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Branding. What Do You Know, Joe?

Dec 13, 2007
While strolling along the aisles of the national marketplace, I pretend to be astounded by the myriad of products and brand choices presented to me, all fighting for my attention. I notice that "A" attracts me visually, "B's" jingle plays mercilessly in my head and the color theme of "C" seems to remind me of a vacation I took many years ago. So why do I select "D" instead of "A" "B" or "C"? What stimulates and motivates the act of making a purchase? From indecision to the knowing smile on my face, "D" becomes my choice and can be the beginning of a loyal relationship with that brand or product. (Every marketers dream!)

Defining reasons behind these brand preferences can be a complex task, nonetheless it is certain the common thread will always be the experiential process, often referred to as the "brand experience". However, this article is not intended to address the customers experience, it was vital to illustrate how buying decisions are based on these interactions or "relationships". Relationships? Yes, relationships. You see, everything we experience in the world is in "relation" to ourselves. That relationship, how one thing fits into a singular perception is really the key to branding. There are really two sides to this relationship. The person having the relationship, and that to whom the relationship is formed. From the human perspective it's simple to define a relationship based on complex qualities of another person, like personality, core values, style, heritage, commonalities, likes, dislikes, etc. The more you have in common, the stronger relationships you have. That's why you have strong bonds with some of your friends over the bonds or friendships you have with others.

Now if we look at this from the perspective of the business owner, brand manager and / or head of marketing, your task is really to create a human connection with a person (your target audience) with your brand. But since your brand isn't a person, you must add dimension to your brand, giving it depth to which your customer can have a meaningful relationship with. That's the complex nature of a relationship you need to create for your brand with your customer. However, a brand is NOT a person and if you think of a piece of cardboard, an inanimate object, one will have a difficult time having a relationship with that. In other words, focusing on the nature of the relationship with the intent of creating brand loyalty won't do you a hill of good unless you are clear and focused about what and who your brand is.

This article is written to help you, the business owner, create and define a winning brand and provide the steps to define just what you do and who you are in order to allow your customers have a relationship with your brand.

As we address the relationship between the brand and its audience, being clear and concise about these "5 brand must knows" are at the foundation of your success.

1. Know your Personality.

Simply stated, different personality characteristics appeal to different audiences. On a subconscious level, people connect with brands that have likable personality traits, traits they can identify with a lot of times, traits that they aspire to be. The first step in uncovering a strong brand is defining your brand personality, which leads to increasing the overall brand engagement (and attachment,) in much the same way as people relate and bind to other people. Simply put, much of the work in the area of brand personality is based on translated theories of human personality and using similar measures of personality attributes and factors. For example, your customer may identify to a product for its characteristics, for its functional, social, emotional dimensions, it's human like- traits. "See," he says, "'X' vehicles exude Christian family-oriented values I identify with while 'Y' exudes pretension and further 'Z' shows off athletic and competitive qualities that recognize in myself." Eh hem.... So think of this, if the category 'X' symbolizes who you are, then you will be tempted to buy a brand that has the same aspirations. Likewise, consumer "Joe" would tend to buy a Porsche rather than a family car, if he feels it symbolizes who he is. An association is systematically set up in the consumer's mind. In this sense, every brand needs to be as unique as each of its consumer. However, your personality MUST BE AUTHENTIC. As humans, we do have an inner sense about these things. Be warned, we DO reject brands that lack authenticity and those whose personality characteristics are not consistent.

2. Know what you do well.

Based upon these criteria, the objective now is to maintain and promote the brand's uniqueness. Figure out what you do well and push it. Whatever qualities your product, brand possess, spotlight it, strengthen it, grow it. It will be the factor for differentiation and consequently will offer you the opportunity to carve a niche. To be credible in the eyes of your audience, your argumentation of sale may emphasize your know-how, your level of technology if it's a strong asset, the passion that electrifies your work, the "love" message or the care for the environment that carries assertively your product, therefore your brand... The marketing message should transpire and respect its promise.

3. Know why you do what you do.

But wait! There's more. Knowing what you do well is not all of it, the next step requires digging deep into motivation, drive and look at purpose square in the eye. It lies somewhere behind the motivation to "make money" and reveals the core purpose for doing what you do. It's pretty liberating, and the basis for creating what's commonly referred to as the "brand promise" In essence, your core motivations that drive your business benefit your customers in some way by fulfilling a need. Many businesses overlook this step and think the only strategy necessary is the Art of seduction, separating your customer from their cash and overlook branding is really the Art of Creating relationships between people. Delivering the brand promise based on your businesses passion or motivation and fulfilling your customers' needs IS the basis for such a relationship. Armed with this knowledge, you are as step closer to facing the marketplace.

4. Know you Competitors

Know your market, know your competition, whether they actually exist or not. To do this, simply take a look around you, your market, your business category and your specific vertical. Are their other players orbiting your stage? Chances are, you have a lot more competitors than you think. To determine if they are really a competitor, evaluate if they have similar offerings, similar products or similar services. For example, a dance studio may believe he competes exclusively with other dance studios. But if his potential modern dance students think of the local swing dance instruction as offered by the local nightclub, the dance studio owner must evaluate the way Night club that offers their Lindy-Hop classes prior to the evening entertainment. The wanna-be Dancers with the Stars you want as a new customer may just choose spending their dance dollar elsewhere. In other words, that local nightclub IS considered a competitor, even though they sit in a totally different market segment. It would be in your best interest to learn more about what makes them successful and what about their offerings entices your potential audience. If you can mange to see things from your audience's perspective, you may just learn a lot. See if you can identify how your competitors satisfy their brand promise. Look at their marketing materials and promotional tools to try to get a sense of what you are missing. You may not be offering the night club atmosphere, but you can satisfy the promise of fun and provide the vehicle to allow your audience to dream of their feet dancing in beat with their famous counter-part.

5. Know your Target.

Knowing your target really means know the people you would like to sell to. Imagine yourself throwing a dinner party in your home for each and everyone of your customers. You know who they are, welcome them as a friend into your home and have a connection with each person. But that's impossible, you say! Well we know that, that's why we said, "imagine". In order to define those people (not demographics or metrics) you will need to segment the market as much as possible using 'psychographics' as your guide. This includes defining your audience through:

* Lifestyle: conservative, exciting, trendy, economical
* Social class: lower, middle, upper
* Opinion: easily led or opinionated
* Activities and interests: sports, physical fitness, shopping, books
* Attitudes and beliefs: environmentalist, security conscious.

It's recommended that you do some research to find out just how they purchase. For example, uncover their buying habits, defining preference traits like seasonal, local, volume and promotional decisions. With all this information uncovered, you should have a picture emerging of your 'ideal' customer (or who you want it to be).

Follow these five steps and you will have focused brand, which knows itself and knows its audience. In your quest to uncover your brand, be inquisitive, harass and tickle. Get into it and get clear. In the end you will have an authentic brand that will rise above the rest, be noticed by the right people and establish a relationship between your brand and your customer. Brand recognition is literally your brand, company or product, imprinted into the consciousness of your audience. Powerful process, keep it authentic!
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