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What Does Your Brand Mean To People?

Last week we talked about Brand Purpose. That is, the purpose your market has for your brand. The role that people have for you and expect you to play to perfection. Today, let’s dig a little deeper and examine what your brand means to your market. One true test of a great brand is the level of sorrow people feel if it goes away. The great American airlines, PanAm and TWA are still missed. Harley Davidson devotees were in agony when it seemed to be close to closing its doors. Sears and Kodak are two more great brands that meant a great deal to people. Now they’re zombie brands that won’t quite die. Owners and managers of brands that are lucky enough to still be alive in this pandemic need to think about what their market would lose if they suddenly closed up shop. It’s easy to say, “Nothing. My customers would just go to my competitors.” But, as we discussed last week, there’s a reason your customers are buying from you and not them in the first place. What is that reason? And what does it mean to your market?

When I was a boy, my family lived in East Africa. When we traveled there, from the US, we almost always flew on TWA. So that airline became, in a sense, our third place … way before Starbucks. TWA was almost like a family friend. I never flew on PanAm so it meant nothing to me when that one failed. But it hurt when TWA went bankrupt.

When we lived overseas, my parents would hand us kids a Sears catalog every June. Our task was to pick out our gifts for the upcoming Christmas. Had to get the order in because it would take five to six months for them to arrive. So, yeah, that brand means something to me and it’s a little heartbreaking to see it in such decline. Sears was perfectly positioned to become Amazon – before Amazon even existed.

Ask Boardwalk to find out what
your brand means to your market.

But meaning doesn’t come just from nostalgia. What if there were no more Apple products, ever? What if there was no Google? No YouTube? Obviously, there would be a lot of sad people, myself included. Apple satisfies my need for great design that not only looks cool but eases my interface with technology. I like the idea of not having to be a coder to make full use of 21st century tools. Google makes me feel smart. The answer to any question is just a few keystrokes away … or just one voice command away. YouTube is my teacher. Need to convert a metronome into a drum beat on GarageBand? YouTube will show you how. Need to pour a foundation for a house? YouTube has the tutorial.

Clearly, these brands mean something to me. They probably mean something to you too. There are other brands that mean a lot to me – Fender, Levis and Mini to name three. And there are other brands that mean something to you. Can you name them?

OK. It’s easy to talk about big, global brands and demonstrate the meaning they have for their markets. But what about small brands? Is it possible for a small business, or even a start up, to mean something to its clients or customers? Absolutely.

About a year ago, a new Mexican restaurant opened up near our house. It’s a tiny little place in a strip mall and it’s called “Las Tres Marias”, which is about as charming a brand name as you could want. They have, in our household’s opinion, the very best carnitas in 25 miles. They offer up a new batch every Friday night and, when it runs out, usually around mid-day on Sunday, that’s it till next Friday. What’s more, there’s something about the service there that’s magical. Every restaurant aims to please but at Las Tres Marias, there’s an effortless, familiar, welcoming atmosphere. It feels unforced, almost like you’re visiting a friend’s house for a meal.

Sadly, only months after opening, their dining room was closed by the pandemic. Now they provide only take-out service. You can be sure that all their customers, including me, are ordering take-out as much as possible because we need to keep Las Tres Marias in business. We need those wonderful people to succeed and we need that perfect carnitas close to home.

Right from the start, Las Tres Marias meant something to their customers. That should be the goal of every business, of every brand, even B2B brands. If you haven’t done so lately, it’s time to talk to the different constituencies that make up your market. Find out what you mean to them.


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