Fascinating fact: the word “brand” comes from the ancient Norse word “brandr” meaning “to burn”. One of the earliest uses of brands was to identify the ownership of cattle, searing a distinctive mark into the flesh of an animal.
Translated into the language of contemporary marketing, a great brand makes a burning impression in the mind of a customer. But it leaves more than just a neutral mark. Brands conjure up a complex set of thoughts, feelings, associations and beliefs. That baggage can weigh a brand down or lift it up.
As an example, consider Nike. As reported by Melbourne-based branding agency “Truly Deeply”, the top five mental connections with Nike amongst consumers globally in 2010 were “swoosh”, “just do it”, “shoes”, “sports” and “sweatshop”. Four powerful positives, one damaging negative. (What would customers instinctively say about your brand – the good, bad and the ugly?)
Generally speaking, retailers are a long way behind manufacturer brands in understanding the art and science of branding, and we need to catch up fast. You can see the lag in studies like the BrandZ “Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands”, where out of the first 20 brands, only three are retailers – McDonald’s, Amazon and Walmart.
Actually, that’s not strictly true, because the #1 brand in the survey is Apple, which is both a manufacturer and a retailer. (Although for how long is a big question, after Apple’s insipid product release this week.) Numbers two and three are Google and IBM, so most of us can take a lesson from the tech companies (more on that next week).
How do you build a strong brand? A good place to start is to follow Interbrand’s 10 Principles of Brand Strength, which I’ve added to with 10 questions to ask yourself about your brand:
1. Commitment – how committed internally are you and your company to the importance of “brand”?
2. Protection – how well do you protect your Intellectual Property?
3. Clarity – do you have a clear idea of what your brand stands for in context of its values, positioning and proposition? And do you know who your customer is?
4. Responsiveness – are you agile in how your brand responds to market changes? Does it continually evolve?
5. Authenticity – is your brand based on an internal truth or capability, and does it have a back-story, a sense of its heritage?
6. Relevance – how does your brand fit with your customer’s needs and desires?
7. Understanding – do customers ‘get it’; do they have an intimate understanding of your brand?
8. Consistency – does your brand line up consistently across all possible touchpoints?
9. Presence – does your brand feel omnipresent; always present, commented on and talked about in a variety of media?
10. Differentiation – how different and distinctive is your brand from competitors?
The final point is the real clincher in a world where consumers and shoppers alike have incredibly short attention spans.
So is your brand working for you or against you? How well does it adhere to the ten principles above? And most importantly, how genuinely different is it? For retailers in the second decade of the 21st Century, it’s no longer good enough just to “sell stuff”, you have to sell your brand and what it represents. And that means leaving the right kind of burning impression with customers.