Have you ever participated in an experiment to see if you could recognize the silhouettes of different corporate logos? I think I completed a dozen of these in business school alone. The experiment tests the scope and reach of the company logo, measuring just how much the general public can recognize it. The winners usually are Disney, Apple Computers and Starbucks, to name a few. But the next part of these experiments is even more interesting. They ask what attributes make up that brand and how the brand makes that person feel. In many cases, the mouse ears bring responses of happiness and cleanliness, the apple with a bite out of it brings responses of technology and innovation and the sea siren in a circle brings responses of coffee, reading and comfortable meetings.
What Is A Brand?
When we refer to a brand, in the business sense, it is usually the name of a trademarked product or a manufacturer. Additionally, there is an intangible set of values and feelings on behalf of the consumer when the brand is recognized. John Williams in Entrepreneur Magazine writes, “Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.” Most important, your brand can positively influence your customers’ purchase decisions.
Think about it, there are brands that are tied to luxury, discount, premium, cheap, extreme – and the list goes on and on. So let’s do an experiment: When you see the Starbucks logo, what comes to mind? It’s not only coffee is it? This is where it gets fascinating because Starbucks sells predominantly coffee. It comes in various forms and packaging, but it is coffee. However, you probably had a multitude of associations run through your mind when you pictured the logo. Were some of the following thoughts triggered?
- Comfortable, social atmosphere.
- The aroma of coffee brewing.
- The sound of steam and the brewing process.
- Baristas who know their stuff about coffee.
It is these emotional connections derived from psychological cues through experiences that allow Starbucks to sell coffee for a premium price. Before Starbucks came along with their Italian inspired cafe style, a cup of coffee in America was about 50 cents. Starbucks changed the way millions of people drink coffee and what they willingly pay for it. And their brand is well-established.
In William’s brand definition above, Starbucks is selling products and services that are unique and different from the competition. And, most importantly, the consumer expects the Starbucks brand to give them a satisfying experience – whether that is a cup of coffee before catching your flight or sitting in a cafe reading a book with a latte.
Associations and experiences with the company or person establish the brand. Yes, I said person. A person can also have a brand. In the most common sense, a brand is you or your company’s reputation.
Reputation By Experience
A reputation is the general opinion about something or someone. It is a lso what something or somebody is known for. The reputation of your dive center is derived from customer contact and the particular experiences they encountered with your business. These experiences shape an opinion that is based upon feelings. These feelings are derived from psychological cues during the course of business interactions.
When a consumer engages with your dive center, they are shaping opinions from the first moment they hear of your brand. The more they engage with your business, the more their opinion is shaped. Their expectations of how they are to receive goods and services are either met positively or negatively based on each and every business interaction. The reputation by experience through direct interaction, is the most powerful way to shape a reputation and to shape a brand.
Reputation By Association
Another way a person or business gets a reputation is by asso-ciation. In this case, the consumer has not had direct experience with you or your business, but your reputation is formed based on associations to other things. For example, if one has a Trump or Clinton bumper sticker on their car, people will make an im-mediate opinion of that person’s political and, perhaps, their so-cial attributes. That opinion can be good or bad, based on the observer’s own political and social beliefs.
If your dive center sponsors a charity event in your com-munity, consumers will view this association as charitable thus stirring positive emotions regarding your brand. The more the charity and charitable act are important to the consumer, the more positive your business’ reputation. This leads to goodwill towards your brand, even though the consumer never complet-ed any business interactions with you.
One of the most powerful of the reputations by association is the word of mouth. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful because our society has shifted away from trusting corporate advertising. Instead, society trusts people. We not only trust friends and relatives, but we are even trusting strangers, as can be seen with the popularity of social proof such as testimonials, ratings and user reviews.
Creating A Brand
Now you may be thinking that because a brand can be de-rived by experiences or associations, that it is organic — that there is nothing you can do to control or create the brand. Sim-ply put, that’s not true. If you take a look at some of the big-gest companies in America, they put tremendous resources in brand development and awareness. A company needs to make its brand known to the public. It needs to tell the public what it is known for in products and/or services and how it is different from its competition. But first, a company has to establish who it is and why the company matters. This is called positioning.
