What is your brand?

August 20, 2018 | Article

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another” – Seth Godin

Seth Godin, best-selling author (Linchpin) and the mind behind the concept of ‘permission marketing’ is considered a brand guru. In 2018, he was inducted into the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Hall of Fame. The above quote is one his most popular insights into the context of what a brand is all about. Nonetheless, the word “brand” is still one of the most misunderstood words in the marketing world.

Historically, the term was branded by ranchers more than a century ago. They used branding irons to identify their livestock, a practice that continues to this day.

Perhaps the most iconic example of branding is associated with Coca Cola; however, even the beverage giant has been challenged over the past four decades to compete in a world of clever brands vying for a larger share of the beverage market Coca Cola still continues to dominate.

As the quote from Godin indicates, a brand is something owned just as much by the consumer as the company. What started simply as a name for a product over a century ago evolved into a culture, a strategy, an art and a science. So the question is: what is your brand?

David Ogilvy, an iconic adman of the last century, described a brand as the “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes”. What Godin describes takes it further. Between the two men, there is an opportunity for a marketer to more clearly define their brand.

A brand is “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” – David Ogilvy

So, taking both views of branding into account, here are the questions you might ask, which can lead you to a more tangible description and understanding of your brand.

1. What are the attributes of your product or service which make it distinct from other products or services in your category? The physical attributes of a product include the functionality and other components that appeal to the consumer. It might be the raw material used to make it, the color and size, perhaps even the shape. If it is a service, it might be the manner of delivery; for example, a new service now delivered online. So that covers Ogilvy’s context.

2. On to Godin. What do your customers say about your product or service? To some degree, what they say has something to do with what they have heard or seen; however, consumers also form their own meanings. They may support a brand because it is socially responsible and active, making the world a better place. A brand might be an exponent of a value consumers aspire to. This is certainly the case with materialistic things like luxury vehicles.

3. When you tell stories about your product or service, what kind of stories are you telling? Do your stories make a connection with your consumer? Are they relevant? Social media certainly offers an opportunity to solicit immediate consumer reactions and perspectives. Have you been looking at their responses carefully to see if there are trends? Are the responses in line with what you wanted to achieve or is there a misunderstanding or confusion — even resistance?

4. What do you understand about your consumers’ expectations relating to your brand? Too often, marketers push out the values of a product or service without really paying attention to what consumers actually want (or ignoring them altogether). Typically, marketers will say, “I know what my brand is.” What is perhaps even more important is finding out what consumers know about your brand; not only know, but — feel.

Is your brand meeting consumer expectations?

So, really, there are two basic sides to a brand. The first is the name and image consumers see or hear about in media. The second side is the one the consumer creates. This embraces their perceptions, thoughts and feelings about the product or service. How much do you really know about those perceptions?

In the latter 60s, early 70s, 7-UP, a minor player in the beverage industry at the time, developed a strategy designed to grab share away from the ubiquitous giant, Coca Cola. Their research showed them that consumers wanted an alternative. As a result, advertising history was made when the clear colored beverage company launched a campaign overtly naming its main competitor, something marketers and advertising professionals gasped at. But it was simple and elegant — and historic.

They branded themselves as the “Un-Cola”. It was a blatant counter attack to the norm. Interestingly enough, America, at the time, was being torn apart by the Viet Nam war. Like the war protesters, 7-UP was protesting the norm and positioning themselves as opposition to the status quo. Of course, it worked.

In some ways, a brand is something that either becomes part of a culture or creates the culture. Think of it this way: you may believe you know what your customers want and build a one-sided brand, one only you understand. Or, you can begin to explore the relationship with your consumers that will help build the relevance and appeal of your product or service.

Hopefully, this offers you a — brand new way— of looking at it.