Published on February 14, 2011 by Matthew LaPointe in Marketing
Brands aren’t what you buy at the store. They aren’t logos or catchy jingles. The most successful brands are nothing more than ideas built on word associations which elicit controlled emotional responses. This isn’t to say that brands don’t offer value to consumers; it’s quite the opposite. Effective brands are able to relate to their customers needs and feelings. Understanding how to direct and communicate this type of controlled association is how strong brands are built.
There are a number of mechanisms marketers use to promote a brand. The first and most important is to clearly define brand values within your organization. Brand values are often expressed as a short list of words or phrases and may be accompanied by a short explanation describing the intent of each. This is the most important element in defining a brand because all other functions of brand equity are tied to these terms.
I don’t have special access to marketing strategy documents at Toyota Motor Corporation, but because their marketers are quite good at what they do we can guess at what brand values both their Toyota and Lexus brands are meant to embody.
It is not by happenstance that these and other terms readily come to mind. Even though you have likely never read a list of Toyota’s brand values, it is likely you would have come up with a similar list. The question is how is this done?
A company’s brand values translate into a brand promise for consumers. The brand promise is what a consumer believes a brand will do for them. The most direct ways to communicate the brand promise to your customers is through the following:
- Visuals. This includes your logo, but it is far from the only element. Products, presentations, proposals, and advertising must strictly follow a formal set of visual guidelines. These guidelines should be widely available and actively promoted within your organization.
- Words. A tagline may or may not be important for your organization, but regardless of whether you have one or not, words are flowing out of your organization continually. When reviewing all formal and informal communications it is important to consider the organization’s brand promise. This is especially critical in advertising, and other forms of self promotion or direct customer interaction. Developing a style guide that talks about how you talk about yourself is a good idea.
- Product. It stands to reason that if you don’t have a product that supports the advertised brand promise it will quickly fail. There are many brands that started strong with products that matched their advertised value propositions, but have struggled because over time a chasm developed between product and brand promise. In recent years we have seen this with BMW, Dell Computers, and others.
This isn’t all just smoke and mirrors. By defining your brand clearly you communicate firstly within your own organization what your values are. Gaining the loyalty of your employees builds buy in, which in turn translates to employees embracing and reinforcing brand values. Engineers understand clearly what is expected in terms of a product. Marketers understand how to promote it. And sales know how to sell it.
The fundamentals of building a brand aren’t difficult to understand. What is difficult is consistent execution. Brand values must pervade an organization. Every image, every written word, every ad, and every web site should be directly influenced by defined brand values.