From time to time, someone will ask me whether they really need to worry about branding their company. It’s usually asked by the leader of a B2B enterprise that markets to a select few customers and where the sales relationships are one-to-one, very personal. If I’m basically selling to my golfing buddies, goes the reasoning, why do I need to spend money on a logo or a website or whatever? Well, that may be true but improving sales is not the only advantage to having a brand. In fact, there are eight economic advantages to developing a strong brand. See link at the end of this article.
A variation on the question is: Do I really need a personal brand? The reasoning here is: The people I work with know who I am so why should I have to formalize it in any way? But personal branding, as a deliberate activity, sprang from the need to be noticed in the first place. It is difficult to gain recognition in a working world where people have been commoditized. Bankers, lawyers, accountants, carpenters, nurses – anybody – seem interchangeable on the surface. It’s not till you get to know people that you appreciate their strengths and weaknesses. I wrote about a perfect example of personal branding in A Brand Of One. Again, there’s a link at the end of this article.
But how to answer the original question? The best way to determine if you really need a brand is to first review what, exactly, is even able to be branded.
Ask any couple that’s been in a successful, long-term relationship. How do you make it work? The answer always includes honest, open and frequent communication. That’s what it takes to make love work between two people. And that’s what it takes to make a market fall in love with a brand. If you want your customers, your employees, your vendors and everybody else to have a positive relationship with your brand, you have to communicate. And if you want them to actually fall in love with your brand, your communication has to be plentiful and authentic. Easy, right? Well, not always. Just like in personal relationships, it’s sometimes difficult for a business to find the right words with which to woo qualified clients, talented employees, etc. And what if the messaging used to attract one actually repels the other?
After last Tuesday’s election, 28 states plus Washington DC have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Of those 28, seven states, plus DC, have also legalized recreational use. And of those seven, one is California with it’s huge population and habit of setting trends for the nation. Marijuana is now big business and it looks like the dominoes are falling. Soon most, if not all, of the states will have gone green. States will enjoy a significant new tax base. Marijuana abuse, if such a thing actually exists, will be seen as a health issue and not a criminal issue. That will decrease prison populations, easing overcrowding and freeing up even more budgets. All this will put enormous pressure on the federal government to legalize the “demon weed” as well. Federal legalization would mean the banks can service the industry for the first time, letting it shed its cash-only stigma. And once that happens, giant, multi-national companies like British American Tobacco and Philip Morris will want to buy a seat at the table. Finally, when the big guns get involved, you know what happens next. Branding! But what will that branding look like in the complex world of cannabis?
Personal branding has now become a cottage industry. Libraries of books have been written on the subject. Webinars given. Conferences convened. Executive coaches are springing up like wildflowers in spring. I’ve even participated in a few personal branding workshops, myself. I’ve counseled bankers, attorneys and accountants who all work for much larger brands. How do you stand out when you’re one of 300 vice presidents at First Behemoth Bank, and have to wear the same suit as everybody else, and are not allowed to create a social media profile? Individual personal branding challenges can be very interesting but, the truth is, this kind of work makes me a little uncomfortable. A colleague of mine calls brand strategists “shrinks for businesses” and, for the most part, that rings true. But if so, then working with individuals comes perilously close to being an actual shrink. And I just don’t feel qualified for that.
I’m thinking about personal branding, this week, because, at the end of September, the beloved Vin Scully, the best ever example of a brand of one, will be drawing his phenomenal career as sportscaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers to a close.
When speaking to groups, I often ask any motorcycle riders in the room to raise their hands. Then I ask them to keep their hands raised if they ride Harley-Davidson bikes. Then I ask the Harley riders if they would ever consider riding another kind of motorcycle. The answer is always an emphatic, almost indignant, “No way!” Back in the eighties, Harley-Davidson was struggling. They had made some bad decisions and were being hammered by faster, cheaper Japanese bikes. They decided not to compete against the Japanese but, rather, to leverage their company’s own checkered past to build a new kind of bond with their customer. The result was one of the all-time, classic branding turnarounds, one that has gained them a fiercely devoted customer base. It’s a story that should serve as a model to all brands.
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