Andy Cunningham, president of Cunningham Collective and author of Get to Aha! Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition, states that positioning precedes branding. “Positioning is identifying your role and relevance in the marketplace,” states Cunningham. “Once you get your positioning done, then you can do the branding part which is the expression of the emotional side of a company’s identity.” Positioning is your answer to who you are and why you matter. Cunningham has a six-step exercise in developing a company’s positioning. Here are her steps to establishing a company’s role and relevance in the marketplace:
- Core — This is the corporate DNA. What do you do? What is the problem you help solve?
- Category — Are you in a business category or are you developing a business category?
- Community — Who are you serving? You must understand your customers’ needs.
- Competition — You need to know your competition well and how they exist in the marketplace.
- Context — Your products and services must be riding a wave a relevance in today’s times and customer needs.
- Criteria — Check to see that you have properly positioned your-self with elements of your corporate DNA.
Once this positioning process is done, then your key messages from the above exercise are pushed into all forms of marketing. The brand starts to develop as the identity is shaped. The tone of your communications, the colors associated and the photos used are all creating an emotional impact that reflect the company. Thus, a brand gets established.
Consider The Story Brand
But Donald Miller, founder of Story Brand, sees branding dif-ferently. Miller is the author of Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. As a former memoirist, his knowledge of, and appreciation for, story is what he believes are the essential elements of communicating brand to an audi-ence. Miller maintains that any good story, novel, screenplay or movie has classical story patterns. There are heroes and villains, conflict and resolution of conflict. And in most good stories the hero overcomes adversity, a problem is solved and life is good. He believes that customers do business with a company in buy-ing products or services that solve a customer’s problem and that this process has a classical story element to it.
So customers have a problem, need, want or desire and they are seeking the way to satisfy it. They want solutions. But they want the solution so that they can be the hero in their own story. Most companies get it wrong by thinking their marketing must prove that they are the hero when actually, Miller contends, the company should be the guide, just as Yoda is the guide for Luke Skywalker. In the Star Wars story line, Yoda is a supreme Jedi but Yoda is not the hero – instead Yoda is the guide who helps Luke Sk-ywalker be the hero.
Taking that concept into the business context, your marketing should not be about how long you’ve been in business or that your grandfather started the company or all the wonderful awards you have won. It can include any and all of those things, but put them into the context of how it will be used to benefit the customer. The singular marketing message should be what problem or need your company can solve or fill for the customer. Your business is the guide in allowing the customer to be the hero in their own story.
The Used Car Example
Think about what the number one challenge is in buying a used car. Consumers rate the haggling and negotiating process with used car salesmen as the top problem in purchasing used cars from a dealership. CarMax differentiated themselves in the used car marketplace by taking out that one negative – no haggling, no negotiating. The price of the car is what you pay. So their positioning is well established and their brand is well known because this is extremely attractive to people who despise, or are not good at, the negotiating process. CarMax has become the largest used car dealership in the nation and a Fortune 500 company just on their unique positioning in the marketplace and their branding which solves a problem.
The Dive Center Example
Let’s look at this on the dive center scale. A person wants to learn how to scuba dive. Why? Because of numerous reasons such as their friends do it, their relatives do it, it is something they have always wanted to do, they’ve seen it on TV and so on. Whatever the case, they want to be underwater explorers themselves. They picture themselves as divers. As they seek the way to become a diver, your brand pops up usually by association from word-of-mouth or by the person doing their research (finding you on the internet).
You need to clarify your message to be extremely focused on the ability to make that person a diver, the underwater explorer (hero) of their vision. You are the guide to allow that customer to be the hero. Anything other than that message confuses the individual. For example, many marketing efforts position the company as the hero. Psychologically, the customer feels challenged by the complexity of the activity or are intimidated by their inability to be the hero because they can’t measure up to the greatness that you offer.
Miller’s take on proper branding is about crystallizing the message. Just as Cunningham establishes the positioning of your company, Miller focuses on the emotional connection of the brand by creating a story pattern that establishes your brand by using a classical story line of a hero who has faults and faces challenges along the way to get to a goal. Someone comes along and helps the hero with his challenges, then the hero is transformed and achieves his goals. Translated into your scuba marketing the story method might look like this:
Do you want to scuba dive but you simply don’t have the time? Dusty ‘s Dive Center will get you certified to dive in a time efficient manner that matches your schedule. You’ll be in the water waving to fish before you know it.
This also works for products too: Looking for scuba equipment but you’re overwhelmed by the varieties and features offered? At Dusty’s Dive Center our team will help you select the proper equipment for you based on your diving style, comfort level and budget. Rest assured you will have the perfect equipment package, allowing you to enjoy diving at its fullest.
