Every business has a brand whether it wants one or not. Every business has a relationship to its market and that relationship is its brand. It’s partly a recognition thing. What does the business look like? What does it sound like? It’s partly a reputation thing. What is it known for? What does it stand for? It’s even partly a legal thing. What trademarks or copyrights does it own? Today, we think of it as a total experience thing. How does the market experience this business? How do the two parties relate to one another? How do people feel about this business? Most small- and middle-market business owners put very little time into thinking about their brand. They commission a logo design, launch a website and leave it at that. They let their brand grow wild from there without ever considering what it might grow into. Shrewd business owners, however, create a strategies for their brands. They decide how they want people to experience their business and they take steps to ensure that they do. They shape their relationship with the market and guide their business to a positioning that affords competitive advantage. The market leaders in every category do this. In large part, that’s why they became market leaders.
While at breakfast with some new friends this past week, I happened to once again relay the tale of the six blind men of Hindustan, a famous Indian folk tale. In it, six blind men use their sense of touch to “see” an elephant. I was using the story to illustrate how different people experience brands in different ways and how it’s important to craft brand strategies that will address all those points of view. One of the people at the table very kindly complimented me on the metaphor. And that inspired me to notice that it’s been two and half years since we discussed brand constituencies in this blog. Time to rectify that now. Our tale begins in ancient India …
A few weeks ago, I wrote about charting a course to brand performance. To completely torture that maritime metaphor, when your brand is performing well, it’s like having your boat perfectly outfitted and your course plotted. At this point, your brand should be working efficiently for you. But where are you going? Most owners and managers of small and middle-market buildings have no idea. They point their vessels, imprecisely, toward “success” or “increased sales”. But that’s just like steering toward the horizon. A business needs a more specific goal. And, luckily, one of the benefits of constructing a brand strategy is that the goal becomes immediately apparent. Once you have assessed your products and services, matched up to your market’s values, assessed your storytelling capabilities and surveyed your competition’s positioning, you’ll see a rich goal that is readily available to you. And you’ll have plotted a course to it, one that neatly sails past shallow water and treacherous rocks.
I was in Paris once and ran into a family of American tourists. They had just arrived that very day and were tired, stressed and hungry from their travels. They asked me if I knew anywhere good to eat. First of all, this was Paris. There’s good food everywhere. Serving a bad meal in France is practically a capital offense. But this family was really in luck because I knew just the place. “Yes!” I was happy to help, “I happen to know a fantastic little bistro right around the corner from here. Ask for Marcel. He speaks English. He’ll take good care of you.” But all I got from them were blank stares. Then the mom explained they were hoping for a restaurant more like from home – something like McDonalds. Such is the power of branding that Micky-D’s was their top choice in a city world famous for its spectacular gastronomy. After parting, I felt sorry for this family. I kept thinking of them as missing out on a wonderful life experience, sampling Parisian cuisine. And I started wondering how McDonalds does it. How does their brand wield such power so far from home? But of course I knew the answer because for one week of my life McDonalds held that kind of sway over me, and it was when I was traveling.
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