Your Brand Isn’t What You Think It Is

Your brand isn’t what you think it is?  How can I make such a claim?  Who am I to tell you what your brand is?  Excellent questions, and by the end of this article, it will be clear that your brand is never what you think it is…or what I think it is.

The idea of branding is many times misunderstood, even by many who call themselves branding experts.  There are so many misconceptions out there that I was leery to include it in the title of my blog:  What Big Brands Know.  Why?  Because a true brand strategy encompasses every part of your business.  It’ not just a logo.

So what is it?

In the simplest terms your brand is:

The culmination of all the experiences an individual has with your business.

                        Your brand resides in the mind of an individual.  What they think is part rational and part emotional.  It could be made up of dozens of experiences, or just a few.  Their opinion is solidified, adjusted, or changed based on their ongoing experiences.  Depending on your business, they may have many touch points with your business.  For example, they may see your advertising, your website, your store, your waitstaff, your coupon, your competitor who talks about you, one of your customers, one of your suppliers, your packaging, an online rating of your business, your receptionist, or many other touch points.

Each and every one of these leaves some sort of impression, developing an individual’s opinion of your brand in their mind.  Each is an opportunity for you to improve or deteriorate your brand perception.

What is it not?

There are many things that make up the brand of a business, and sometimes people confuse these with the true meaning of brand.

It’s not just the logo

It’s common for businesses to talk about their logo as their brand.  The fancy term for this is actually “brandmark.”  Your brandmark or logo is important, and it can sometimes help clarify what your company stands for to a customer.  This could enhance a customer’s perception of your company, but it is not your brand.

It’s not just the product or packaging

Sometimes people think of the actual product and packaging as the brand. It is true that the packaging is a component that helps form a customer’s opinion about a brand.  Does the packaging have a distinctive shape?  Does it make the product function better?  Does the color make it easy to remember?  All of these things can help mold a customer’s perception, but it is not your brand.

It’s not just the space

For retail businesses, the space can make a big impact on the brand of the business.  How is it laid out?  How is it lit?  What colors are used?  What is my experience when I enter the space?  The retail experience is a big part of the brand, but it is not your brand.

It’s not just the personality

Products and businesses have personalities.  Some are masculine, some are funny, some are ritzy and some are delicate.  Companies spend millions to communicate the personality of their brands.  Think of the personality of brands like Marlboro, the Volkswagen Beetle, and Rolex.  They are all very different, and very specific.  Alas, the personality is not the brand, just one component that a consumer uses to formulate the brand that resides in their mind.

It’s not just the expectations

Some companies believe that the brand is the set of customer expectations that has been built over time.  As Ray Croc was building McDonalds, he constantly focused on consistency.  Customers come back to brands over and over because they know what they’re going to get.  It makes choosing easy.  While consistency and expectations are a big deal in formulating your brand in a customer’s mind, they are not your brand.

Your business has a brand

You can see that there are lots of factors that make up a brand.  It’s important to know that your business has a brand whether you’ve planned for it or not.  The minute customers start forming opinions about your business, your brand has been launched.  And when they start telling others what they think, it has started to spread.  Think about all the points where your business connects with customers or potential customers.  Are you being purposeful about building a positive impression and enhancing your brand at each one of them?  Do all of your employees understand the brand you’re developing and how they can do their part?

Your brand isn’t what you think it is, it’s what your customers think it is.  But it’s your job to influence what they think at every point along the way.

Written by

Gerry O'Brion is a marketing speaker and author who translates big brand strategies into knowledge that any business can use to win in the marketplace. Whether you have a small business or big brand, Gerry's strategies can grow your business. Gerry built his career growing big brands. After earning his MBA at the University of Michigan, he worked with Procter & Gamble on brands such as Crisco, Tide, Mr. Clean, and Spic & Span. Next, at Coors Brewing Company he managed Coors Light, a $2 billion business. He was then VP of Marketing for the $1.5 billion Quiznos restaurant chain. Gerry was most recently VP of Marketing for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, a $1 billion brand.

1 comment

  1. Your Brand Isn’t What You Think It Is

    Gerry – I enjoyed our informal talk at dinner last Thursday night at Chateau Elan and really liked your address on Friday morning. Of the two or three things I was charged to bring away from the event, your lucid description of branding was the best! Thanks – I have discussed it with a couple of clients already and am basing a whole presentation on it later today. (I know: Friday afternoon !?!) – Bill

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