In these examples we have cut to the core of what you offer the customer. It goes back to what you want to be known for as well as the positioning of what you can deliver. As Cunningham puts it, the branding is the more emotional side of your marketing efforts. How the brand resonates with customers is integral to the success or failure of a company. It is also important to note that because a brand has such an emotional connection, a brand can be taken down by negativity. All the work of positioning and branding can be unraveled by unscrupulous business practices, standards violations or the poor attitude on the part of employees.
Consistency Is Key
A constant and clear message is vitally important to the brand. The clearer and more consistent the message, the more solid the brand. The message of how to deliver goods and services to customers in this way must be absorbed into every aspect of a company. Just as I mentioned in my previous Dive Center Business article, “Mapping Your Way to Success” (September/October 2017), norms are the daily manifestation of values established by the company and they must be worked into every area of an organization.
The branding message is the same thing. Your employees need to have this message in their “elevator pitch.” This term is derived from getting to know someone in the short amount of time of an elevator ride. It requires a clear and deliberate structure of what you do that points out an issue and shows how your brand solves that issue.
For example, if you are at a cocktail party, in line at the bank or at a hair salon your pitch may go like this:
Person: What do you do?
You: Well, many people want to learn how to scuba dive but they don’t have the time. I teach people how to dive in a class structure that fits their schedule and availability so they can finally become certified divers.
With such a simple yet targeted message the responses are invariably, “That sounds awesome. I wish I had that when I went through scuba training … ” or ”That’s exactly why I haven’t gotten certified!” or “I’m a diver and I’ve been wanting to get my wife certified.” Now you have opened the door for business. You hit on a need and found interest. Next, let’s establish your brand a little deeper. Give the person your business card and ask for theirs saying, “Here, take my card and do you have a card too? I would love to customize a class that fits your schedule.” Follow that up by saying “Please tell your friends about what I do.” In the case of the husband that wants his wife to get certified simply say, “Perfect. I’d love to help you and your wife be able to dive together. Here’s my business card and do you have one too? Let’s customize a class schedule for her.”
Do you see how much more important this message is than the classic scenario where someone asks what you do and you say, “I’m a scuba instructor.” That makes you the hero and the person psychologically believes you are the hero, not them. By changing your branding message, you will open many more opportunities.
Now, you may be thinking this sounds like a neat marketing strategy but how does that bolster your brand? When that guy at the cocktail party goes home he will say, “Honey I met this guy today and he does customized schedules for scuba training.” That guy has just solidified your brand by knowing what you do and what you are known for. When he shows the business card and says your name, now the brand is established – Bob Jones does customized scuba classes to fit peoples’ schedules. There’s your brand!
That branding example was mostly reputation by association. Although the person met you, they did not experience your services. Imagine how much stronger the brand identity will be when the individual engages in your service offerings. When that happens the brand is more solidly established by experience and the word of mouth is stronger as well.
Ready, Set, Action
First, take the time to establish your positioning by following the steps in Andy Cunningham’s book Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition. It is vital that you understand your company’s core business DNA before attempting to establish your company’s brand. The framework for developing each of the six areas to positioning are in her book. If you choose not to get her book and go through her processes, then I challenge you to focus hard on two of her six areas – Community and Competition. When you fully research and understand who your customers are and what problems they have that you can solve, you will see the criteria that you can position your business around. Then, when you fully research and understand your competition, you will see the areas that they are not doing well or not doing at all. By focusing on those areas you can begin a good foundation in your positioning.
After you have gone through the six-step exercise to develop your positioning, then move on to Donald Miller’s book, Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. With your purchase of Miller’s book, you will get online access to software that allows you to crystalize your brand through clear messages on your website, social media and even in elevator pitches. His strategies are simple, strategic and research-based. Most importantly, the Story Brand concept works.
Whether it is your company, or you as an individual, you have a brand. Remember, your brand is your reputation, treat it well. Nurture it, cultivate it and keep it clear and consistent. It has worked for major corporations and it can work for you.
It Can’t Be Said Enough
It is critical to your brand that everyone associated with your store, from the owners to your independent instructors, understands your brand and works daily to live up to it. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. Make sure that what you want to represent to customers (and that includes your vendors) is well known to your staff. Set your brand as the example in all of your own daily actions. Don’t act one way to your employees and another with your customers. When you witness an employee operating outside of your brand’s attributes, bring them back.