What exactly is branding? Think back to the last time you passed a restaurant you'd never heard of before or saw a new item on a store shelf you knew nothing about. Something made you think "That looks good. Let's try it."
What exactly makes you try a business, product or experience you've never heard of before with little to no information? What is that "something" that moves you to buy - or try - on an impulse? Typically, it's good branding: the personality and essence of a business or product that draws you in.
Why do most new businesses fail? One reason is that too many organizations think of a brand as a logo and nothing more. Such soul-less businesses or products often flop or they last a while and are replaced by the next new thing.
The truest brands build relationships that grow with time.
One of our colleagues, a branding expert who has worked at some of the nation's best ad agencies, argues that too many people think of a brand as something two-dimensional, like a logo. He notes brands are really three-dimensional, like the fingers of a hand that reach out and grab you, touching every part of the organization from its personality to its culture to the very essence of what the organization is all about.
Steve Jobs, one of the greatest branding experts ever and father of the Mac, Pixar, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad, studied Zen Buddhism as well as technology and art. He was fixated with finding a product's essence. He'd ask: if a product was a person, what would it want to do to fulfill its essence and reason to live?
For example, he decided the essence of a toy was to be played with by children and that toys that were no longer played with would be unhappy. That became the basis for his first runaway hit film, "Toy Story."
Consider seven massively successful brands that all had - and continue to have - their own distinct personalities. Think of each of these and you should have an emotional reaction to the mere thought of the product or service:
- The iPhone. Jobs actually patented the product box because he wanted even opening the box for the first time to be part of the excitement of getting an iPhone.
- The '57 Chevy, the Ford Mustang and a BMW. People who have never even sat in such classics continue to covet them.
- McDonald's. The granddaddy of fast food is growing and booming with 17 percent of the limited-service restaurant industry, nearly equal to the business of its next four largest rivals (Subway, Starbucks, Burger King and Wendy's) combined.
- Tiffany's. The store that inspired a novel, a film and a pop song still distinguishes Tiffany products, along with the box, the ribbon, everything.
- Coca Cola. From the ads to the bottles to the way it tickles your throat, Coke has made itself as familiar as family.
Now think of examples of products that made themselves more into commodities than brands. Chances are you don't have an emotional reaction thinking of these products, that you are open to replacing one with the next new thing. Some examples include PC Clones (the beige box computers that were so similar they seemed to invite something different) or 1980s look-alike GM sub-compacts.
Often, organizations try to re-brand and they alienate their fans, seeming like our mother trying to dress like our sister.
For example, my undergraduate alma mater, Michigan State University, has a habit of changing its football uniforms every time they get a new coach, shifting from a Spartan logo to a block S logo and back to a new version of a Spartan. Quite often, alumni balk, favoring the more "distinctive' or traditional over something that seems to alter the culture.
Dining establishments that thrive can show other businesses the way: a few weeks ago, I saw a sign that said "Fire House Subs" and was intrigued. The name alone "sounded good."
Another sign said "founded by real firemen," building on the notion that big teams of hard-working firemen cooped up in a fire station must know something about how to make good sandwiches.
Inside, the fire fighter theme continued. The sandwiches were all served hot and hot sauce was available. Kids could get fire fighter hats. Some proceeds go to a foundation that helps fire fighters so the new brand builds upon warm feelings we all feel for fire fighters. Most important, the food was good and arrived just in time.
Brands are like people with unique personalities. Like people we meet each day they either meet our hopes and expectations (maximizing the relationship) or they don't.
Organik is a full service Michigan-based marketing and strategic communications firm generating change conversations to move the needle via a host of tools including campaigns, social media, advocacy, digital marketing, video, engagement sites, media relations, marketing events and public relations. Learn more at Organikconsulting.com.