In the last millennium, there was a group of people called alchemists. Their job was to take the ordinary stuff around them: lead, iron, acids and so on, and create gold. They believed, or hoped at least, that there was a way to create an incredible amount of new value from the ordinary things around them, if they could only figure out how to do it.
They conducted complex experiments, and used all the ideas and knowledge and art that was available to them. In the end, they were not very successful, although the idea was right. In modern times, we have created incredibly valuable new materials—plastics, carbon fiber, safety glass and so on.
What has this to do with branding? Well, I want to suggest that you, as business people, are in the business of creating exceptional value, using the ordinary materials that are all around. The difference is that the domain in which we work is the mind, not the physical world.
Think about what happened to me when I saw the Peet’s Coffee sign. The experience of seeing that sign caused me to think certain thoughts, to see certain mental images, to hear certain sounds, to smell certain smells, and to feel certain feelings. Not bad for a drive-by! In other words, exposure to the brand has trained me to react and spontaneously create something of value to Peet’s, in my own mind! It’s that powerful. The result of those thoughts and feelings was revenue for Peet’s.
Now let’s think about how all that happens. Let’s stay with the customer experience. Why did I react so strongly to that logo?
- Because I like coffee. – If I didn’t like coffee (or the other things Peet’s offers) I would not have had the same response. So my liking coffee made it easy to feel good about Peet’s.
- Because I recognize Peet’s. – I’ve seen and heard their advertising; I know what their logo looks like, and I know what it stands for.
- Because I tend to follow brands that I know and like. – The very existence of a tested brand makes this particular Peet’s more attractive. I’d choose it over a coffee shop I haven’t been into—especially for an impulse buy. Most people are like that. We go with what we know.
- And because I have personal experience of the value delivered by Peet’s Coffee. – I like their coffee. I like the design of their shops and I like the merchandise and I like to eat their cranberry shortcake and drink their fresh-squeezed orange juice.
As brand builders, we must satisfy all these needs.
- We must find the people who like what we do. That’s called segmentation. We’re looking for people who hold the beliefs that will support purchasing our products. We’re looking for people who need or want what we have to offer.
- We must create a recognizable identity. Not only that, but it must be attractive to the segments we most value. Part of the job of our identity is to make us different from competitors. A lot of branding discussion is about the creation of the graphical identity: it’s important, but less important than balancing and managing all four of the brand-building issues we’ve described.
- The third thing we must do is to promote the brand so everyone we care about knows our identity and what we stand for. Communications strategy is the discipline that looks at all the ways of delivering our message, and selects and implements those that give us the most bang for the buck. A good communications strategy, like a good investment strategy, is balanced. We don’t put all our eggs in one basket. We start small and learn from experience.
- Finally, we must provide real value. Brands that don’t provide value don’t last. However, remember that value is in the mind’s eye of the beholder. As a non-smoker, I don’t find smoking valuable. However, clearly many people do. Objectively, we might say that the long-term risks of smoking are very unattractive. Smokers tend to go after the short-term gains of being calmer, keeping weight down, and enjoying the experience at the time. Providing and communicating value is an under-estimated aspect of brand development. It’s a lot less expensive to build a brand that offers solid value to the customer, than to create one built on perception alone.
As a consultant developing brand strategy, communications strategy, market research and education, I rely on repeat business. How much repeat business do you think I would get if I didn’t emphasize the real value as well as the perception? Not much. How many new customers would I get if I didn’t work to create and communicate our image? Not many. How would I find customers if we didn’t segment the market? It would cost a lot more money. The point is that you must balance all these issues if you want to be successful.