A brand is a collection of conscious and unconscious thoughts, feelings and attitudes connected to for example a product or a company. They are the associations that decide if we want to buy the brand or not.
To build a strong brand that makes people to want to buy it or to pay more for it than for the competing brands, the product or company must be connected with right kind of associations. Some of the thoughts, feelings and attitudes are not giving people the signal to want to buy or pay more, however positive they seem to be. And the other way – other associations that spontaneously are considered meaningless or even negative, can well be the most important reasons behind peoples choice of brands.
How can you find out what the most selling associations in your branch and your markets are?? How do you do to create or make stronger, best, most selling brand associations?
Focus on four things – why, how, what and who.
Why your brand exists is much more interesting and inspiring than what kind of products you have or how they sell compared to the competitors. It is the bigger picture: the reassurance of the brand, ideology, the reason for existing and the purpose behind the product, service or idea.
The purpose affects us on a much deeper level than product features, benefits or USP. It appeals to the parts of our brain where our emotions are, where our motivation is created and where all our choices are made. If we sympathize with the brand purpose and create a strong emotional bond with the brand, the ties leading to the brand are meaningful to us in a way that a product or a service just because of functionality or usefulness never is. If we feel connected to the brand, in the best case it makes the brand purpose to our own.
People do not buy what you do, They buy why you do it and If you manage to make meaning, you will probably make money. But if you set out to make money, you will probably not make meaning – and you won´t make money. Mission-driven companies create far more shareholder value than financially driven firms – so offer people something to believe in, not something to buy!!
We humans are social animals that among other intuitively seek to understand ourselves, the world around us and to be accepted and appreciated by others (mainly those we ourselves appreciate and care about). Everything we do, every decision we make, is affected by other people – whether they are present or not.
This applies also to every choice of brand. Why people choose to buy or not to buy your brand, depends largely on how they relate to the crowd of people around the brand: those who represent it, those who sell it and those who already bought the brand.
In most cases (with some exceptions), the people around the brand affect how the brand is perceived. The company or brand culture that characterizes the representatives of the brand and how they act in their own group and towards their customers are factors that decide if we trust the brand and if we experience a personal relationship with it. In a world where more and more brands in more and more industries are increasingly similar, the culture – that is what the people are and how they act – is many times both the most obvious difference between different brands and the most difficult thing for competitors to copy.
Brands that are well rooted in a strong culture are represented by people who share a sect-like community. (The term “cult” in the original, wider meaning: A group of people who are connected with the same ideology or leaders.) The customers who have made the purpose their own and who feel connected with the culture are the basis of the sect. They become the brand’s standard-bearer, its best sellers, and will spread it on to their friends and acquaintances. They will seek confirmation and positive experiences through the brand. Their tolerance for errors and mistakes will be very high. And should anyone outside the sect point out some of the brand’s shortcomings, they will defend it.
Remember: Success is a team effort, failure is lonely.
To build a strong brand, you must have a good service or idea – no exceptions there – still there are unfortunately many good products and companies that do not have a strong brand. “Good” is not necessarily the same as “high quality” and “stylish design”. Neither you nor your competitors decide what is “good”, the decision-maker there is the customer. Sometimes “good” can be an iPhone, sometimes Ryanair but the trick is to know what the right “good things” are for your company and your industry.
You must be consistent. It is a common mistake companies make to confuse what the company can do and what it should do. Can is all about “what”, should do is about “why”. A business flight company can also be a low price company – but it should not be that. If Dove can do the first dishwashing liquid that cares of the skin, it does not mean it should do it. Apple could (as in the end of 1990s,) produce and sell 250 different products – but it does not mean it should do it.
“In everything from presidential campaigns to selling peanuts – focus wins,” said positioning guru Al Ries. To that we add Steve Jobs’s words of wisdom: “People think focus means that you say yes to the things you need to focus on. It does not mean at all. Focus means saying no to hundreds of great ideas out there. It means to choose with care. ”
So: Do the right thing and do the things right.
Humans are a storytelling species. We talk about ourselves and about others. We talk about our view of the world and how we experience it, about our dreams and fears. All these stories shape our identity. We are very much the sum of our own stories and other people’s stories about us.
Trademarks are no exception. How your brand is perceived is the sum of the stories of the brand. It is that tale your customers use as a kind of social and cultural lubricants; if the tale fits our views of ourselves and how we want others to see us, the brand fits us – and that also includes the business-to-business.
Therefore, what the brand is, is more important than who the brand is. It is the story and not its specification that makes the brand a personality. It is the tale and not the specification that gives the brand a soul and a meaning. It is the tale and not the specification that places the brand in its proper social and cultural context.
“The success products of the future are those that the best way tell of adventure, fortune, danger and drama and the future leaders are those that best tell the stories that give meaning and purpose to our life”, writes Rolf Jensen in his book The Dream Society.
The best stories are those stimulating our imagination and inspiring us. The best tales flirt with our emotions, dreams and desire – not with our logic. The best stories are those that are true – but not necessarily true in the sense that they reflect actual events or circumstances. They are true because they feel authentic and credible for the brand but also because they are consistently told us, in everything, and all that can be associated with the brand.
The brand’s true story is based on the purpose, presented consistently by the “cult” and is proved with real things. And like all good fairy tales, they consists of opposites such as good and evil, courage and fear, love and hate. They do not only tell what the brand stands for and wants, it is just as important that the tale tells what the brand is not and what it is opposed to. The best way to spread an idea is a really good story.
When you can describe your brand in an inspiring, credible and different way, you have a very good starting point for your strategic and tactical brand building. Each part of the brand is a puzzle piece that reveals only a part of the whole but manages to get the pieces to fit together. Out of it comes a fairly complete picture of how you can build or strengthen your brand and make it something so meaningful that people want to believe in it and be associated with it.