Branding and its definition are paramount in the strategic thinking of businesses as well as for personal lives. So it's provocative to think about what your "brand" is and if it's truly authentic.
In order to define your brand, you need to decide what business you are in and what you do best. If you cannot define who you are and at what you are best, no one will take you seriously. Simon Sinek in his book, Start with Why, attests that "Every person, every organization knows what they do, and some know how they do it, but very few know why they do what they do." And it's that 'why' that defines you.
Take Disney for example. The simple idea on which Disney launched Walt Disney World Resorts has never changed. He made it clear that it was "to create happiness through magical experiences." According to Forbes, Tom Boyles, Senior Vice President, Global Customer Managed Relationships at Disney Parks and Resorts says there are "11.2 billion ways" a guest can interact with the Disney brand through major attractions, restaurants, characters, hotels or transportation, to name a few.
EE's business is simple: we conceptualize, design and execute events. That's what we do. We do it by hiring event partners who are at the top of their field in every discipline in order to deliver a flawless product. BUT... why do we do all of this? Let me give you a personal vision: I want to make a difference; I want to make meaning in all we do. I want to educate; I want to inform; I want to enlighten; and every once in a while I want to do something that changes the world. Like rebuild an entire school in an impoverished area (a long and wonderful story for another time.) EE's brand is to not just follow the trends, but to create them.
Consider this: If you want to find out what your brand truly is, ask someone else. Ask your customers what they think best defines you. If you have a product, do not ask the people who invented it and produced it how it should be branded; ask its customers. If you are building a personal brand, ask your friends who they think you are. When you have these answers you will know how to market yourself or your company. One example was given to me by an automotive brand that saw itself as a luxury automobile, but its customers when polled defined it as a performance vehicle. Based upon its customer base, all future advertising and promotion focused on performance, and sales numbers went up dramatically.
Hot Branding Irons
Think of it this way: Your "brand" is like a branding iron, searing your image into the world with permanence. It's how you will be perceived.
An exceptional speaker at a conference I attended talked about a welcome letter he received from Apple which read "Apple wants you to go and explore and, where you can, swim in the deep end."
What's the brand message? We are untraditional. And if you take a look at Apple's packaging, their stores, their Genius bars, what are they saying? That they deal in simplicity, the ease of using their product. The brand image is carried across all their platforms.
Think about Starbucks. Theirs is a never-ending quest to innovate and simplify the experience for their customers, and this keeps them on the leading edge in their category of business. Think about Nordstrom's Shoes of Prey where women have the power to design shoes on IPads which are then made to order and can be picked up in the store. This personalized service and custom design capability helps give Nordstrom a competitve edge over other high-end retailers.
Branding Isn't for Just the Big Guys
Apple, Starbucks, Nordstrom are all big brands, but branding is not just for large corporations. All businesses can use branding to win a place in both the customers' hearts and minds. Danny O'Neill's air-roasted coffee business, The Roasterie®, communicates his company brand and his passion for the coffee bean through his logo, product packaging, Web site, and marketing message.
To communicate this passion, O'Neill includes his entrepreneurial story on each packet of coffee beans he sells. It starts with "I can tell you when I fell in love. It was November 22, 1978. On that day, as a foreign exchange student in Costa Rica, I picked my first coffee bean in the mountainous, volcanic, coffee-growing region around the Poas volcano. I fell in love with the country, the people, and the coffee. Fifteen years later my passion for great coffee could no longer be denied, and The Roasterie was born..."
Danny O'Neill is an example of what Sally Hogshead in her wonderful book, FASCINATE, How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist, means when she states: "Brands live inside communities, not corporations. Your brand lies inside conversations and aspirations. A brand lies in workplaces and schools, inside homes and dinner table conversations. Brands aren't static; they are living, breathing things that organically change and evolve as new people join the conversation."
Brand Rules to Embrace
Madonna has branded and re-branded her image and style over the past 30 years. She is a fearless master of her brand and message, and she set the branding tone for all other celebrities to follow. Below are the branding rules she has created for herself. Click here if you want details on each bullet point.
- Stand for something
- Always deliver
- Be clear about what you want
- Be a work in progress
- Don't be afraid to bloody a few noses
- Don't be afraid to stand up for your beliefs
Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.