Now, I don’t know as much about branding as some (ClickZ’s Martin Lindstrom, for one). I grew up on a farm and know more about the other kind of branding. But allow me to put in my two cents. As a consumer and an Internet marketer, I believe branding is both more important than and completely different from what we habitually think it is.
I would guess that most people when considering branding think of logos, logo treatments, color schemes, taglines, design layouts, and the like (see PlaceWare‘s “Branding Guide“). Though to many (the entire advertising industry at least) these elements are important, I submit that branding is more far-reaching than this list of items and that true branding is something altogether different.
Although logos and the rest certainly make up a portion of what constitutes a brand, remember that branding, like icebergs, exists mostly below the surface. Colors and taglines represent only the external aspects of a company’s brand. When Joe Smith sees a representation of the golden arches, he associates them with McDonald’s. What the big, gold “M” connotes but doesn’t contain is the internal aspect of the brand. This is a compiled set of Joe’s memories about the taste of the hamburgers, waiting in the lines, and interacting with the people behind the counter.
The internal, invisible part of a brand is the most important. When a Coca-Cola addict reaches for her favorite drink, she doesn’t think, “Ah yes, the word ‘Coca-Cola’ written in white script on a red background. Give me some of that.” She thinks about the taste. All the red paint and white lettering in the world wouldn’t get her excited about having a Coke unless the Cokes she has sipped before tasted good. The key, internal aspect of a brand is the quality of the product coupled with the service and experience associated with consumption of that product.
Good companies have good brands and vice versa. One reason for this has little to do with advertising budgets. If yours isn’t a good company providing good service to support a good product, you cannot have a good brand. A poor product that doesn’t help the consumer but is embellished with a large ad budget and excellent PR will induce the consumer to try it once — and only once. Your slogan won’t get that consumer back unless the product is good. Research I have quoted before supports this: “A recent Harris Poll found that if a consumer were to try a new brand and it either didn’t work or didn’t meet his or her needs once, 76 percent would find it difficult to trust that brand again.” The same poll found that “only 15 percent of consumers agreed with this statement: ‘I trust products more that have attractive or appealing packaging.'”
If you want a good brand, first create a good product. You have a choice about where to spend your time and money. If you spend it on developing a good product or service, people will try it and come back over and over (as with the Cokes and Palms of the world). If you funnel your resources away from product in favor of advertisements and taglines, you will get people to try it once, then never return (like the now-defunct Super Bowl-advertising dot-coms). So — what’s the smart choice?
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