At a conference in Dallas not long ago, a graphic designer from Kentucky and I sat down at a table where people were exchanging business cards. I looked at his logo, and he studied the name on my card.
“I know that logo. We’ve been in touch in the past,” I said.
“That’s right. I know your name,” he said.
Although we weren’t able to pinpoint when or why we’d exchanged mail previously, we guessed it had been at least five years back. Neither one of us has an extraordinary memory. Rather, he had created a distinctive visual identity for his design services, and I had devoted effort to linking my name with creative marketing. For at least five years his look and my reputation had lurked in the other’s memory banks, while thousands or hundreds of thousands of other business identities had come and gone without leaving a significant trace. Why? Memorability. It illustrates a key element of successful branding.
WHAT IS BRANDING?
Branding is the process of creating distinctive and durable perceptions in the minds of consumers. A brand is a persistent, unique business identity intertwined with associations of personality, quality, origin, liking and more.
Although most people associate brands with big companies, the smallest of enterprises can use branding techniques with great rewards. When a home-based craftsperson ties a nicely designed tag on all her products telling the story of who she is and where her creations come from, she’s branding her work. When the local market bundles groceries in bags bearing its logo instead of generic “Thank you!” or plain bags, it’s branding.
While we associate brands with national names like Crest, Huggies or Healthy Choice, branding doesn’t necessarily require the budgetary resources of Procter & Gamble. Branding doesn’t even require a product or a tangible delivery mechanism. When humorist Dave Barry declares in almost every column, “I am not making this up,” and refers to “alert reader” so-and-so having sent in some news clipping, he is branding.
Techniques of branding include association of a company with logos, distinctive colors, slogans, musical sounds or songs, unusual qualities, mascots, packaging, a memorable name, behavioral hallmarks and much more. Here I’m going to concentrate on why well-executed efforts to create a brand — instead of merely doing good work or producing good products — pay off.
THE BENEFITS OF BRANDING
1. Memorability. A brand serves as a convenient container for a reputation and good will. It’s hard for customers to go back to “that whatsitsname store” or to refer business to “the plumber from the Yellow Pages.” In addition to an effective company name, it helps when people have material reminders reinforcing the identity of companies they will want to do repeat business with: refrigerator magnets, tote bags, datebooks, coasters, key rings, first aid kits, etc.
Memorability can come from using and sticking with an unusual color combination (FedEx’s purple and orange), distinctive behavior (the gas station whose attendants literally run to clean your windshield, the cleaning service that leaves a vase of yellow flowers in each house they clean), or with an individual, even a style of clothing (Senator Paul Simon’s bow ties, writer Tom Wolfe’s white suits). Develop your own identifiers and nail them to your company name in the minds of your public.
2. Loyalty. When people have a positive experience with a memorable brand, they’re more likely to buy that product or service again than competing brands. People who closely bond with a brand identity are not only more likely to repurchase what they bought, but also to buy related items of the same brand, to recommend the brand to others and to resist the lure of a competitor’s price cut. The brand identity helps to create and to anchor such loyalty.
Consider the legions of car owners who travelled up to 2,000 miles at their own expense to attend the 1994 Saturn celebration at the company’s plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. That’s loyalty. And supposedly, more people have the motorcycle brand “Harley-Davidson” tattooed on their body than any other brand name. That’s out-of-this-world loyalty.
3. Familiarity. Branding has a big effect on non-customers too. Psychologists’ discovery that familiarity induces liking means that people who have never done business with you but have encountered your company identity sufficient times often become willing to recommend you even when they have no personal knowledge of your products or services. Seeing your ads on local buses, having your pen on their desk, reading about you in the Hometown News, they spread the word for you when a friend or colleague asks if they know a ____ and that’s what you do.
4. Premium image, premium price. Branding can lift what you sell out of the realm of a commodity, so that instead of dealing with price-shoppers you have buyers eager to pay more for your goods than for those of competitors. To understand how powerful branding can be, think of some people’s willingness to buy the currently “in” brand of bottled water, versus toting along an unlabeled bottle of the same stuff filled from the office water cooler.
This applies in the realm of services too: lawyers who achieve a high profile from having won well-publicized cases or from serving as a “talking head” on television can charge more than equally qualified colleagues. Branding promises that the buyer has a bigger, more significant experience with your product or service.
The distinctive value inherent in a brand can even have so much allure that it leads people to dismiss evidence they would normally use to make buying decisions. I once saw one middle-aged Cambridge, Massachusetts, intellectual argue to several colleagues that Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee actually tastes better than Starbucks’. So contradictory was this claim to the two companies’ relative appeal for this demographic group that the colleagues refused to put the matter to a taste test.
5. Extensions. With a well-established brand, you can spread the respect you’ve earned to a related new product, service or location and more easily win acceptance of the newcomer. For instance, when a winery with a good reputation starts up regional winery tours, then adds foreign ones, each business introduction benefits from the positive perceptions already in place.
6. Greater company equity. Making your company into a brand usually means that you can get more money for the company when you decide to sell it. A Coca-Cola executive one said that if all the company’s facilities and inventory vanished all around the world, he could walk into any bank and take out a loan based only on the right to the name and the Coca-Cola formula.
7. Lower marketing expenses. Although you must invest money to create a brand, once it’s created you can maintain it without having to tell the whole story about the brand every time you market it. For instance, a jingle people in your area have heard a zillion times continues to promote the company when it’s played without any words.
Atlantic City entrepreneur Murray Raphel tells the story of his clothing store once running a newspaper ad but omitting the store’s name and address. People still came in asking for the items listed as on sale in the ad. They knew it was Raphel’s store because the ads appeared every week in a distinctive typeface in a certain position in the paper. You don’t usually want to do this deliberately, but such is the power of branding!
8. For consumers, less risk. When someone feels under pressure to make a wise decision, he or she tends to choose the brand-name supplier over the no-name one. As the saying goes, “You’ll never be fired for buying IBM.” For you this means that by building a brand, you fatten your bottom line.
Boston-based marketing and publicity consultant Marcia Yudkin helps business owners around the world creatively spread the word about their offerings. She’s also a syndicated columnist through ParadigmTSA, a public radio commentator and the author of nine books, including Six Steps to Free Publicity and Persuading on Paper. In addition, Marcia Yudkin delivers eye-opening, content-rich, motivating seminars on publicity and marketing to business and professional groups nationwide.
Copyright 1999 Marcia Yudkin and ePromos. All rights reserved.
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