Inside Out – Building Better Brands

“Brand” is an often misunderstood and increasingly prominent concept in conversations surrounding companies (this post’s topic) and people (a later topic). We are all encouraged to

  • Develop our brand
  • Be “on-brand”
  • Keep our brand promise
  • Work diligently to “build and defend brand equity”.

It’s important to know what these concepts mean and take practical steps to help make sure that you and your company are deliberately and thoughtfully “branding”.

To begin with…whether you know it or not, your business has a brand.

brand inside out image

Here’s a test…

Ask the person nearest you to name a person or company (store, restaurant, etc.) that she knows you know. When you hear the name, what’s the first thing you feel?

That’s right…feel.

Even before you consciously process your overall experience or impression of the company, there is an initial response that is either yes, no (maybe hell no) or “meh”.

From then on, everything about your relationship or experience with that company has been colored by this initial impulse.

How people who know your company feel about your company is the essence of your brand. Everything you do and everything you say – from the first impression to every interaction that follows – either supports or refutes the initial impression, the feeling a person holds for your company.

Think about some brands you know: Nike, JP Morgan, Disney, Charles Schwab, Apple, Google, Goldman Sachs, Samsung.

For most of us, these companies strike us as being good, maybe even great. They may not be universally loved (some far from it), but millions of us transact business with these companies because we expect to be happy with the experience and the outcome.

Before any of us interacted with these companies, we already had a preliminary impression about them. What’s particularly fascinating about these preliminary impressions is that a lot of them were not created with any direct input from the company.

Sure, we are all exposed to the brilliant marketing each of these companies conducts. But just as important, our feelings have probably been heavily influenced by our community and the experiences of people whose style, status or behavior we admire. This is especially true today when social media makes it so easy to share our feelings about the companies whose products and services we use.

Because brand is essentially the feeling or regard that people have for our companies, and because this feeling is informed by influences we can’t control directly, I contend that the best brands are an honest reflection of a company’s character at its very core.

The significance of this phenomenon is hard to overstate. In this light, your brand means a lot more than how cool and memorable your logo is, or how clever your ad and social media copy is. It means that principles, mission and execution matter.

It demands purposeful attention to your values and motives and a deliberate, consistent style that reflects your love for your customers. For companies, it means quite simply that “substance rules”, a topic I’ll be addressing in future posts.

Think again about the great brands mentioned above or the company your neighbor named. If you had a good feeling about the brand, it’s probably because the initial impression the company made was positive. That’s because they have legions of customers whose experiences have been shared or are easy to see (how many iPhones are within your field of view right now? how many impressive global deals has Goldman done?). This is all possible because these companies approach branding from the inside, the core that drives strategy, policies, behavior and ultimately the customer experience.

Now back to the test at the top of this post – only this time with your company as the subject of the question…”What’s the first thing you think of when you hear (my company)”. This is a question executives and marketers must continually ask themselves and especially their customers.

By working to know and positively affect how the people you care about feel about your company, you’ll get the direction you need to keep your company relevant and growing.

In my next post, I’ll elaborate on ways to sustain a positive brand image as well as strategies and best practices for rescuing a struggling brand.

Let me know what you think about companies whose brand you love or hate. What brands do you admire? Why? How did they win your trust? How do they keep it?