What Is Branding?
Most people consider branding as the sole domain of huge consumer companies like Nike, Coke or Johnson & Johnson. Not so, says Vistage speaker and branding expert Tryg Jacobson. In fact, he believes that with the right approach, any company — regardless of size or industry — can (and should) establish a successful brand identity. Before embarking upon any serious branding efforts, however, companies need to understand what brands are and what they do.
According to Jacobsen, brands:
- Simplify choices. In a world with an overwhelming number of consumer choices, they make it easy for people to buy.
- Are guarantees of quality and value. In general, people feel more comfortable sticking with what they know and trust. A good brand stands for quality and trust.
- Reflect what society considers important. The minute a brand stops reflecting what its customers consider important, it ceases to be a brand.
- Create trust. When people equate a perception of value with a promise of quality — two mandatory components of a brand — it creates trust. It is this sense of trust that makes brands so powerful.”To build trust, you need a perception of value and a promise of quality,” explains Jacobsen. “If you don’t have both, you might have an image but you won’t have a brand. To build a strong brand, you have to create value and then deliver it. Branding isn’t rocket science, but many companies miss the mark on these very fundamental principles.” Four Pillars of BrandingA recent study conducted by a major advertising company determined that all successful brands have four components, or pillars, that lay the foundation for success. These include:
- Differentiation. To create a brand, you have to set yourself apart from everyone else in the market. You can’t build a brand by being the same.
- Relevance. Relevance has to do with appropriateness and meaningfulness. If your product or service isn’t relevant, your point of difference won’t attract customers or keep them.
- Esteem. When you succeed at building relevant differentiation, customers respond with high esteem for your product or service.
- Understanding. This refers to how well customers understand and believe in your point of differentiation. Understanding also represents an important diagnostic indicator of brand health. For example, when customer esteem for a brand falls below understanding, it means that people know you but they don’t like you. If they don’t like you, they won’t buy your product.”Many companies mistakenly think they can buy understanding with massive advertising campaigns,” says Jacobsen. “This approach might create awareness, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into understanding. You can spend millions on advertising, but if you fail to communicate a meaningful point of difference, you’re just throwing money away. Always ask, ‘Are we communicating a single, simple point of difference that people can understand and believe in?'”Brand PositioningAchieving relevant differentiation, says Jacobsen, requires two basic steps:
- Define your audience.You can define your audience, including demographics, job descriptions, psychographics (the way people think and feel), lifestyles and cohort segmentation (defining the audience by the behaviors and attitudes developed during their formative years). Whatever definition you choose, you must understand what that particular group values.”Write a first-person definition of your audience in the language your customers use,” suggests Jacobsen. “Get inside their heads, hearts and souls and figure out what they consider important. That’s where successful brands meaningfully differentiate themselves — by connecting with what their customers truly value.”
- Develop a single benefit (ideally one idea or word) that sets you apart from your competitors.
One of the most effective positioning techniques is to “own” a word, to lay claim to a powerful one-word benefit that sets you apart from the competition. In essence, the word becomes your position. It lays the foundation upon which you build the perception of value. The toothpaste industry offers several examples of products that use this technique:
- Crest — Cavity protection
- Colgate — Whitening
- Close-up — Fresher breath
- Aquafresh — Tartar control
“Two brands cannot share the same word,” Jacobsen points out. “One brand, one word is the rule. You have to know what your customers want and how they perceive you against your competition. If you can’t set yourself apart, you don’t have the fundamental ingredient of a brand. Above all, the benefit has to be simple and easy to remember.
“Keep in mind that you build great brands through consistency at every point of contact. Inconsistency breeds mistrust. Your literature should look like your business card, which should look like your advertising, which should look like the people who represent your company. To the extent that they don’t, you lose your perception of value and alter your promise of quality. Never have more than one version of your logo.”
Common Branding Mistakes
Where are companies most likely to stumble in their branding efforts? Jacobsen identifies three deadly miscues:
- Lowering price to increase sales. Anytime you lower price, you devalue the brand. You may capture some additional price-sensitive customers, but you alienate those who have been paying a premium for your brand. Instead of trying to boost sales by lowering price, strive to raise prices by creating a more compelling point of difference.
- Confusing your product with your brand. The brand represents the perception of value, not your product. People don’t pay for your product; they pay for the trust, the perception of value and the performance of whatever your product provides. Products and services are merely tactics designed to elevate your brand.
- Failure to deliver on the promise. Perhaps the biggest mistake involves developing a perception of value around a promise you can’t fulfill. According to Jacobsen, nothing kills a brand more quickly. Never let a PR or advertising firm talk you into an ad campaign that promises something you can’t deliver.”In business, you have two choices,” concludes Jacobsen. “You can settle for commodity margins or set up a brand champion and earn the margins that go along with market leadership.” A brand disciplinarian practices these principles:
- Understand your customers and know what they value.
- Set your brand apart.
- Make your point of difference mean something.
- Keep it simple.
- Be consistent at every point of contact.”Remember that you’re not selling a product or service, you’re selling a brand. Everything you do should work toward improving your brand.”Tryg Jacobson is chairman of Jacobson Rost, a Wisconsin-based advertising and marketing agency with $25 million in revenues and more than 50 employees. He has taught his branding approach to a wide range of clients in diverse industries, including Kimberly-Clark, Piggly Wiggly Supermarkets, Kohler Co. and more. Jacobsen currently addresses Vistage groups on the subject of “How to Create Brand Positioning in Your Company.”