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Building Great Branding: Do's and Don'ts
Great brands don’t just happen by chance; they’re carefully constructed over years. Just as the underlying company or organization’s operational and product/service offerings portfolio didn’t become great overnight, neither does the brand.
Unforgettable brands are the result of setting clear expectations for customer experience, and then consistently meeting and exceeding those expectations. Great brands clearly and creatively communicate that experience at every touch point, in a unique and meaningful way, in their authentic brand voice. They also make sure they do it with a consistent and cohesive brand messaging strategy.
A brand is a series of promises between you and your customers. Customers expect their favorite Starbucks drink to taste the same way every time. In fact, the brand promise includes telling customers that the barista will make it again if it’s not right.
Target’s customers expect bright, colorful, stylish clothes at affordable prices. Apple customers expect employees to greet them at the entrance to the Genius Bar.
A Chick Fil-A customer expects a very different level of both quality and service. That expectation is a result of Chick Fil-A’s mandate, as a culture, that every employee ends every customer interaction with two simple words: “My pleasure.” Over time, by insisting adherence to this branding practice, the brand promise is solidified and employees feel a healthy pressure to focus on service as a pleasure, not a toil, even under the worst of circumstances. It drives how they treat each other in crisis; in fact, over time, it even changes employee behavior and creates a “who wouldn’t want to work there” culture. The result of this beautiful branding cycle is that it attracts and retains a higher-caliber of employee in an extremely competitive fast-food market.
While your company may not be the size of these megabrands, nor have their brand recognition, you can still make promises to your internal and external customers, deliver on those promises, and drive your culture. To do all of this, you’re best served by avoiding these common branding killers, pitfalls and traps:
1. Trying to fake authenticity.
In order to break through all the noise, a great brand must be authentic before it’s anything else. What are the core values at the heart of your business? Are those values apparent in your messaging?
2. Forgetting that every touch matters.
There are a couple great brands that have built entire empires on the principle that every touch matters. Chick-fil-A employees say “my pleasure” and wait outside with tablets at the Drive-Thru during busy times to keep customers moving. Disney dug secret tunnels so characters can move through the park without being spotted in the wrong area. Apple designed some of the most beautiful packaging ever created. All three of these brands understand, on a deep level, that every touch is a chance to interact with their customers and build on their reputation.
3. Never going to market (or, waiting too long).
You have to ship something—because “Nothing happens until Ship Happens.” A lot of companies are afraid to launch their product, but part of creating the ideal brand is not getting it perfect the first time. We see this all the time in app development and beta testing, but we fail to apply the same concept to other products and services. Think of it this way. You can spend months or years developing the best possible version of your product or service, and the associated brand, invest a lot of money in all of the marketing collateral, and use a lot of time and resources making all of the fundamental decisions upfront. Or, you can decide not to overinvest in branding for 90 to 120 days, ship something, and see what happens. The first model puts a lot of pressure on the launch, which now has to work smoothly for the company to survive. The second model takes the pressure off, allows companies to remain flexible, and takes consumer feedback into account before the offering is finalized.
4. Trying too hard to be unique.
Some companies get caught up with trying too hard to be unique and different when it’s not necessary. In many cases, being too different can be deadly, so a brand shouldn’t be afraid to be the same. Instead, begin with the mapping principle: How do customers already consume the things they buy in this market? Map out the customer experience and match your delivery model to their expectation.
- In other words, put your passion and your resources into your messaging and be sure to drive home your competitive edge, but don’t get too caught up in the idea of different for its own sake. Instead, focus on delivering your product or service to your customers in the way they need it, want it, or already receive it. The combination of a familiar experience with an authentic voice, stronger product, and better messaging is a fantastic way to build a great brand.
5. Not being unique enough.
Of course, consumers are smart; they recognize when something is a complete knock-off of another brand without any thought behind it. So, map the experience but don’t copy someone else wholesale—it gets to that authenticity thing we mentioned earlier. Look for opportunities to be different and unique, while meeting customers where they’re at now. There’s a subtle distinction between true innovation, true market disruptors, and the principle that different can be deadly. For example, Netflix came along as a true market disruptor that completely changed the way consumers sought out home entertainment. And, then, Netflix became the company that other companies mapped onto. For years after this disruption, every new subscription service marketed itself as “the Netflix of _____.” That’s how disruptors and mappers work symbiotically. Decide if there’s a need for a new niche, a new delivery model, or a new customer experience. If so, do you think you can create the messaging to sell it? Will it fly?
6. Not knowing your tie-breakers.
- What do you do? Knowing your tie-breakers is incredibly important—what are the things that will make consumers choose you over your competitors? Remember that ‘more better’ is not a strategy. Similarly, great customer service is a wonderful retention tool, but it’s not an acquisition strategy. What’s going to get consumers through the door in the first place so that they can experience your great customer service? When you break down your marketing efforts into two buckets, acquisition vs retention strategy, it becomes easier to start to understand your tie-breakers.
For example, if I see another realtor advertise that they are the “most trusted” or say something like “I get your house sold!” I may lose it. These kinds of statements may work for retention, but they only really work for acquisition if it’s a claim that most others can’t make—and how many realtors are out there advertising that they can’t get your house sold? Are there actually prospects out there thinking: “Finally! A realtor who can sell my house. Everyone else I’ve talked to has said they can’t do it.” If there’s no claim that your brand can own, stop using it. Think of something that is yours. We sell in 30 days or we buy your house ourselves. We offer a flat rate fee structure.
Marketing, branding, advertising, and customer behavior will continue to change, but these 6 underlying principles will remain important for any great brand. All of it can get overwhelming, confusing, frustrating, and noisy—especially since sometimes, there’s not a clear right or wrong decision. Sometimes, you simply have to leap and try something while minimizing risk, and then listen, adjust, and change strategy based on how the market responds.