You hear about brand a lot these days: if something is “on brand” or “off-brand”, personal brand, defining a brand, humanizing a brand, rebranding. It’s probably one of most overused marketing buzzwords in recent memory, but that’s only because it’s actually super important.
Brand is arguably your most valuable business asset. A strong brand increases the value of your organization. It provides your employees with direction and motivation. It builds loyalty and makes acquiring new customers easier. It makes people care because it taps into our emotions, memories, values, and identities.
But, unfortunately, most brands aren’t as strong as they could be.
Today, our brands exist in crowded, noisy markets. With higher-than-ever stakes and smaller-than-ever attention spans, your brand can function as the differentiator, the stake in the ground, the last frontier for taking a stand and standing out. That’s easier said than done, though, particularly when there is so much misinformation on the subject.
We’ve rounded up several myths which prevent organizations from creating successful brands that stand out. Maybe you’ve experienced these myths in real-time. Maybe you’ve perpetrated them. Maybe your boss believes a couple. Wherever you’re at, we hope we can dispel at least a couple brand misconceptions along the way.
MYTH 1: Brands are optional.
This is possibly the most common myth in branding: that, if you don’t put work into creating a brand, you simply don’t have one. But it’s not true: brands exist in the mind of your audience, whether you intend it to or not.
“But I’ve seen products without brands!” you might say. But have you? In today’s competitive landscape, the perceived absence of a brand may actually just be a brand in disguise.
Take Brandless and No Name, for example. While it might appear on the surface that these companies don’t have a brand, they’ve actually branded themselves as a generic option. This goes to show that even seemingly brandless brands are making choices in order to position themselves according to their market and offering. Whether you like it or not, your audience is making judgements about your brand. The question is, are you managing those judgements?
If you have a suspicion that you might be committing this deadly brand sin, do not fret. Instead, give us a call.
MYTH 2: A brand is just a logo and a tagline
Not so! A brand is a promise, a perception, an expectation, a persona, and many, many other intangibles wrapped up in creative design. Their role is to create a bond that will lead to power and profit beyond what the product or service can deliver. A brand represents the sum of people’s perception of an organization’s products, service, reputation, advertising, messaging, voice and visual identity.
Great brands are ones that connect a company’s higher sense of mission and purpose with the culture at-large and create relevance with a target set of stakeholders
Take Nike and their world-shaking, politically divisive Colin Kaepernick campaign. In that moment, Nike wasn’t a just a Swoosh — it was a representation of what an organization stands for in people’s minds. It was what Nike has come to represent; it’s a gut feeling people have towards their company. Brand is a relationship based on past experience and future expectations.
MYTH 3: A brand can be everything to everyone, everywhere
No brand can be all of the Es, and they shouldn’t strive to be. If your brand were peanut butter, you’d be spreading it too thin. A crucial step in your brand strategy is developing a target audience and finding out where to reach them. Once you’ve gone through that process, then you can begin to define your brand with these people in mind.
Growing a brand is about focus, clarity and relevance. Without going too narrow, think about who your brand should be speaking to, first and foremost, and focus your creative communications on them. What do they value? What do they already think about you? Is this the perception you’d like them to have? If not, how might you go about changing it with your brand?
Dollar Shave Club is an example of a brand that started with a laser-focus on a specific customer and broadened as the business scaled up. And even with a more inclusive approach to audience, DSC is still focused in terms of their product offering and marketing channels. DSC is a hugely successful industry disrupter because they are direct-to-consumer brand, and probably always will be. They don’t need to be everywhere because they’ve found their niche.
MYTH 4: Once a brand is successful, then it can figure out what it stands for
Having brand values sounds easy enough, but few brands do it successfully. A brand that stands for something can be as simple as living out its organizational values and aligning those values with those of your employees, across all touchpoints, even when no one’s looking. Okay, maybe it isn’t that simple. Your brand isn’t skin deep — it has to have integrity, depth and heart in order to stick. Everlane is a great example of having all three:
From the get-go, Everlane has been a proponent of socially conscious fashion. They knew that, by sticking to their values – ethical factories, reduction of plastic waste, body positivity, and gender equality – they could stand out for all the right reasons. They baked this moral compass into their brand ethos and their business model because they know it’s their competitive advantage, their edge against others in a saturated fashion market.
These days, people are more and more skeptical of corporations, and any rift between brand promise and brand reality will be heavily scrutinized. Inconsistency in how your brand acts and articulates itself can be incredibly damaging to a reputation, risking brand loyalty.
Once you’ve got consistency down, you can think about what else your brand wants to stand for — or who else. Sometimes brands go outside of their walls to partner with causes that align with their mission, vision, and values. Interested in how you can take a stand today? We wrote an article on how to choose a social cause that fits your brand.
MYTH 5: Brand development happens once
Okay, so you have a well-defined, focused, consistent brand. You’ve skimmed over the last four myths thinking to yourself, “No way, Banfield, nice try. I’m good. My brand is on point and thriving”.
But slow down there, friend. Brands, like people, are living entities. They evolve, grow and to adapt to the environments around them. As time passes, your offer might change, your audience might get older, or younger, or the market context might shift. Your brand is an asset that needs to be maintained to mitigate this change.
A compelling example of ongoing brand management is Squarespace’s recent rebrand. On the outside, the change was minimal, but behind newly bolded letters and sharpened edges, Squarespace was reinventing themselves as a distinctly New York SaaS, poised to take over the e-commerce world. It was through this subtle shift that they were able to ready themselves for adjacent markets and move beyond just website hosting. Their refreshed brand is bolder, more confident, and better positioned to become the next tech giant.
It just goes to show that even a subtle refresh can help your brand access new audiences in new markets. Continuous measurement and monitoring of your brand will give you an idea of when and how your brand should be refreshed/redeveloped – which bring us to the final myth:
MYTH 6: You can’t measure the success of a brand
Measuring brand is not as easy as measuring things like the engagement of a social campaign, or the level of annoyance of people forced to sit in meetings that go on longer than expected. But that doesn’t mean that measuring brand is impossible. In fact, it’s very possible if you’ve planned well and taken the appropriate steps to set up baselines ahead of brand development.
When we say baselines, we mean any number or collection of numbers that, when looked at together, might paint a picture of your brand’s current state (like brand awareness, perceptions, loyalty, reputation, or sales). This won’t be perfect, because neither is your brand. Once established, your baseline can be measured against over time. This way, you’ll be able to see concretely how successful any changes to your brand might be.
In a world full of marketing myths, at least one thing’s for sure: the ROI of a strong brand cannot be understated. With a near-constant barrage of marketing material, consumers need more from brands — they need a connection, a relationship. The combination of a meaningfully different experience and distinctive brand assets will make your brand more attractive to target audiences, strengthen what it stands for in their minds and inspire increased loyalty.
But brand-building requires commitment and consistency in order to bring audiences through the path to loyalty and establish brand equity. If you’re ready to take the next step, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
BrandZ – Most Valuable Global brands 2017
Kantar Millward Brown © 2017
2018 Brand Humanity Index