Every spring, we gather up our small herd of Angus cows, sort off their calves, and go through the process of vaccinating, doctoring, and branding the babies. It’s a dirty, noisy, tough job. However, it’s necessary, so if they happen to wander into a neighboring pasture, we know they are ours.
Being both a ranch wife and a digital marketer fuels my mind with some interesting parallels.
In this article, we’re discussing the topic of branding. Not the annual ritual described above but the concept of crafting a brand for your business.
The idea of branding has been around for a long time and has roots dating back to Old Norse, the ancient North Germanic language. The word brand was a noun referring to a piece of burning wood. Later, the word became a verb meaning to “mark permanently with a hot iron.” By the seventeenth century, it became associated with a mark of ownership.
As businesses began using brands to distinguish their product from others, they realized that people were less interested in the product—typically a commodity—and more intrigued by the brand. There became good brands, mediocre brands, and poor brands. Over time, the brands people felt were good took the market share, and business branding emerged.
What Is Modern-Day Branding?
Is it a logo? Is it a slogan? Is it Don Draper dripping with creative idioms in a smoky boardroom on Madison Avenue in the iconic show Mad Men?
Not really. While all of these things can support or influence a brand, branding is the process of creating an emotion that customers and prospects associate with your company.
Whether intentional or unintentional, positive or negative, your company has a brand. It is the aggregate emotion your customers feel towards their experience with your organization.
What emotion do your customers associate with their experience of your brand?
If that question makes your stomach sink slightly, you’re not alone. Very few companies—even the largest ones in the world— feel confident in their knowledge of their customers’ sentiments. The companies who excel at this are ever vigilant and obsessive about understanding how every singular interaction with their brand is perceived.
How do you know what your target audience wants to feel about your brand, what benefits it can provide to elicit these feelings, what features will result in these benefits, and how can your team clearly and effectively communicate the brand?
Many books have been written on these topics; however, today, let’s focus on a few key principles for building a powerful brand.
Your brand promise sets the expectations for what your customers believe they will experience.
When my husband and I first married 16 years ago, I had many hopes and desires that I assumed he knew. He apparently had many as well that he similarly assumed I knew.
Living together in close quarters has a way of revealing holes in communication and unmet expectations. You can imagine the learning curve two young kids went through when we realized we each were assuming way too much and likely expecting way too much too.
If we’d only asked what the other expected from us, assessed our own capacity to meet those expectations, and then either communicated that we couldn’t meet expectations or changed our behavior to succeed, we’d have saved ourselves some very unproductive arguments. According to Psychology Today, the happiest couples tailor their expectations to what is realistic for their own circumstances.
Discovering your ideal client’s needs and expectations of your company, identifying what you can do to meet those expectations, and then effectively communicating messaging that meets those needs and expectations will set you apart and help you begin building the brand you desire.
Identifying your clients’ hopes and desires and how well you meet those expectations isn’t as complex as it may seem. Surveys are a powerful tool to gauge experiences before, during, and after the sale. You can also talk to customers on the phone or in person. Be sure to ask both open- and closed-ended questions so you get a mix of data that’s measurable and informative.
You can also read reviews on your listings and your competitors for insights on what people like and dislike about your and others’ brands.
Split testing your marketing messaging can also be a powerful way to know with statistical significance how your messaging, features, products, and overall brand promise are resonating with your audience.
The strength of your brand depends on how well your promise matches the wants and needs of your target audience AND delivers on those promises.
Have you ever hired a mystery shopper for your business? At the dealership I worked at in 2008, we did this regularly and learned some fascinating things about what happened with our team when no one was looking.
Marketing is simply presenting the right message at the right time to the right person and acquiring that customer at a profit. The experience of each micro-interaction, from online search to ad click to website conversion to appointment to sale to ongoing service, is what builds your brand.
Using data, surveys, and proactive follow-up procedures can help you get a handle on how well your team and business partners (agencies, consultants, manufacturers, etc.) are helping build the brand you want.
The first step is to identify your brand promise.
HubSpot identifies a brand promise as what consumers can expect from a brand across all touchpoints. It serves as a company’s foundational value and informs every aspect of the company, from its messaging to its customer service.
This isn’t a tagline or even an outward-facing value proposition. It’s what you communicate internally across your team and partner organizations so they can build the experience required to craft your brand. At the end of the day, your brand is what the marketplace says it is, explains author Bernhard Schroeder in his book Brands and BullS**t.
Differentiation is key.
If two products are essentially the same—similar technology, styling, features, and benefits—how do customers know which to buy? One could argue that in this situation, it will come down to price unless the consumer is given a reason or a promise of why one product is better or different from another.
For example, while water softeners vary slightly in technology, style, and features, it is reasonable to conclude that, by and large, water softeners across brands are quite similar.
How does a homeowner or a business owner decide which water softener to buy? It will depend on the value or differentiation communicated in the marketing and/or price. It may also come down to reputation and other people’s opinions about the product and the company. According to a blog by Qualtrics.com, 93% of consumers say online reviews influenced their purchase decisions.
To avoid the race to the bottom where everyone loses in due time, seek to do the hard work upfront and identify what exactly your customers LOVE about your product or service. Then weave that messaging throughout your organization.
Remember, the best brands are those where the customer believes there are no substitutes.
From the very first interaction someone has with your company and every touchpoint thereafter, you are building a brand. Having your finger on the pulse of what truly matters to your target audience and crafting an experience at each interaction with them will help you build a strong brand over time.
Just like people associate our ranch’s brand—the Diamond 4—with our family, people will begin to associate positive emotions with your brand, making them more likely to stay with you and refer others as well.
1 Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). How expectations affect one’s happiness in marriage. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-it-together/201810/how-expectations-affect-ones-happiness-in-marriage
2 Bretous, M. (2021, June 8). 3 easy steps to build your brand promise [+10 examples]. HubSpot Blog. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/brand-promise
3 Schroeder, B. (2017). Brands and Bulls**t: Excell at the former and avoid the latter. Tired Coast Publishing.
4 Diana Kaemingk // October 30. (2022, July 18). 20 online review stats to know in 2019. Qualtrics. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/online-review-stats/