Sell the Brand, Not the Product.

What is branding?

Every day the marketplace gets more crowded. Advances in manufacturing, distribution and communications have resulted in an ever-growing sea of choices. With each new product comes a wave of marketing and advertising materials. It is becoming harder and harder for companies to differentiate their product, otherwise known as “product convergence.” Each product is similar to the next. The key to success is to market your brand, not your product. These days, everything is becoming branded! There are products that we have always bought by the brand: Coca-Cola, Ivory Soap, and Chevrolet cars. However, look at what is happening now. Commodities, that we bought indiscriminately, are now brand choices. We don’t buy water, we buy Evian. We don’t buy a Cup-of-Joe, we buy Starbucks. We don’t ship something, we FedEx it. Even the city of Houston has gotten in the act by trying to brand itself! The list grows every day. Companies have realized that a strong brand name is the best opportunity for rapid growth.

When is the right time to “brand” your company?

Right now! While most consumers are brand conscience, many companies spend their ad dollars selling “product” not brand. They focus on things like price & quality (an overused ad concept). We can learn from how the megabrands market. McDonald’s does not sell hamburgers; McDonald’s sells “McDonald’s.” Apple does not sell iphones; Apple sells “Apple”. Any two-year old can spot the golden arches from a mile away. At Walmart, they even have the employees branded. You can spot one from behind by their blue shirt.

A quick way to test your brand: Spread all your marketing materials out on your conference table. Better yet, cover the logo (you at least have a logo?). Step back and take a look. Does a common image jump out at you? If not, you are missing a huge opportunity to build the brand equity of your company. This is not just a mistake made by the little guys. Many large companies, especially those with multiple marketing divisions suffer from a lack of branding. I have walked into the offices of some large clients to audit their marketing materials. They will proudly display a beautifully designed brochure that must have cost a fortune. “This one was designed by (insert famous, overpriced designer here).” “This one was done by our advertising agency.” “This one.” While any one of the pieces by themselves would win awards, put them all together and they are doing absolutely nothing to build brand equity. I would rather see a client produce consistent materials on a copy machine than throw away money on marketing efforts that do nothing to reinforce their brand.

So I need to brand. How?

Don’t confuse branding with advertising. Advertising is how you call attention to a brand. Branding is how you make an impression in the minds of your customer. Typically, a branding campaign consists of three elements:

1) The Brand itself.

This is the perception that already exists in your customer’s mind. It is a combination of recognition, experiences and promises. You can find out a lot about your brand through simple research. Ask, who are my clients? What is the one thing for which I am known? The Advertising Man himself, David Ogilvy, defined a brand as: “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.”

2) The Brand Strategy.

This is simply known as positioning. If you are known for everything, you are known for nothing. Don’t try to be all things to all people. It is irrefutable that the fastest growing companies today are the ones with a narrow focus. You must have a razor sharp position in the marketplace. Every brand should come with a promise. What does your brand stand for? As you position your brand, it will pay off in several ways. The most important is that your name will begin to be associated with your specialty. In addition, your advertising will become better focused, as you will know exactly who to target.

3) The Brand Identity.

This is every visual expression of the brand, be it in print, on the web, YouTube, Facebook or even Instagram. One of the fastest ways to build brand identity is through the careful application of graphic design. First, the graphics must reflect the company’s positioning strategy. Second, the graphics must be appropriate to the targeted customer. And last, the graphics must be consistent. The key to marketing a brand image is the consistent use in all markets. This includes the packaging, the colors, and the product’s total image. Does this mean that every marketing piece has to be exactly the same? No, quite the contrary. In fact, it is just as important that the graphics stay fresh and consistent with the market. This is especially important when the market is a young audience. A well-designed branding campaign will establish consistent branding elements, while leaving room for flexibility. Through careful brand management, Coca-Cola’s look today is as fresh as it ever was. Packaging used to be redesigned every five years. Today the average package life cycle is two or three years.

If your brand stands for a promise, if your communications are integrated, then you will begin to build a relationship with your customers. While they are filtering out the barrage of imagery that comes their way, they will also seek out your brand.