Let me make a distinction between communicating sustainably and communicating consistently. I’ve written here before that, for most marketable assets, a good brand strategy should last for 15-20 years. (Less, if the asset is in a trendy business like fashion or entertainment.) That’s what’s meant here by sustainability. You should be able to make the same brand promise for all that time, without wavering. If written effectively and with a broad enough vision, the brand promise should allow for any occasional adjustments you may have to make to your lines of products and services. It should be able to respond to changing market currents over that time period. No matter what happens week to week, month to month, year to year, a well-considered, well-written brand promise should be sustainable, all that time, to function as a guiding light, a north star to lead your vision. Consistency, in your communication is a different matter. Consistency refers to all the people in your circle who will be making the brand promise. They need to be engaged and all singing the same tune and pedaling in the same direction.
Many young people feel that voting in political elections is an exercise in futility. But those same young people, brand savvy as they are, can be quick to organize the boycott of a business if they think that by doing so they can bring about social change. It’s hard to say just how effective those tactics are. But, more than ever, people feel that brands have the power to improve society. Indeed, many believe that brands have more power even than governments in this regard. This is why brands have to keep in touch with their markets. This is why we say businesses have to share the values of their customers. Because, cash-carrying customers have feelings about the businesses they patronize. And, as a business owner, you want those feelings to be good ones. One way to share those values and elicit those good feelings is to champion a cause that is important to your market. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to curry favor in that way.
It’s important for any business to share the values of its market. Oh sure, you can be a vegetarian and run a butcher shop at the same time. But you’re not likely to have much business success. The butcher who can provide customers with personal knowledge about various cuts of meat will win out. But even if you do share your market’s values, it’s not always easy to communicate that. How do you let your market know you stand with them and deserve to be a part of their lives? One answer is to take a public stand that your customers will admire. The classic example is Patagonia taking a leading role in ambitious conservation efforts. And, recently, Nike gave us a spectacular example with its ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernik. With it, Nike demonstrated an alignment with a younger, more diverse, more inclusive western world. A world that just happens to buy a lot of athletic shoes, by the way. Many people are calling the businesses that employ this tactic “purpose-driven” brands. I feel that by using this description we are injecting needless confusion into the larger discussion of what branding is – and what it is for.
“A brand is your logo, right?” Those of us in the branding business get that question all the time. And, no the logo is not the brand. The logo is actually a form of marketing communication. It communicates a) the presence of the brand and, hopefully, b) what that brand is all about at its core. The Nike “Swoosh”, as abstract as it is, has been used so frequently along with the slogan “Just Do It.” that now, just by seeing the mark alone, one is reminded of that never-surrender mindset. Marketing communication takes many forms because communication itself takes many forms. Advertising is communicating with the market, whether it’s through a two-minute Super Bowl spot, a one-color pamphlet or a biplane towing a banner at the beach. One can communicate through a blog. One can also use flag semaphore. The medium doesn’t matter except in determining the best use of one’s budget. (Word to the wise, semaphore has a notoriously low ROI.) But, if any sort of messaging can be defined as marketing communication, what is branding?
Last week we examined how brand identity is moving into new dimensions, specifically sound and voice. This week, let’s imagine, in a little more detail, what that might entail. We know now that most people experience brands online as much or more than they experience them in the physical world. And that has meant enormous shifts in how brands are depicted visually. Many logos have had to be adjusted or even redesigned to read well on a smartphone screen or as a favicon (the tiny logos that appear on the tabs in your browser). Now, content on the internet is rapidly moving into video. Some say, in the near future, 80% of all searches will be video searches. I play guitar and, in the past, I’d have to hassle friends to get the chords and lyrics to learn a new song. Now I just go to Youtube and type, “How to play Stairway to Heaven on guitar”. One click and there are ten music teachers ready to show me how to play it. I can spend a few seconds with each of them and determine who is the best teacher for me. And I can hear the song played so I know how it’s supposed to sound. Mainstream business is slowly catching up. After a couple of decades of using the web to post what are, basically, electronic brochures, businesses are finally realizing that they can also utilize sound to advance their brands. They’re late to the idea because …
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