Understand what a brand is and what it is not.
A brand is not a logo mark. It is not an identity. It is not a product. So what is it exactly? As Marty Neumeier describes in his book, “The Brand Gap”, he describes it as “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization”. This gut feeling is the result of hundreds of micro-experiences. It’s the first impression, it’s in the final delivery and it’s all the experiences – good and bad– in between. The brand of any organization is decided by the consumer – not the business owner, the company, or the marketplace. In other words, it’s not what you say it is… it’s what they say it is.
Your brand is the emotional bond between you and your customer. It is not something you can control but rather influence. As a brand strategist, part of my job is to help organizations package truths about themselves that are digestible and attractive to current and future customers. The process involves research, requiring organizations to self-reflect, and to ask, who are we, who do we want to be, and who do our clients need us to be? This allows the organization to build a brand platform that is authentic and intentional. Your brand platform provides a foundation for storytelling and serves as an accountability tool. It requires reflection and documentation of several brand elements:
- Your Heritage: The story of how things came to be – the timing, the people and the environment.
- Your Name: The significance of your designation.
- Your Characteristics: Are you trustworthy? Empowering? Articulate? Inclusive?
- Your Voice + Tone: How you respond. Are you loud? Are you dramatic? Are you soft spoken?
- Your Mission + Vision + Values: How do you make life better for current and future clients or your team?
- Your Promise: What should prospects and clients expect from you? What are you pledging to them?
- Your Manifesto: This is your declaration of authenticity – the emotional why for you, your team and your customers.
- Your Visual Identity: Align your logo, color palette and type choice with the rest of your story.
Building a platform on authentic elements of the past, present and future, allows prospects to enter into your story and help shape its evolution. When it comes to your brand, your consumer is the judge and the jury. If he or she believes you aren’t fulfilling your part of the relationship by underperforming or misbehaving, the consumer will simply choose to enter a contract with another brand. That said, history shows us that in some instances, when brand relationships are strong, loyal customers extend grace when the organization makes an off-brand decision. For example, despite its woes, Uber grew its millennial customer base an astonishing 8.2 percent points this year over last.
Always be Listening.
Once you embrace the reality that your brand is defined by your consumer’s gut, you are able to change your posture from self-serving shouter, “Hey! Over Here! Look at me!”, to a self-aware listener, “Am I who my customers need me to be?”. When you start listening to your consumers, you gain the ability to improve their experience. Remember: It’s more than a logo. It’s more than an identity. It’s more than a product.
Realize and Transform.
When a brand realizes its full potential, it has the ability to transform people, communities and the way consumers make purchasing decisions. At its core, a transformation is much more than the “before” and “after”. It is an evolutionary process. It’s saying, yes to vulnerability and authenticity. It can get messy, but over time, it builds character and loyalty, it produces results, and ultimately, it will increase the lifetime value of your customer.