Our motto here at Boardwalk is “A brand is a promise kept.” Meaning, first, you have to know your optimum brand promise. Second, you need to make your brand promise to your market. And, finally, you have to keep that brand promise; you have to deliver as expected. If you do these three things, you will be rewarded with brand loyalty. Sussing out your optimum brand promise requires you to don your strategic thinking cap. Making the brand promise is marketing communications. And delivering on it is operations. Strategy, marketing, operations – it takes the whole company to build the brand. This blog post is going to focus on the marketing communications, the making of the promise. It’s a common mistake to conflate communication with advertising. But advertising is only one form of communication, a one-way, one-to-many format. Today, we know that true communication is a two-way conversation that can be personalized. We see how, through interactive, online channels, markets can influence the behavior of business. But even those who have mastered every form of external communication sometimes forget that brand promises need to be communicated internally as well.
In the ancient, old pre-internet days, only a few brands were able to use sound as part of their brand-building efforts. They all had to be either on TV or up on the silver screen. I’m thinking of sound signatures like the roar of the MGM lion, the Avon-calling doorbell or NBC’s three-note chime. Advertisers made frequent use of jingles. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” just popped into mind. It has to be about 40 years since I last heard it but I remember it well. (Kinda scary.) In today’s world every business is on a screen somewhere. So there’s really no excuse to overlook sound as an important part of any brand identity system. Sound signatures, music, even background noises can all be used to augment a visual identity system and boost memorability. It’s a fun and mostly inexpensive way to build and maintain brand awareness, keeping the brand at the top of its market’s collective mind. Moreover, these sonic tools are not even on the radar of most businesses. So they can serve as very effective differentiators. That is, until everybody starts doing it. But by that time, your signature sound will be as memorable to your market as those old jingles are to me. Let me share one example of how it can work.
NOTE: This blog post is reprinted from December, 2016. Reading recommendations below and in sidebar are new.
In his incredibly valuable book, Grow, ex-Procter & Gamble Global CMO, Jim Stengel, identified the 50 fastest-growing companies worldwide – now, known as the Stengel 50 – and sleuthed out the one characteristic they all held in common, the one thing that explained their phenomenal growth. After a decade-long study, he found these businesses crossed all sectors and industries, originated from many continents and countries, subscribed to all manner of management philosophies, sourcing, hiring, manufacturing and distribution practices. In the end, he determined they shared only one trait – they all rooted their company values in what Stengel calls the “Five Fields of Fundamental Human Values.” That is, all 50 of these businesses declare, as their originating purpose, a dedication to one of five categories of values. Stengel purists may object, but we’ve found it helpful to simplify the assertion. Let’s just say every business has a purpose and there are five categories of purpose that can be associated with rapid growth. So the question then becomes, can your brand be positioned in a way that aligns with one of these five rapid-growth purpose categories?
Return on investment. Buy low, sell high! We all know the basic objective of business. Cover your costs, earn a profit and generate wealth. And repeat. It sounds so simple and yet thousands of businesses flounder and die every year. How do businesses fail? There are too many ways to count. But some fail because they focus solely on making money and forget they exist to serve a purpose – a purpose to the market. Some forget, or never realized in the first place, that they have a brand promise to keep. The market expects them to deliver on it and, if they don’t, the market will not reward them with repeat business. That’s a recipe for tepid sales or, at worst, a going-out-of-business sale. But how does a business, even one that has formalized its brand strategy, know when it’s staying on-brand? How can it keep from drifting into territories that will dilute its relationship with the market? With the ROI/ROBP grid. That’s how.
Just a buzzword. A fad. Blue sky. Unmeasurable. Unnecessary. Many, perhaps most, leaders of small- and middle-market businesses are quick to dismiss branding as a waste of resources … or worse. I accept the blame for this state of affairs. Well, maybe not full blame. But I am among the many professionals who write and speak publicly about branding. I’ve been called – and I shudder to utter these words – a branding expert. (I’m always mindful of Harry Truman’s definition of an expert: Someone who can’t ever be wrong because, if he ever is, then he ain’t an expert any more.) But I do write and speak about branding. And so do trademark attorneys, public relations professionals, graphic designers, ad men, inbound marketers, social media marketers, business coaches and countless others. And English being the mutable language it is, we all use the terms brand and branding in slightly different ways. What is a business person to think when even we so-called experts can’t agree on a definition of the thing we’re supposed to be experts on?
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