If asked to describe your company’s voice, could you do it? You might recall the words written on a web page or spoken in commercials as evidence of tone in your marketing messages. Now modify the task. Instead of voice, describe your company’s look. Would your answer be the same? If your description of company image overlaps with your consideration of company voice you are on the correct path.
Seth Godin has defined a company’s brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” This expansive view of a brand, expressed from the customer’s perspective, reflects the complex challenge facing any branding effort.
In order to create expectations, form memories, tell stories and build relationships, we use both imagery and words to communicate our brand. In other words, the “voice” and the “look” work together to generate a cohesive, consistent representation of the company. In addition to these more easily observable brand characteristics, symbolic and non-verbal elements will also communicate important brand information.
Whether you are creating an initial brand, comfortable with an existing brand or in the process of re-branding, your own awareness of your brand is just as important as that of your customers. Assess and reassess your understanding of the impression customers will have when introduced to your company through interactions with your product or the marketing messages describing that product. Your assessments should include several elements customers expect from your brand.
Why should your customers care? In Start With Why, author Simon Sinek emphasizes the purpose of the brand and the products represented by that brand. Brand loyalty is an emotional reaction, stemming from a commitment to the company and its products. Therefore, customers need reasons to care about a brand. Know the value customers receive from your products and perceived associations with your company. If your brand does not communicate value and the reasons why a customer should care, customers have few compelling reasons to buy your products.
Are you telling a story? Branding has the potential to engage customers with your company and its products in ways that may reach the level of fan. During college football season, determining the Civil War preferences of Central Oregon residents is not difficult. Sports team fans proudly show their (team) colors! The vast number of company logos prominently displayed on clothing items is evidence that more than just sports teams can turn customers into fans. Customers become fans when they become invested in a company or product story, to the point that they want to be a part of that story by purchasing and displaying or using company products.
What promises are you making? A brand is a summary of the company’s promise in regards to product quality, function, value and service. Brand elements such as the company’s logo, office/retail spaces and product descriptions will create expectations in the mind of the customer. Make sure that your brand elements communicate the correct set of expectations, and that the customer’s product experience meets or exceeds those expectations. Brands are often described in general terms, yet that larger brand is created through hundreds (if not thousands) of smaller details. Customers pay attention to those details, too.
Are you clearly communicating your brand? Symbolic shapes and colors are useful when communicating culturally or personally significant meaning to customers. The need to gain customers’ attentions may also require a more artistic or abstract approach to a brand. However, the most abstract, attention-getting visual will lose impact if the other elements of the brand are not clearly communicated. Express competitive advantage and value points in concise, easily understood language. Reinforce the written or spoken messages with consistently helpful customer service and demonstrations of products in action.
Branding is a painstakingly complex process that is not completed overnight. In fact, the process may never be entirely finished. Periodically evaluating the effectiveness of the many ways in which you communicate your brand is a significant part of this ongoing branding activity.
Michael Hansen is a professor of business at COCC with a background in marketing and communications. You can reach him at 541-383-7712.