During the last decade, there has been tremendous change in the world of marketing and advertising. We’ve witnessed the explosion of social networks and the acceleration of digital media. Target marketing is now “sushi thin” and customer profiling rivals that of the F.B.I. Yet, amidst all these changes, there is a consistent thread that has remained woven in the fabric of consumer buying. The concept of branding is alive and well and remains at the “heartbeat” of reaching and motivating customers to choose one product or service over another.
That’s it – heartbeat! After many years of the industry over-analyzing the concept of branding and numerous textbook definitions, it comes down to this key phrase. And when contrasted with the words “chest beat,” used to describe branding’s first cousin, “selling,” the concept really ticks!
A brand strategy creates an emotional and foundational statement about a product, service, or organization. It creates a promise to the marketplace that places an emphasis on user benefits, not features. And the benefits usually make our hearts beat; whether it’s how we feel, dream, hope, perform, or even how others view us as a result of using our favorite brand. All heartbeats. Not chest beats. Perfect examples: Levi’s creates a heartbeat with the feeling of freedom and relaxation, not with thread count and fabric data. Coke makes a heartbeat with rejuvenation and refreshment, not the promise of carbonated water, sugar, and caffeine.
Another important trait of branding versus selling is the type of communication that takes place with customers. Today, branding is so engaged in social media and web/mobile interactivity, that it constantly creates an ongoing dialogue with loyalists. Whereas selling is still very much a monologue with buyers, telling them what you want them to hear (aka “chest beat”) often in intellectual, factual terms, not emotional ones. Note the key difference in audience interactions: branding engages with loyalists, selling talks to buyers.
Creating a Heartbeat with Internal Audiences
The same distinctions between branding and selling also apply to internal marketing. Since employees are critical to a brand’s success – especially in service enterprises – they have to feel the heartbeat. There has to be passion in the words they use to describe their organizations to friends, family, and future brand loyalists. Perfect example: Next time you present a new brand campaign to internal stakeholders, don’t just inform and educate them (aka chest beat), inspire them! Use sight, sound, and emotion to build a sense of pride and professionalism. Demonstrate how each and every employee contributes to the success of the enterprise and help them understand their role in delivering on the brand promise. Share how their work positively impacts the communities in which they live as well as society as a whole. Studies have indicated that these types of messages and benefits offer real tangible results in terms of employee satisfaction, retention, and customer sales!
Could the concept of branding be this simple? Probably not, but it doesn’t have to be obscure and complicated, either. Branding is about creating a heartbeat, inside and outside your organization. Here are a few suggestions to help get you pumped up:
- Beat to a different drummer – your brand has to set your organization apart and provide products and services with a unique positioning platform. The strategy has to be true and authentic to your organization and tell a story that no other brand can imitate or communicate. Oftentimes, the character of your story resides on the inside in the very reasons and aspirations that the organization was founded or a product was created. Leadership interviews and a true understanding of the company’s vision and heritage are very helpful in identifying the brand platform.
- Take the pulse of your market – your positioning platform and brand promise have to resonate with your key internal and external audiences. Qualitative research has proven to be an excellent methodology for revealing, reviewing, and determining the relevance of brand statements and creative applications.
- Reasons to believe – While communicating an emotional story, brands need intellectual and factual support as “reasons to believe.” Gatorade demonstrates this balance when it showcases the emotions of victory and endurance, yet supports them with scientific facts based on ingredients and consumer testing.
- The beat goes on – branding is not just a “one and done.” Don’t check it off your list and move on. Stay with it, both inside and outside your organization. The brand essence must live within the culture of your organization and successful companies use it as a guide for making operational, human resources, and customer service decisions. After all, what good is a brand strategy if it falls apart on the delivery or promise, or employees are not engaged in the story?
- Just beat it – traditional, digital, social…regardless of the media channels, or vehicles, your brand strategy and creative executions need to be consistent across the board. Important: sync your social media strategy to your brand promise and create standards that speak to the personality and position of your organization (and not the poster). It’s amazing how a brand is positioned one way, yet the social media “personality” is completely different.
When compared to selling or other marketing disciplines, branding is about a heartbeat. And when we keep that in the forefront of our thinking and strategy development for both internal and external groups, the journey and long-term value of brand building will continue to generate significant returns. And that’s an idea worth circulating!