Got Brand?

OK, that title’s a cheesy takeoff on a marketing campaign that is already old (by Internet standards anyway), but in today’s market, it is a question that you and your company should ponder seriously. Very seriously.

So go ahead and say it: “This account executive has spent one too many late nights agonizing over ad copy.”

I have spent too much time and too many late nights wondering if my clients will ever get the concept of branding. I have spent too many mornings explaining to clients why we had to cut their 80-word About My Company essay down to five words for a banner ad. And in all this time, what I have discovered is that there is a great deal of confusion about what branding is. Almost everyone seems to agree that they need it, and, more important, they know that it needs to be strong. They just don’t know how to get there. Or they have kind of an idea, but it’s really fuzzy.

Allow me to shed some light: Branding is nothing more than a solid, complete idea of what you do and who you are as a company. It’s just that simple — and just that nebulous.

A Perfect Example

First, let’s think for a moment of an industry that continues to nail branding in a market that is saturated with products. It’s an industry you support. It’s an industry your kids love and make demands about: the food industry.

What makes this industry unique is that it figured out long ago that to get us hungry humans to pay attention to specific products, it needed the ideal solution to each individual’s specific hunger problem. And let’s face it, if you’re hungry, you have lots to choose from. So where do you go? What do you eat? Well, it depends on what you want. If your kids are hungry and you don’t want to cook and they also want a toy, you head to McDonald’s. It has made millions of dollars by marketing to parents with hungry, whiny, toy-obsessed children. Consequently, you don’t think of McDonald’s for, say, a really good steak. For that, you might go to Ruth’s Chris Steak House. And if you’re a little light in the ol’ wallet, you might head over to Steak & Ale.

My point is that you identify these places specifically with the product that they sell. That is what you need to do when you are thinking about your own brand.

What Do You Do?

To find that solid idea of who your company is, you need first to complete the following statement: “My company solves ________________ problem(s).” When you fill in this blank, it is incredibly important that you forget, just for a moment, that your product (or service or some combination) has a lot of gee-whiz, holy-cow, neat-o features. That comes later. What you are trying to do now is come up with one strong, coherent thought.

Don’t worry if you ramble a bit at first: “My company solves this problem and that problem and the problem my girlfriend has with her parents and the problem that the telephone company is always trying to blame me for.” This is OK — at least initially.

Now what you must do is look at your statement and decide what is the most important problem your company solves. It is essential to your future marketing efforts that you be able to state the problem you solve in one to three words. Why? Despite what you might think, your adoring public has the attention span of a gnat. If your idea is short enough, concise enough, and strong enough, your public will reward you with their attention.

Danger Ahead

OK, you’ve gotten through one of the hardest parts: You’ve identified the problem that you need to solve, and your statement is clear, concise, and strong. Now comes the dangerous time every company faces: the moment you feel compelled — nay, driven — to explain to people how you solve the problem that you have listed.

Resist. After you have written your company branding statement, resist the urge to expound on exactly how you do what you do. That part will come later, in white papers, in product documents, in product reviews, and the like. If you have done your homework on your initial idea, your adoring public will be so interested in your company that they will want to learn more about how your company does what it says it does. They will actually read your white papers, and they will scour the web looking for news articles on what it is that you do and how you do it.

So you’ve successfully resisted. You have what is probably a crude but succinct statement of what you do. This is good! Your future marketing agency will love you!

Who Are You?

Now that you know the kinds of problems that you solve, you can figure out the kind of company that you are. Don’t freak out. This is actually one of the best parts of the whole branding process. You are going to decide what kind of personality your company, and hence your brand, will have.

Now, before you thumb through the thesaurus to look up words that sound more hip than the word “hip,” it is important to look at what it is that you are trying to sell. If you are a services company that has recently developed a small computer application that you are going to sell in Q3, then your company has changed. You are a services company plus something else. If you are trying to sell only services, then it becomes important to identify what services you offer and how they differ from those of your competitors.

Knowing these things will allow you to investigate the kind of audience that would be most likely to purchase your product. The ultratrendy will probably not go with a company that presents a quiet, staid image of its services or products. The converse is also true: The very quiet, staid audience will be a little leery of going with a company that portrays itself as trendy. When you are thinking of what kind of personality you would like your company to portray, think of the audience you are trying to sell to.

You’re There!

Now you have made your statement of what problem your company solves, you’ve looked at what you’re trying to sell, and you’ve identified which audience would be most likely to buy your product. You’ve even decided on a company personality. Take a deep breath, and wipe your brow — you’ve just discovered your brand.

It may not look like much at the beginning; in fact, it may be a very rough idea. That’s OK. My best advice is to take your work and begin to get upper-level management buy-in for it, if you haven’t done so already. Then think about how to best communicate it internally, throughout the company.

The next step is to make sure that everyone else hears about your brand. And since you’ve been clear and concise about what you do, what product you sell, and who you are, your adoring public will be able to understand what you’re about, quickly and easily. So will your marketing agency.

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