Many company owners go about their businesses without thinking much about the brand. They either ignore it altogether, hand it off to marketing (or maybe a talented graphic designer), or make strategic decisions based on an incomplete understanding of what a brand really means. If one of these describes you, you could be making a big financial faux pas. A strong brand can be a huge moneymaker.
Your company’s brand may not be a dedicated line item on your P&L, but your profit will absolutely increase based on the strength of your brand. It’s too bad so many leaders think a brand is“squishy” or insubstantial because it serves a very pragmatic economic purpose.
In fact, a recent study found that 87 percent of business value among the S&P 500 is intangible value, including brand equity. Another study valued S&P 500 companies’ intangible assets at 74 percent, with brands comprising 20 percent of that.
So, what exactly is a brand? While I admit the concept can be tough to pin down, I define it as the interconnected web of what our business means and how we deliver that meaning, all made possible by our special position in our customer’s universe. (NOTE: See attached tip sheet.)
A brand should be a company’s North Star. Every decision you make should be filtered through it. Forging an ironclad brand lets you occupy the single best position in the hearts and minds of your customers. When you pinpoint this optimal position, you’ll be able to create value, maximize scale, and lead with purpose.
That said, here are six ways a strong brand creates immediate value:
1. It creates a high “willingness-to-pay” factor, which translates directly to better margins
In a recent study, strong brands on average commanded a 13 percent price premium over weak brands. Look to your own purchasing behavior. When you love a brand, aren’t you willing to pay more for it than for an alternative brand? Renowned brands like Apple, Mercedes-Benz, and Williams-Sonoma—or niche brands like Lululemon, Campagnolo, and Vitamix—are examples.
2. It commands attention and makes it easy for customers to choose you
Consider the infinite stimuli competing for your customers’ attention. To break through and secure a place in their minds—and their wallets—you need to make it easy for them to notice you. The solution is not to shout the loudest—most lack the marketing budget to shout loudly enough. The solution instead is bracing clarity. Be crystal clear about what your business is and why that matters to customers. This way, the customer’s mind has to do less work to grasp your offering.
3. It enables you to hit that sweet spot between old and new that persuades people to buy
Wharton School marketing professor Jonah Berger writes in his book Invisible Influence that people like a blend of similarity and difference. When it’s the right blend, he refers to it as “optimally distinct.” For a brand’s position to be compelling to customers, it should be similar enough to something a customer already knows so that the person will feel its “warm glow of familiarity,” as Berger has called it—yet it should be different enough that it stirs the customer’s curiosity and desire to be different themselves.
When selling something new, it helps to piggyback it on top of something else the customer already understands. This is why automobiles were positioned as horseless carriages. Click To Tweet It’s also why Airbnb referenced the familiar B&B idea, with its associations of belonging and safety and psychological comfort, when trying to persuade people to embrace the dramatically new idea of sleeping in non-hotel beds they find on the Internet.
4. It sets the groundwork for customer loyalty
Your brand strategy enables you to focus on what matters to the target customer—on that which produces customer desire for your business. Once customers have found it easy to see you and buy you, and those customers value your big benefit, they will love your business. In this way, great brands deepen and lengthen your customer relationships, increasing customer lifetime value. Brands set the conditions for loyal customers who come back again and again because you singularly bring significant value.
Starbucks brings a big benefit—good coffee, uplifting third-place space, human connection, consistency across locations. This fills a deep need and delivers meaningful value, which spurs loyalty. It makes somebody a customer not just once, but countless times.
5. It “digs a moat” around your business
A great brand is a good defense. It protects what you have, helping you to survive and defend, as well as thrive and grow. If you have built a powerful brand, your competitors cannot credibly copy it, and this un-copy-ability protects your business’s long-term value. Pretty much everything else can be copied, given enough time. Patents expire; features obsolesce. But it is hard to copy an emotional territory that your brand occupies in the mind of your customer.
A strong brand is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage. Consider that Brooks Brothers have been around since 1818, DuPont since 1802, and Jim Beam since 1795—and our country goes back to only 1776!
6. Finally, it guides strategic decision-making
When your brand is well defined, you can look to it to filter where and how you can innovate, or what categories you can expand into, with confidence in your ability to grow. In this way, it prevents you from making costly mistakes.
If I am the CEO of Brooks Running and I’m considering areas for innovation, I look to my brand, represented by the tagline of “Run Happy.” My brand is about the joy of running—not the joy of skateboarding, not the joy of sports in general, not even about running for the sake of things other than joy. This lens puts into sharp relief where I can or cannot grow, making my decisions easier and more accurate.
Keep in mind that all of these money-making benefits hold true ONLY if your brand is strong.
A weak, anemic brand simply doesn’t command the same value. Make sure yours is customer-motivating, distinctive and ownable, simple and singular, and that it leverages your unique competencies. The strength of your brand is just too important to leave to chance.
