Success boils down to your ability to influence people to take action. Brand is how people see you – what you are known as in that process. You may have a brand or not. It may be a good brand or not. Either way, you do not determine your brand. The consumer does. You are the influence.
Branding is a conversation that starts between two people. That conversation builds to a discussion between four then eight and so on. The conversation replicates quickly via social media networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter, and more. People start posting videos about it on YouTube. They create discussion groups and chat about it through message boards. They start to bookmark sites that reference the topic. Then Walla! Your brand is born. To influence the success of a brand, set the agenda and let your customers spread the conversation. Set up the playground and let them play.
Advertising is not a conversation between people and alone is not enough to influence brand. That is why the companies that spend the most on advertising still do not have the strongest brands. That is why successful companies are developing online communities and “buzz” about their services. This principle worked very well in the last presidential election where there was definitely buzz among young people via their chosen method of communication – social networking. You cannot “buzz” with your TV or a print advertisement.
Brand is the difference between a luxury car and a Mercedes Benz. Brand is the difference between a designer’s handbag and a Hermes Birkin. Brand is the difference between a cup of coffee and a cup of Starbucks.
Other examples of strong brands are: Nike, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Ikea. All of these companies have competitors offering similar services. What makes people talk about these more? There are key elements that you want to consider when you create a plan to influence the decisions of consumers.
1) Offer Continual Value – Aim to enhance your usefulness. Study your eco-system -organizations and stakeholders operating within your business environment, which collaborate and compete in an economic web of relationships. For companies that means don’t just understand your internal systems of sales, marketing, manufacturing, technical support and new installations but also include suppliers, lead producers, competitors, and other stakeholders.
Stop selling products. Start selling services. Gather case stories. Gather testimonials. Share resources. Focus. Focus. Focus. Who are you? What do you do? Ask yourself what the consumer is asking, “What does it matter?”
2) Be Innovative – This is imperative to growth. Continually push the boundaries of what you offer and add ancillary products. Amazon is a good example of this. Experiment rapidly. Embrace failure. Be audacious. Think big and small. Please customers with your attention to detail. Take a wider view of the shopping experience and make each step simpler and more enjoyable.
An idea is innovative when it scares the hell out of you. Consider the name of your brand. The name must be distinctive, brief, easy to spell, appropriate, and likeable. Logos seem to be a dying breed and are being replaced with icons and avatars. An icon is a name or visual symbol that suggests a market position. Like the Nike check mark or the CBS eye-popping silhouette. An avatar is a brand icon that can move, change and operate freely in other media such as the Cingular person avatar.
The most effective packaging of your service will follow the rules of human nature:
1) It catches the eye of the consumer
2) The consumer asks, “What is it?”
3) The consumer wonders, “Why should I care?”
4) The consumer wants to be persuaded
5) The consumer needs proof
The lesson here? Don’t spill your candy in the lobby. Don’t pack your web site with everything that you know. Don’t put everything you can on the package cover. Don’t make your presentations, web site or packaging too fat for the dress.
3) Offer a Premium Experience Where the Consumer can Be Entertained – Premium aesthetics coupled with consistent delivery will always have a place for consumers. Apple computers are not inexpensive. Yet they are infinitely popular because they offer consistent positive performance. You walk into the Apple store and the sales people are dressed like you might be – in a T-shirt. Not just any T-shirt – all with a consistent theme that states their values. They invite you to be part of their identity by meeting you on your level. Reach out with free products and great service. Make money with premium services.
4) Create a Sense of Community – Social media makes this easy and inexpensive. The consumer has evolved from the “served” to the “creator.” Today the consumer is the performer. And they want to buzz about something important. Shift from clever messaging to productive interactions. Ask for help or feedback on Twitter. Use Delicious to see tags used by others. Ask people what they have to say. Survey customers. Act on their feedback. Hire people who are conscientious, empathetic, friendly and have ability.
Find your voice and begin to tell your story. Link your story to the story of your clients so they return again and again to hear you tell it. Leverage the existing community of consumers involved with your products and services to promote their experience with you. Online content should create a social tension that consumers wish to resolve. Ask your customers for their opinion. Present them with a dilemma.
5) Change Your Model – Examine the eco-system of your customer and adapt your business model to meet it. Car dealers know that consumers’ schedules are busy so now some will ride you to work if your car is in their shop. This is a big change from 15 years ago. Stay flexible and allow your customers to dictate how your services will be used. Begin with “who” rather than “what.” Allow the consumer to be the protagonist. They want to lead the journey and be entertained on the ride.
Bring the audience into the creative process. Getting your message across used to be a monologue with print ads, radio ads and television commercials beamed at you. Now it is a dialogue. The purpose of brand is to make you the natural choice of your customer. People buy people. Brands fail because businesses fail to think, speak and behave like a people business.
6) Prioritize the Environment – Examine you eco-system and make choices of sustainability for all shareholders. Show consumers that you care about their environment and their future. Get the best and the brightest talent working for you and canvas everyone internal and external – stakeholders, competitors, customers and non-customers. Schedule regular meetings with your customers where there is no sales agenda. Entertain them, present a dilemma for their feedback and value that feedback.