A brand makes customers feel like they know what they are getting. It is familiar, it is comforting and in the best instances, it is trusted.
Brands have been around for decades, but they are even more predominant now, with advertising coming at consumers on many devices.
Companies need to build, protect and live up to their brand.
“I have been in the marketing communications business for over 40 years and I’ve always been interested in brands because I’ve always been interested in why people buy things,” said John Favalo, managing partner at integrated marketing firm Eric Mower + Associates and member of the agency’s specialty marketing group EMA Buildings and Construction. “For me, it’s always been less about the product and more about the brand. In my role as a brand counsellor, I have said frequently, ‘products are nuts and bolts, brands are heart and soul.’ Brands take products to a higher level because great brands understand people. They understand that people need something but that what people want can be very different. I need clean teeth, but I want Crest. So, my experience with branding has always been involved with connecting brands emotionally with the people who can choose to buy them: creating heart and soul from the nuts and bolts.”
EMA’s brand philosophy is Brand as Friend. “We make a practice out of building friendships between brands and customers. The qualities that make good friends - affection, relevance and trust - make great brands.”
Favalo’s personal definition of a brand “is the expression, and an individual’s understanding of, purpose and promise. A brand should have a purpose. In the case of Crest toothpaste, its purpose is to clean your teeth. But Crest’s promise is prevention of cavities. Along with that promise can come additional benefits. Crest advertising promotes ‘a brighter smile.’ Crest has control of its brand expression and works very diligently to express purpose and promise consistently and competitively.”
A brand sets a company or product apart from its competitors.
“If all the companies in a given product or service category didn’t have brands, then products become commodities. There’s no basis for choice, except perhaps price. With no differentiation, you’d buy the toothpaste that cost the least. So, if Proctor & Gamble just offered toothpaste in a box, and if Colgate-Palmolive did the same along with Unilever, then everyone would sell plain-old-toothpaste. And, if they all cost the same, and they were all packaged the same, then how would you choose? Great brands create want and promote preference or choice: ‘I want Crest toothpaste because of what it promises me.’”
“Brands become brands when they communicate with users in a way that helps them make a choice - that creates a personal understanding of purpose and promise. But, after the sale, my experience with the brand determines if I continue to choose it. If I like the taste of Crest and people tell me how white my teeth are or if they smile back at me when I smile at them, then my experience meets my expectations and I’ll keep on buying Crest. If I buy toothpaste to have fresher breath and people pull away from me when I talk to them, guess what?”
Sometimes brands need to evolve with the company.
“Steel King Industries recently embarked on a rebranding,” said Laurie Fraser, marketing manager. “This was not a ‘marketing’ or ‘graphic design’ decision. The rebranding grew out of a realization by company management that Steel King had experienced tremendous growth and its products had evolved.
“The new brand is reflected in the new logo, which retained many of its same elements – the color and strength of the font has not changed - but its level of sophistication and precision are enhanced. The shape of the shield is more memorable and is a visual symbol of the company’s dedication to safety products and building rack products that excel in strength and reliability.”
The logo is “your team’s mascot and colors,” and the style and color make an emotional connection with the customer. It should be clear and used consistently “from your website to your phone script to your fleet vehicles,” Fraser said.
But the logo is just one part of branding.
“Strong brands don’t happen by accident. The first step is clearly identifying and articulating your company’s mission, including what you want to provide and the audience you intend to serve. Every member of your team should be aware of the message you need to convey to every customer and vendor - and each other - to make that brand authentic and strong.
“It is an ongoing process of growth for the whole company, and one that is built daily throughout the organization. It is the benchmark by which we measure the company’s progress,” she said. “Your brand is your company’s promise to its customer and encompasses everything from the quality of your product to the way your customer service staff answers the phones. Whether intended or not, everything your company and its representatives do becomes part of your brand in your customers’ minds.”
Brands keep satisfied customers and recruit new ones.
“Your brand – your public image -- is a quick identifier for would-be customers. Think about the quick decisions you make in an unfamiliar town when choosing a place to eat – does it sound expensive? Does it sound like they’d serve a good meatloaf? Do you opt for eating at a place whose reputation you already know? Before you’ve taken a bite of food, you’ve made decisions about their price, taste, clientele and cleanliness based on external clues – all factors building their brands,” Fraser said.
“When each interaction with a customer or prospect conveys your intended message and product strength, those messages build on each other, strengthen your brand in the public’s mind – and making it easy for current customers to point others in your direction.”
To protect your brand, take legal steps like trademarking to make sure you own the name, tag lines and graphics.
But that might not be the most important way to protect your brand.
“Protecting that image in the public eye requires you to perform regular internal audits and check in with your customers. Do you really deliver what your brand tells the world that you provide? Consistent expression of your brand conveys to your customer the strength of your commitment company wide,” Fraser said.
The emotional connection with a consumer is important.
“A brand is a combination of perception and expectation in the mind of the consumer. Brands create emotion, leading consumers to know, like and trust your company and its values. Trust is the most important element,” said Kristin Lelewicz, marketing manager for Wisconsin Lift Truck. “It establishes a presence for your company that attracts and retains loyal customers. It also differentiates your company from your competition. When it comes to our brand we ensure to promote our company tagline along with our logo; ‘Solutions of Excellence in Material Handling,’ to ensure consumers understand that we are a material handling “solutions” provider. We communicate our tagline on marketing materials to continually convey how we’re different than the competition…. we offer the whole package: the best methods and products to solve a company’s pain points. Because of this, customer know they can trust our brand as the go-to experts.”
Brands are built using direct mail, email blasts, digital advertising, social media and blogs, among other platforms. “Materials must include taglines and company content that helps influence consumers’ perception of your brand and to create the emotional connection to it. The messages must be truthful or the opposite effect will occur, creating a negative brand experience,” Lelewicz said.
“When it comes to shaping our brand experience, we’re currently focusing on educating the market through informative blog topics, handout materials on new concepts within the industry as well case studies. We look to position our company as a leader in our field through best-in-class content. By educating potential customers, they associate your brand with being the go-to expert, so when the time comes to purchase material handling products, we hope to be on the top of their mind,” she said.
An online presence means companies need to protect their brand on the web.
“Nowadays it’s equally important to monitor your online reputation to be aware of what others are saying about your company. This includes consumer and employee online mentions. I suggest using ‘Google Alerts’ to keep tabs on what is being said about your company. Once set up, Google will send automated emails with lists of links relating to any keyword of your choice. I have alerts set up for our company name as well as our competitors names to keep in the loop of what is being said online,” Lelewicz said.
Mary Glindinning is a freelance writer who has worked at daily and weekly newspapers for more than 20 years. She lives in rural Shullsburg, Wis. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Mary.