On Offering A Magic Carpet Ride
by Kathi McKenzie
There seems to be some confusion on what, exactly, is a brand. It is not a product. It is not a logo. It is not a bunch of personality traits that we marketers try to convey to consumers. It is much more complex than any of these. So, what exactly is a brand?
Before we answer that, let’s go on a little side trip. Suppose you take a magic carpet ride to the destination of your choice. Think about that ride…try to imagine it. What do you see? What do you feel? How would you describe the whole experience? For a start, it is a way to get from Point A to Point B. But it is much more than just transportation, isn’t it?
So, what makes a brand? Seth Godin has defined a brand this way: "A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” I think that is a great definition. You and your marketing team may pick a brand name, define a brand personality, develop a logo, and design a package, but a brand needs more than just these pieces stitched together. You need a relationship with consumers to breathe life into your brand.
It all begins with knowing your target consumer on a number of dimensions—not just demographically—but in terms of their values and interests, what they need and want, and where they encounter friction in trying to go about their daily routine (or plan a vacation, or what have you). It is key to realize that what consumers say is not always accurate, and often doesn’t do more than scratch the surface. While quantitative and secondary research can be helpful, consumers are driven by hidden motivations and deeper desires that are best uncovered by skilled qualitative research. It’s all worth it though. A deep understanding of your target consumer and what makes him or her tick will help you design your brand offerings, brand personality, and your brand communications, including key elements such as brand logo and packaging.
It is not enough to have a good product. Consumers have many choices, and you need to understand how they decide on a brand. You must deliver a brand experience that is somehow different from your competitors. Here are a few things to think about.
- Brand Personality: Prior to your brand hitting the scene, consumers already have some way of meeting their needs and desires. How do you convince them that you are worth a second glance, much less get them to enter into a relationship with you? It’s like being at a crowded cocktail party. You have to get noticed first, but you also have to be seen as someone your target wants to get to know. For some products, this means being seen as a quick-witted, amusing friend to hang out with. For others it means being seen as a warm, helpful advisor, or an expert who can provide guidance. Don’t be the marketer that throws a brand out and plans to develop its personality over time. Yes, its personality may evolve in the future, but you need to start out with a personality that attracts, or you’ll end up a wallflower.
- Promise Fulfillment: Of course your brand needs to perform, to meet expectations. More than that, your brand should stand out in some way—by exceeding expectations, offering a unique experience, or meeting a need the consumer did not know they had. Make users feel good about using your brand, whether it be by appealing to their discernment and wisdom in choosing your brand, or by appealing to their values and supporting a great cause they can get behind. Your brand has, in essence, formed a contract with its users. Make sure you never let down your end of the bargain.
- Relationship-Building: Beyond just getting trial, or even getting trial-and-repeat, you want consumers to interact with you in a way that builds a feeling of belonging. You want customers to identify with you, even be a fan. Social media is one way. Sending out samples or small tokens of appreciation is another. Inviting them to participate in an event, solve a puzzle, or create a design are other ways. Excellent customer service should be a given. Nothing discourages a sense of identifying with your brand faster than an unpleasant experience with someone who represents you. And remember, all of your relationship-building efforts must be infused with your brand identity.
- Consistency: Your product or service should be reliably good. It only takes one bad experience to start eroding everything you have built with your customers--and erosion leaves your customer more vulnerable to the enticements of other brands. Your brand needs to stay authentic, true to whatever brand personality and brand values you have decided on. Your logo and packaging should be identifiable and consistent. When the time comes to make a change, test it with consumers first. You don’t want to lose a customer because they don’t immediately recognize you in the store or online, or because you have inadvertently weakened or changed a spoken or unspoken message along with your package.
Finally, keep in mind that your competition changes all the time. As do consumers’ needs and desires. Listen to feedback, stay close to your consumers, and track your brand’s performance over time. Don’t get caught asleep at the wheel.
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