The word “brand” has evolved from the mark made by burning with a hot iron, to a logo or a trademark. But today a brand is the impression of a product in the minds of potential users or consumers. This shift from trademark to customer impression says it all.
But the word “impression” is subject to confusion. Advertisers use the term to define the number of times a logo is used on various forms of promotional and advertising materials, as well as the number of times a particular logo or advertisement appears in print media. Many companies believe that the more their logo appears in multiple media, products and promotional items, the more brand building they are doing. They believe more is better. But in fact, if the resulting mental impression is mediocre or negative, every appearance of your company’s logo just reinforces that opinion.
Promoters of so-called branded promotional items confuse the matter even more when they use the term “branding” to identify the placement of a logo on a baseball cap or a NASCAR contestant, for instance. They use terms like, “Great branding!” when what they mean is, “That’s a great way to get the general public to look at your logo.”
If we take the most modern definition of the word “brand” as the mental impression the public has of a product, successful branding is a much more complex challenge than any form of advertising. So, if “brand” means mental impression and opinion, building a brand has to start with these essential elements:
1. Discovery. How did they find out about your brand? What it through advertising, logo appearance, or social media? Was it recommended by a friend? The method by which they discover your brand will influence their opinion. Some over-zealous ads can have an “Oh sure, prove it,” reaction, while a friend who recommends it may make someone think, “This is going to be great!”
2. Experience. What was their initial impression about your product or service? Did it live up to their expectations? Was it “Wow! This is exactly what I’m looking for!” or was it “This will do until I find something better”? Their first impression will dominate their opinion about your brand and seeing your logo will reinforce that impression.
3. Reputation. What are third parties saying about your products and services? What are your customer service and guarantee like? How does it compare to competing brands in price, quality, dependability and availability? Negative reports typically have a greater influence than positive accolades.
4. Emotions. What emotional reactions does your brand evoke in your customers and potential customers? Is it strength, status, dependability, or resignation to “the only game in town”? Is it apprehension, disappointment or toleration? Or is it security, relief and even ownership?
5. Referrals. Will others recommend your products and services with confidence, or will they tell their friends to avoid them? Will they validate your claims or raise credibility issues? Personal endorsements are a powerful factor in forming an impression about a product or service.
So the word “brand,” when defined as a mental impression, requires a whole different approach to marketing than just physical impressions on a page or promotional item. It requires a thoughtful and comprehensive brand-building plan specifically designed to create and maintain a positive impression.
We recently read a great article by Ed Kershner on Power Brands, which expands on this theme and what companies have to consider building such a plan. We recommend it to brand builders. As Ed concludes, these efforts are rewarded with enduring customer loyalty. Now, that’s what we call good branding!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders