A Brand Ain’t Nothing but a Promise

Want to buy a marketing book? I’ve got stacks of them — from Aaker to Zyman and everyone in between. My family suspects that when these books can no longer sell themselves at Borders, they follow some underground railroad to find sanctuary in my home, hurling their ragged little pages through the mail slot late at night. Quite honestly, though, I can’t remember how so many of them ended up in my den.

Interestingly, almost every one of the books in my collection devotes quite a lot of ink to the topic of branding. It should be branding with a capital “B” the way some of these books carry on. Or, it should simply be “The Big B” because, after all, branding is a term too sacred to be spoken by most of us lowly marketers.

Branding, we are told, can sell a zillion hamburgers. It can make people hug their cars and their carmakers. It can offer proof that you really cared about your greeting card.

I’ve got a different perspective. To me, a brand isn’t anything but a promise. It’s a promise that your phone call will be clear enough to hear a pin drop. It’s a promise that you’ll have all the office supplies you’ll ever need. It’s a promise that you as the organization’s marketer had better fulfill. If you don’t, you can kiss that great branding campaign adieu.

So what does all of this have to do with Web site content? Have you looked at your site as a brand reinforcer lately? Does the content live up to the promise proposed by that wonderful tag line you turned out before the product launch? Maybe it’s time to do a little cleaning up, tweaking, and promise fulfilling. Here are a few suggestions:

Look beyond the logo. Did you paste your logo on every page? Good for you, but don’t confuse a great logo with great branding. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of logos, especially those that are so ornate that they completely obscure your brand name. In most cases, consumers will need to know your name before they start to process the “shorthand” of a graphic on your logo. So get your name well recognized and pull the plug on logo-development meetings that last longer than an hour.

Reinforce the brand and go further. If your brand promise is innovation, make sure your Internet presence takes that promise and soars. Sony.com does a good job of fulfilling the “bricks” promise of being tech savvy and in touch with the latest trends.

Use interactivity to your advantage. Think Hallmark and you think warm and friendly. Hallmark.com takes this image one step further by offering a gift assistant. There’s also a service that offers reminder emails before big events or anniversaries that you don’t want to forget. Now that’s friendly and helpful, and it certainly fulfills the Hallmark brand promise of caring communications.

Keep your focus. Trying to do everything with your Web site is a big mistake, and it often detracts from the brand message you want to relay. Let’s say you’re an Internet consulting firm. Undoubtedly, you could set up an e-commerce mechanism on your Web site, but why? Are you going to be selling company T-shirts and pens? Cool white papers that document your organization’s brainy views of the virtual world would help to solidify the brand promise.

Work to become the site for your category. People associate the name Gallup with public opinion polls, probably the best-known pollster in the business. And guess what I get when I go to www.gallup.com? Sure, I get the sales pitch for The Gallup Organization, but I also get interesting articles on politics and elections, business and the economy, lifestyles, and workplace management. It’s all great stuff that helps me stay in touch with public opinion — and confirms Gallup’s brand leadership.

Keep it fresh, keep it original. A stale Web site — with or without the right logo — will kill your branding campaign. The same goes for a Web site that always breaks down (which really doesn’t bode well for any company promising quality, fine workmanship, or great customer service).

So my apologies to all those authors who wax poetic on the power of branding. I say it’s really the power of promise fulfillment. The good marketers already know this. They’re doing their part by helping to fulfill that promise in their communications to customers, which, of course, includes content-rich, interesting, and innovative Web sites.

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