What exactly makes up a brand? It's much more than your logo, and no matter how strong your mark is, you simply cannot dictate a brand solely by its appearance. Brand is defined by the choices you make, the values you keep, the stories you tell, and the stories told by others. It’s the fragile pact made with customers that can be built up together and made stronger, or slowly diluted until there is no trace of brand at all. Don't let your brand become generic or a victim of failure—avoid the following practices to keep your brand strong.
1. Separating Brand and Culture
Simply put, your brand is your culture and your culture is your brand. When you try to separate the two, it all falls apart. Most people would argue that word of mouth is the most powerful (or at least one of the most powerful) forms of promotion. Who could be more influential to spread the word about your brand than your core audience who totally vibes with your brand values? You can’t be special or unique in your market unless you have created something special and communicated it outward. Be cognizant of your brand by understanding how your culture brings your brand to life.
2. Misreading Your Audience
Like Mel Gibson said in The Patriot, “Aim small, miss small.” A brand is meant to appeal to your audience with the intent of moving them to some action—usually a monetary conversion, but it could be volunteering, signing up for your newsletter, etc. All too often a brand is treated by its handlers as if it was for everyone, rather than a specific audience. As business owners and brand managers, we like to believe that everyone wants what we have, but that is far from the truth.
It's important to understand more than just the functional demographics of your audience, like who's buying your product, what makes them tick and what about your culture and your service draws them in. Understanding your audience is a key piece of your brand and indicates the needs your brand must fill in the market. Remember, emotions drive opportunity. Understanding your audience’s emotional needs begins with turning your focus to what they’re saying—and not saying.
3. Brand Apathy
Mediocrity is not a strategy. Not caring how your brand is perceived in the marketplace is the kiss of death. If you can’t get excited about some aspect of your product or service, then how do you expect your audience to get excited about it? Think about a company you loathe—a couple of mine are AT&T and Comcast. I'd be willing to bet that a majority of people reading this post also aren't too fond of these brands because you know that they stopped caring about you decades ago; you are a cog in the machine and will be replaced. They don’t even try to care because by the numbers they don’t have to. Don't let your brand's perception get to this point.
4. Online Ineptitude
Web presence matters. Remember, in most cases you have two seconds—five tops—to grab your audience's attention. The same principle applies to your website with that first impression happening behind a one-way mirror. Without an investment in analytics, you won’t even know when they're checking you out or sizing you up.
We also see social presence being an overlooked area of real connections. While some may dismiss it as frivolous or without impact to your bottom line, your audience engages in real conversations, shares concerns, and asks questions in these channels. Social media is a powerful way to listen to and speak with your customers. In the case of making your brand case, it can often be even more powerful.
5. Empty and Inaccurate Messages
Many catch phrases may sound great when you hear them—like, “I’m a people person” in an interview—but these are essentially empty and meaningless because of overuse, and essentially anyone can claim it without the evidence to prove it. Unfortunately, companies get in a similar rut with phrases that may ring true but don’t emulate what differentiates them from their competitors. Often this “marketing-eze” literally makes people doze off. How about instead of saying, “Best Customer Service,” “Industry Leader, “Advanced,” or “Cutting Edge,” you actually back up what you're saying with a benefit to your customers. A positioning statement and messaging hierarchy will easily solve that problem.
Without a strong brand, you can't have a strong business. Wondering what you should be doing with your brand? Check out some of our best practice tips, and other blog posts in our Brand category.