The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
The words “brand” and “branding” have become so ubiquitous in our jargon that they are becoming meaningless. Within your organization I’ll bet it’s a fair statement to say you’ve heard these words thrown around recklessly from time to time. You probably wondered privately “does branding really matter?”
At the risk of overly simplifying, let’s use the word “identity” in place of branding for this discussion. I think it’s a far better word with more relevant meaning. Organizations, products and services all have an identity. It’s through your identity that you build a relationship in the minds of customers by defining who and what your value proposition represents. But this is only half the equation – the more purposeful component to identity building is the ability to influence customer behavior to purchase. Endless logos and ad making will not get you there.
Nobody wants more branding
The inherent value your product or service brings to the marketplace is the sum total what it represents in the minds and physical experiences of customers. All the perceptions and real interactions people have with what you bring the marketplace forms your identity (a.k.a.brand). Customers decide what this means to them, not you. Customers determine the hierarchy of competing identities in a category. To influence purchase behavior your identity must matter to people. The trouble nowadays is customers aren’t paying much attention, and worse, they don’t believe or remember branding messages anyway. As a result, even the most memorable branding falls short of influencing customer behaviors. Couple that with the changing forces of our digital age, search technology, and how we are all instantly connected, and you can understand why traditional expectations of image and awareness in marketing are falling short in the eyes of the metrics obsessed. You can’t expect to influence behavior when customers are busy avoiding your branding at every turn. Nobody out there wants more branding.
Behavior is the new “B” word
A fair amount of branding overlooks the fact that customers are only customers when they are buying your products and services. Because we tend to think in terms of demographic or psychographic segments rather than behaviors, most branding is disembodied from the process of purchase intent to actual purchase. Adding to this disconnect, customer purchase behavior is vastly different today. Not only do people buy based on input and affirmations of their own community, but also to share the value they receive from their purchases with others in their tribe. The bigger idea is that we feel better for having shared with others what we value, rather than feeling better than our neighbor for having purchased what they value.
People don’t buy just to improve their self-image alone. The behavioral drivers for customers today are: to be a part of something, add, improve, create value, to make a difference in their lives and in their community. For savvy marketers, connecting to what customers are doing along the purchase pathway is far more compelling than anything you could be saying in your marketing– even embellished with the most lavish promotional and production trappings you traditionally rely on.
Influencing behavior through your identity
Your identity has three components: who you are, what value you provide, and what experiences customers have through their engagement with your company, product or service. You are in control of the relevancy of all three of these elements. They must arrive in perfect alignment with every customer interaction. The key to influence in your marketing is prompting customer behavior or action, not simply increasing awareness. The who, what and how of your value proposition (identity) must be directly linked to customer behavior in the purchase process, otherwise you’ll be spending money blowing your own hot air through the media pipe. To be truly influential, your identity must rely less on symbolism and address customer habits, foster trust, prompt action, earn loyalty, and facilitate sharing. Thinking about your identity (a.k.a. branding) in this way creates a brave new world where you write new rules for your marketing success that your competitors will find nearly impossible to emulate.