedback loop demands a mutually fulfilling relationship. Businesses must carefully make distinctive promises and deliver on them faithfully.
Brand Is Your Promise and Your Fulfillment of That Promise
When a brand has integrity, its promise is true. The business makes a promise—to deliver a scrumptious-tasting dinner, or eliminate a software system’s downtime, or make a home-buying experience more enjoyable—and delivers on that promise. It is not merely what you say you do—it is what you actually do, how you do it, and why.
As Don Knauss, previously CEO of Clorox and head of North American operations for Coke, puts it: “A brand is a promise of performance. Any transaction between two parties requires a promise of performance. To sustain your business over time, you’ve got to, first, be very focused on defining your promise of performance and, second, be diligent about delivering consistently. If you can’t do these two things, you are not a sustainable business.”
Brand Is A Filter
A brand captures and guides attention. It serves as a filter for customers as they perceive your business, shaping how they see you and believe you. We humans need these filters. When faced with too much information, we use cognitive shortcuts as filters to tame sensory overload. Brand ties your business to something already in your customer’s head, making it easier for the person to engage with your business. Brand creates a similar neural pathway, leading the customer to choose your business with ease.
Brand Strategy Is the Deliberate Articulation of Your Business’s Meaning
While brand is the meaning you stand for inside your customer’s mind, your brand strategy is the deliberate articulation of that meaning. Brand strategy distills your promise so you can make choices across your business to carry out that promise. It answers the questions: What kind of business are we, and what kind of business do we want to be? What do we want to mean to customers?
By distilling what you stand for, you give yourself a tool to guide the choices you make to grow the business you want. Brand strategy is about getting to self-knowledge. It’s about defining your business as its best possible self, so that it can become more of that—more of its most intentional, most purposeful self.
Brand Fuels Differentiation
Consumer packaged goods leaders, like those at Clorox, Procter & Gamble, General Mills, and Nestlé, have been using the power of brand for decades because they have to. Consumer packaged goods companies are bastions of excellent brand-building, because the largely undifferentiated products force brand excellence. When your products are pretty much the same as those of your competitors, you better have an outstanding brand.
A bottle of Clorox bleach contains essentially the same bleach as store-brand bleach—6 percent sodium hypochlorite, 94 percent water. But the consumer price of Clorox bleach is often double that of store-brand bleach, and Clorox bleach still wins 65 percent market share of the bleach category. That’s because the Clorox brand stands for something different from the others, something that resonates and motivates the target customer. Clorox stands for feeling like a good, competent, loving parent. The target customer values this, and Clorox can deliver this.
Brand Is Your North Star
When every element of your business is aligned around a single brand strategy, you leverage human nature to work for you, and all parts of your business work in concert. This creates a compounding loop of goodness for customers, employees, and investors. Operating this way simply makes growth easier and more gratifying.
Successful brand strategies are not squishy, elusive, or superficial. They are logical, proven, and always ready to guide you. When you create a brand strategy deliberately and carefully, you define the business’s North Star that will clearly guide every decision you make and every decision your team makes. Brand forms your most durable competitive advantage. It lights your way to creating purpose, value, and scale.
Editor's Note: This excerpt of Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide (Lioncrest Publishing, April 2019, ISBN: 978-1-544-51386-7, $27.99) is republished with permission from Lindsay Pedersen.
To read more articles by Lindsay Pedersen, click here.