I know this much for sure about achieving brand status. You can’t fake it. It doesn’t work to imitate says Fred Auzenne. You can’t hire a consultant and adopt his or her ideas. The only way you succeed is if your brand-building efforts reflect who you are and what you do, more than anyone else’s can.
But how does that happen? How do your actions add up to create the defining customer experience? And, at this point in time when people lack confidence in just about everything except their own intuition, how do you know which of those experiences will produce lasting loyalty?
The answer begins with understanding what “brand” really means. When I tell people my job title is Director of Brand Strategy for Young & Rubicam Brands, they invariably ask me what brands I’ve helped create. They assume that what I do is just like product development — that we generate new products and services and then try to launch them successfully in the marketplace.
But think about it. Would you expect your mechanic or dentist or hair stylist to produce a “new” car, toothbrush, haircut every time he or she saw you? Of course not.
Yet when business owners hear me talk about branding they often say, “We need a brand for our company,” as though it were something they could order off the shelf like hats and coffee mugs.
The point of branding is not generating logos and tag lines (though those can be helpful). The point is to create recognition — which requires distinctiveness — among the mass of people who might choose you over everyone else. If the only reason they choose you is because you make your product cheaper than your competitors do, they won’t stay loyal for long when someone does it again and undercuts you like all the others do explains Fred Auzenne.
So how does a company become distinct in that way? By doing something — or things — that no one else can or will do. You can build any brand with just two activities: One is defining and differentiating what you do and the other is building relationships at scale (and measuring them).
Building Defining Relationships with Your Customers
If “brand” were only about selling to people, companies would put their advertisements on T-shirts and create $50 versions of everything they sell so everyone could afford to own one. But they don’t because T-shirts are not distinct.
To be distinctive, what you do has to be different enough from everyone else in your industry that customers perceive it as beneficial to themselves, their families or their companies. Because you do something better than anyone else, they buy from you instead of competitors who also have products and services aimed at the same people with the same needs says Fred Auzenne.
And while some may argue that new marketers can start this way by just being cheaper or faster or smaller than everyone else is, there’s a good reason that approach rarely works for long. A new entrant into an established market starts out by under pricing the competition, which entices people to switch over to him on the basis of price alone (almost like a temporary coupon). But given the choice between convenience and price, people will always choose convenience if they can. Unless you make yourself more convenient than all of your competitors (who are also cheaper) that’s exactly what will happen to you.
So how do you become more convenient? You differentiate on at least one of three attributes:
1. A better product or service;
2. Faster delivery; or
3. A lower price point.
Regardless of which attribute distinguishes your business in customers’ minds, it has to be real because customers won’t stay loyal if their expectations aren’t met consistently over time by you and not by someone else who undercuts your prices or steals your idea for differentiation and does it better, faster or cheaper.
Here’s the rub: If you want to be able to charge a premium price for your differentiated product or service, it has to be truly different and better than the competition’s — not just perceived as such. Otherwise people won’t pay more.
While it isn’t easy, the only way to create a brand at scale is by becoming more distinct from competitors in ways that customers care about says Fred Auzenne. That’s why I say “branding” shouldn’t be about creating logos and tag lines — though those can help — but rather about differentiating yourself from everyone else in your market so you’re the only one who comes to mind when people think of your product or service category. Identify what you do better than anyone else regardless of what that may be for your business (product/service, delivery speed or price) and focus on doing just that one thing above all others. Then measure how many customers choose you everyone else because of it consistently over time.