As an advertising expert, I examine and study brands. Like a moth to a flame, my radar sounds whenever I see the word “brand”. I look at that brand with a technical eye: the design, the usage of collateral genius that is taken (and missed) for messaging, and brand flair.
But as a consumer, I experience brands the same way everyone else does and I can’t help but see what the public sees, and more importantly, feels. This feeling is the true branding experience.
With this thought in mind, I am amazed by the mass of agencies and design shops offering “branding” as a code word for “design”. Some even take it so far as to brand themselves as the “Branding Masters” when all they are really doing is selling design.
A brand is to be experienced. The brand experience is what the consumer takes away, remembers, shares and recalls for their next purchasing decision.
Take for instance a recent experience I had with Delta Airlines. Delta no doubt has a recognizable brand, they advertise with plenty of consistency and have all the matching collateral any company could possibly need. But when I think of Delta, I don’t think of a logo or an entertaining safety briefing video attempting humor, I think of the 47-hour travel delay and refusal of proper compensation. I think about the experience of never reaching my final destination. This is now the Delta brand to me, despite millions upon millions of dollars spent in branding.
Think about the last good experience you had with a company. Did you walk away thankful for their logo or were you more aware of their customer service? Similarly, their brochure and website design, or the value of their product? Will you buy them again because they have a great uniform or because you like the way you feel in the midst of your consumer experience? Sure, the design elements can enhance this experience, but the reality is most consumers don’t know the difference between one designers argument on “good design” vs. another’s argument on “the right font”.
The consumer wants an experience. “Is that Helvetica?” is never heard from a customer looking for a better burger and smiling service.
A branding process should be a 360-degree inside-out experience. I always tell clients that it doesn’t matter how great we make you look, the reality is that making you look good isn’t very hard for any marketing or ad agency worth a dime. Designers are plentiful and just about everyone knows a good one (remember most consumers don’t know the difference between good and great as judged by an art school professor). What matters is what is happening inside of what I call your “Four Walls”. I can’t help you sell your product with growth if you have dirty bathrooms and surly wait staff. That is why we look at brands with a complete process.
- What do you really sell?
HINT: It is almost never what your product actually is because the customers of today can almost always get it elsewhere
- What do your customers really want?
HINT: You may think you know, but it takes research to find out
- Are you telling them about your company by focusing on what you love about yourself or by what your customers love about you?
HINT: Nine times out of ten, a company is more impressed by it’s own history and factoids more than the customer is
- Does your staff buy into the messaging and do their actions speak louder than words about your brand?
HINT: Having a manual that says your brand is efficient when you hire people who appear lazy doesn’t make you an efficient brand
- What is your expected user experience/perception and does your brand message (including all points of contact and service) take advantage of opportunities to reach customers to grow this perception?
HINT: Understand that the consumer’s perception of your brand is likely very different than your perception of your own brand, sometimes, you’re just too close to see what they see
- What is your smoking gun? What is truly different about your brand experience vs. your competition and why do your customers care?
HINT: Just because you do something “cool” doesn’t mean your target market will be moved to buy from you
Don’t look to an agency offering to “brand you”. Look to a group who brands you through examples and experiences, trains your staff, immerses itself in your culture and repurposes your messaging to effectively reach your audience in a way they will buy from you.