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What Is Brand, Anyway?
The Seven Layers of Brand and How They Fuel Your Business
Excerpted from Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide
(Lioncrest Publishing, April 2019, ISBN: 978-1-544-51386-7, $27.99)
By Lindsay Pedersen
We all use the word “brand” as though everyone else’s understanding of it were the same as ours. Yet chances are it’s not.
The logo is part of the brand. TV and social media are parts of the brand. Naming is part of the brand. So are your product, your customer experience, and your SEO tactics. So are your font, your tagline, your business’s personality, and the color of your employee uniforms. But none of those are, by themselves, brand.
To make smart decisions around shaping and communicating your brand strategy, it’s important to understand all the aspects. Here are seven layers of a brand:
Brand Is What You Stand For
It’s what you mean to your customer. It’s the place you occupy in his or her mind. Everything your business does either reinforces your meaning, solidifying and growing its place in the customer’s mind—or it weakens that meaning, blurring its place in the customer’s mind. If you sell shoes that enable customers to run fast, everything you do reinforces or blurs your meaning of fast shoes. If you sell hospital software that streamlines patient check-in, everything you do reinforces or blurs your meaning of streamlined check-in.
Brand Is a Relationship Between Your Business and Your Customer
These relationships have existed for millennia. The pre-Industrial Age, small-town butcher made a promise and faithfully fulfilled it time and time again, making his relationship with his customer ever more meaningful for both. Today, with the web and social media and the countless ways customers can communicate with a business, it’s even more important to deliver value.
There was a time when the business with the most spending power had the loudest megaphone and, therefore, the most powerful brand. Now, the customer has a megaphone, too, and once again carries clout in the relationship. The feedback loop demands a mutually fulfilling relationship. Businesses must carefully make distinctive promises and deliver on them faithfully.
Brand Is Your Promise and Your Fulfillment of That Promise
When a brand has integrity, its promise is true. The business makes a promise—to deliver a scrumptious-tasting dinner, or eliminate a software system’s downtime, or make a home-buying experience more enjoyable—and delivers on that promise. It is not merely what you say you do—it is what you actually do, how you do it, and why.
As Don Knauss, previously CEO of Clorox and head of North American operations for Coke, puts it: “A brand is a promise of performance. Any transaction between two parties requires a promise of performance. To sustain your business over time, you’ve got to, first, be very focused on defining your promise of performance and, second, be diligent about delivering consistently. If you can’t do these two things, you are not a sustainable business.”
Brand Is a Filter
A brand captures and guides attention. It serves as a filter for customers as they perceive your business, shaping how they see you and believe you. We humans need these filters. When faced with too much information, we use cognitive shortcuts as filters to tame sensory overload. Brand ties your business to something already in your customer’s head, making it easier for the person to engage with your business. Click To Tweet The brand creates a similar neural pathway, leading the customer to choose your business with ease.
Brand Strategy Is the Deliberate Articulation of Your Business’s Meaning
While your brand is the meaning you stand for inside your customer’s mind, your brand strategy is the deliberate articulation of that meaning. Brand strategy distills your promise so you can make choices across your business to carry out that promise. It answers the questions: What kind of business are we, and what kind of business do we want to be? What do we want to mean to customers?
By distilling what you stand for, you give yourself a tool to guide the choices you make to grow the business you want. Brand strategy is about getting to self-knowledge. It’s about defining your business as its best possible self so that it can become more of that—more of its most intentional, most purposeful self.
Brand Fuels Differentiation
Consumer packaged goods leaders, like those at Clorox, Procter & Gamble, General Mills, and Nestlé, have been using the power of brand for decades because they have to. Consumer packaged goods companies are bastions of excellent brand-building, because the largely undifferentiated products force brand excellence. When your products are pretty much the same as those of your competitors, you better have an outstanding brand.
A bottle of Clorox bleach contains essentially the same bleach as store-brand bleach—6 percent sodium hypochlorite, 94 percent water. But the consumer price of Clorox bleach is often double that of store-brand bleach, and Clorox bleach still wins 65 percent market share of the bleach category. That’s because the Clorox brand stands for something different from the others, something that resonates and motivates the target customer. Clorox stands for feeling like a good, competent, loving parent. The target customer values this, and Clorox can deliver this.
Brand Is Your North Star
When every element of your business is aligned around a single brand strategy, you leverage human nature to work for you, and all parts of your business work in concert. This creates a compounding loop of goodness for customers, employees, and investors. Operating this way simply makes growth easier and more gratifying.
Successful brand strategies are not squishy, elusive, or superficial. They are logical, proven, and always ready to guide you. Click To Tweet. When you create a brand strategy deliberately and carefully, you define the business’s North Star that will clearly guide every decision you make and every decision your team makes. The brand forms your most durable competitive advantage. It lights your way to creating purpose, value, and scale.
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