You don’t define your brand. Your customers do. Think of it this way, a brand is a file folder in your customer’s mind. They experience your company, make a judgment, categorize you and file that knowledge away for later.
If your business is easy to understand and has a clear value proposition, you get a file at the front of your customer’s mind. It’s well labeled, easy to find and easy to retrieve. When they have a need for a product or service you offer, your file folder is pulled out first. You’re the first to come to mind.
On the other hand, when a company is hard to understand or is poorly differentiated it’s hard to remember them. They may be misfiled or filed under “Miscellaneous.” Worse yet, they may just get filed in the trash bin and simply forgotten.
The problem with branding is you don’t control your customers’ minds. You can’t control how they understand your company, how they judge you or even how they file you.
Focus on what you can control
You may not be able to manage your customers’ minds, but you can control how you manage and grow your own business. The point of a business is to bring value to its customers; that’s how you create profits. The more value you can deliver the more profit you’ll generate.
Wal-Mart controls its brand by fulfilling a clear value proposition: “Every day low prices” for household items. Consumers can see Wal-Mart’s slogans and commercials, but it’s the in-store experience that ultimately drives their brand. It doesn’t take much digging to see how Wal-Mart aligns and organizes itself to achieve its mission. They focus on what they can control: store design, store location, supplier management, distribution systems, staffing policies and merchandising. All of which are focused on delivering a consistent shopping experience based on low prices.
Consumers clearly get it. Wal-Mart is rewarded with a file folder at the front of their customers’ minds.
Know your levers
Your brand lives in your customers’ minds. It doesn’t matter what you say or do, it’s what your customers perceive that counts. Perception is everything. You can do everything right, but if your customers don’t get it or don’t value your efforts then what’s it worth?
Take note of what aspects of your business and your market influence your customers’ perceptions. A key aspect of brand management is to develop a dashboard of real time measures to monitor how your company is being perceived. You can examine the volume of sales leads to the number of mentions your company receives in social media.
Define 5 to 10 real time metrics that monitor the health of your brand. If you make a change to your business, the numbers should move. If your competitors encroach on your territory, again the measures should move. The key is to identify both qualitative and quantitative measures that directly influence how customers understand your business and the value they equate with it. The more aware you are of your customers’ perceptions, the better you can manage your brand.
A brand dies when it stops moving
Like an organism, a company can be either growing or decaying, it can’t be dormant. When a brand stops evolving it dies.
The clearer your value proposition, the easier it is to manage. Clarity provides a map. It helps to make decisions. Use your levers to continue to adapt and evolve. There will always be a new competitor, a new technology or a new trend driving your market. It’s your objective to innovate, stay ahead and keep your file folder clean, well labeled and at the front of your customers’ minds.