How Does A Brand Work?

Last week, in How Do You Define “Brand”?, we showed how we came up with our definition: A brand is a promise kept. Today we’ll take a closer look at how that works. The brand asset, whatever it is – company, product, service, campaign, event, project, etc. – makes and keeps its brand promise to the market and, slowly, the market rewards it with brand loyalty. The brand takes seed and grows in the strengthening relationship between the business entity and the market. That's why it's often said, these days, that your customers own your brand, not you. At Boardwalk, we prefer to think that you share the brand with them. They get tremendous emotional value from interacting with your brand, you get all the monetary value. They fall in love with your brand; your business grows. Seems simple doesn’t it?

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How Do You Define “Brand”?

Wait! Don't answer! It's a trick question.

There is no universally accepted definition of the word: "brand". This is why, perhaps, the whole concept of branding is confusing to so many business people and consumers. People who are otherwise supremely confident and capable often get tripped up when describing what their brand is or what it is for. But they are to be forgiven this lack of understanding because, after all, none of us so-called experts seem to agree either. When an intellectual property attorney refers to brand, he's usually talking about registering and protecting a trademark. When a publicist talks about brand, she is almost always referring to reputation. When a graphic designer mentions brand, you can be sure he means logos and packaging and visual identity.

When these three, and all the other "experts", go out and talk about branding, their language varies in subtle but important ways. Their audiences pick up on these differences and come to the unsurprising conclusion that one or all of the speakers have no idea what they're talking about. As a result, many business people are suspicious of branding, thinking it's a fad or a buzzword with no real benefit or any hope of ROI. But then there are the true believers.

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Making A Strong Brand Promise

Last week, we wrote about the importance of positioning. We discussed how brand strategy is really the act of making a business case for positioning a business (or product or service, etc.)  in a particular way relative to its competition. We talked about the steps that must be taken in order to get to a positioning statement. And we stressed how every positioning statement must contain a brand promise. A brand promise is that one, uniquely differentiating thing a brand offers a market that no competitor can match. It can be anything. I know of one attorney who bills himself as “The Food Lawyer”. He’s made it his business to familiarize himself with every facet of the law that has to do with food. If you’re in the food business – farming, processing, packaging, storing, distributing, grocery retailing, food service, etc., – and you need a lawyer, he’s the guy you call. I know another attorney whose brand promise is he’ll return every phone call within four hours. It’s clear some brand promises are better than others. This week we’ll examine what makes a good one.

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Topics: communication, Positioning, Strategy

Positioning Your Brand

There’s an old fish tale about an American cannery that was producing tuna with a very pale meat. At the time, consumers considered tuna with a pinkish hue to be the superior product. With pricing for pink and white meat about the same, the cannery found itself unable to move its goods. Management had to think of a marketing move, and fast. They decided to label every tuna can with, “The only tuna guaranteed not to turn pink in the can”. Business boomed and they made more profit than they could ever have imagined.  It’s just a folk tale, of course. But it illustrates the concept of positioning. Positioning is what separates you from the all the others in the minds of your customers. When you position your product, service or company, you’re declaring that you are unique in some way. Usually, you’ll appear to be more useful to one sub-segment of the market. You may drive away lots of customers who do not fit that sub-segment, who don’t need the feature that makes you unique. But those who do fit the sub-segment will beat a path to your door … theoretically.

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Topics: Positioning, Strategy

An Appreciation of Legacy Brands

I usually get excellent reviews from students who take my Branding Essentials workshop. But, on one end-of-class survey, someone left a comment that I focus too much on “old” brands. It’s true. I don’t talk much about Uber or Snap. That’s because they’re both so new it’s hard to assess their impact or success, as brands. Sure Uber disrupted an entire industry but that’s because of their business model, not their brand. Branding-wise they seem to be doing everything wrong, finding new enemies everywhere they turn in Trump-like fashion. Snap and Snapchat? Well, you’re right. I just don’t know enough about that/those brand/s. I focus on brands like Nike, Coke and Apple because a) everyone in the workshop is sure to know them and b) they’re all master branders with plenty of excellent examples to share with students. A legacy brand is a thing of beauty.

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Topics: communication, Positioning, Identity, Innovation, Strategy

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Best Branding Reads
Week of October 23, 2017

Coach Inc. Is Dead. Long Live Tapestry.
Coach is not really dead. It has just given birth to its own parent company.

Brandspeak: Rebranding a 100-Year-Old Company
See how Driscoll’s, berry producers for more than 100 years, approached its rebranding process.

The Food Almost Completely Disappears in McDonald’s Latest Minimalist Ads
These very clever ads from McDonalds made me imagine their brand promise. I actually got really hungry looking at them!

Fixing A Poorly Performing Brand Culture
The first sentence says it all: your culture is defined by what you tolerate, no matter what your values statement says.

Netflix Letter To 'Stranger Things' Pop-Up Bar
Who says lawyers are no fun? Best cease-and-desist letter ever. Thanks Netflix.

Top 10 Modern Logo Design Trends
I might have picked a different top 10 but this is still an interesting take on modern-day trends in logo design. 

How Stereotypes Weaken Brands
Stereotypes reinforce the divisions among us. When bridging those divides, brands become more valuable and important to their customers.