The Truth About Your Brand

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(Photo by Cheryl McIntosh)

Your company’s brand is what is perceived in the heart and mind of the consumer. It is reinforced with every touchpoint — from direct branding and marketing efforts to how the phone is answered. Because the consumer is the true owner of the brand, understanding what is important to them plays a powerful role in shaping an effective branding and marketing strategy.

As business owners and managers, we can say anything we want to about our brand but our perception means little if the market doesn’t validate those beliefs. Have you ever seen photos of yourself and had trouble reconciling the image you see with what is reflected back at you in the mirror each day? At least in my experience, seeing photos of myself usually leads to a week of salads and a few extra days at the gym.

The same principal applies when we try to understand our company’s brand from the inside out. It is only human to want to see our company in the best light. As business owners, we are often too closely intertwined with our company to view it objectively.

The truth about how the brand is perceived is best realized by seeking unbiased and candid feedback from the market we serve. A brand discovery process performed by a neutral party helps bring our internal perception of the brand in alignment with that of the market’s. It allows individuals to open up and provide honest and anonymous feedback that they may not be as inclined to provide to you directly.

Branding and advertising agencies each have their own methodology for getting at the heart of the brand. They may perform external focus groups, send out surveys or conduct internal brainstorming sessions with company staff. In my experience, I have achieved the most comprehensive and accurate picture of the brand by performing a series of interviews with a broad swath of my clients’ customers, staff and vendors. After several interviews, a consensus begins to emerge about the true public perception of the brand. I then distill the collective feedback into a simple and concise brand idea that is easy to remember and share.

There are several benefits to the brand discovery process. Here are just a few:
•    It anchors your company’s branding and marketing strategy with concrete data.
•    It clearly defines what differentiates your company from the competition.
•    It provides a wealth of testimonials that can be leveraged in marketing materials and digital content.
•    The resulting simple and easy to remember brand idea better equips your team as ambassadors for the brand.
•    It creates a cohesive and consistent theme for brand messaging.
•    It helps position a company for future sale by validating the monetary value of the brand itself.
•    It helps define how you are priced relative to your competition.
•    It provides insight to the effectiveness and perceived authenticity of branding aesthetics such as your website and marketing materials.

It is important to include a wide range of interviewees that can provide honest feedback. We can generally predict what our satisfied customers are going to say, but what about the potential clients that chose the competition? Or for example, we know our customer service shines with the people that are paying our bills — but how do our vendors perceive the brand? What message are they carrying to the public after their interactions with us? Word of mouth is the most compelling and least expensive form of advertising we can invest in. The brand discovery process clearly defines any potential disconnect between how we perceive ourselves and what message our audience is actually promoting on our behalf.

In my personal life, I live by the belief that what people think of me is none of my business. In my professional life, it’s the opposite. The success of my business is a direct reflection of public perception so naturally I pay close attention. There’s a billboard by my office that sums it up nicely. It says, “If you know the answer, ask bigger questions.” A thorough brand discovery process does just that.

Cheryl McIntosh, DONE Photography + Marketing, specializing in helping businesses differentiate themselves from their competition through pen and lens.

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Cheryl McIntosh, DONE Marketing + Photography

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