OP-ED: Companies find a brand new way to reach consumers

Brand. Brand. Brand. Every company today wants to be a brand company. "We're a brand experience company," or "We have just completed a rebranding campaign" seem to be among the new, must-have mantras of organizations. This trend is almost overwhelming and far too often, severely misguided.

Brand. Brand. Brand. Every company today wants to be a brand company. "We're a brand experience company," or "We have just completed a rebranding campaign" seem to be among the new, must-have mantras of organizations. This trend is almost overwhelming and far too often, severely misguided.

Out of the woodwork are coming so-called brand experts telling people how to "brand themselves." The end result is an incredible amount of misinformation and confusion about how a great brand works. Lots of people talk about it and try to do it, yet few are succeeding. First, let's clarify what a brand is not. A brand is not your logo, your collateral material, your packaging, or your tagline. Having an agency create great collateral or strong advertising is not branding. It may support your branding efforts, but it is not branding. In fact, these types of marketing activities are too often pursued before a company's brand is clarified. This is the epitome of putting the cart before the horse. Only once you have internally articulated your brand in a manner where it is crystal clear not only for the company's leadership, but for every employee, can you begin discussing what your logo, collateral material, or ad campaign should look like. So what is brand? Simply stated, it is the fundamental emotional experience that you want consumers to have every time they come in contact with your company, product, or service. Brand is not based on a logical equation. For example, Starbucks is not successful because it offers the fastest service, good prices, convenient locations, or even the best-tasting coffee for many consumers. These would all be logical reasons for people to buy their coffee at Starbucks. Last year, 25 million consumers per week were willing to drive further, pay considerably more, and wait in line longer for the opportunity to buy their cup of coffee at Starbucks. Why? The answer is the strength of Starbucks' brand. The emotional connection Starbucks makes with every consumer to the point where feelings are resonated strongly enough that Starbucks had sales of $3.3 billion last year. Starbucks wants you to feel sophisticated. The company wants you to feel like you are part of what many brand experts refer to as a "coffee-house" community. That is the Starbucks' brand - sophistication and community. That is why every store calls their cup sizes Grande and Venti, not medium or large. It is why every store has a "barista" personally making the coffee fresh for you at a separate counter, never behind a wall or out of sight from the customer. It is why every store has tables and chairs for congregating, with many having plush sofas and armchairs. It is why they encourage people to read or work at the store, and have even installed wi-fi in their locations so people can surf the internet all day long. The ways in which Starbucks expresses its brand go on and on. Now think about Starbucks' largest competitor, Dunkin' Donuts, which sold more than 985 million cups of coffee last year. Both are good at selling coffee. So why did you choose to buy your coffee, more often than not, from one and not the other? The answer is because they have very different brands, and you connected with one more than the other. The power of a strong brand is incredible. According to Interbrand, one of the most quoted sources on the subject, the top 10 global brands account for nearly $387 billion in value. And according to Ernst & Young's classic Measures That Matter study, 35% of a company's value is attributable to non-financial intangibles, primarily brand issues. Or as David D'Alessandro, CEO of John Hancock, expresses in his recent book Brand Warfare, "If a company is going to be successful in the long term, the CEO's first concern has to be the brand. Brand has to trump even short-term financial questions, because all the financial measures, everything from market capitalization to margins, are directly affected by the health of the brand." It is this understanding that is leading more and more CEOs to search for people who can help them understand, clarify, and harness the power of their brand. Sadly, many of these CEOs are often left scratching their heads in frustration as they receive half-answers, misguided counsel, or poor implementation. However, the CEOs who find a firm that truly understands the essentials of branding get a newfound clarity about their company. They also reap the financial and the emotional benefits that come with being a powerful, brand-oriented organization.
  • David Warschawski is founder and president of Warschawski, a full service PR and marketing agency based in the Baltimore/ Washington, DC area that specializes in branding.

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