Guest Contributor: Matt Hillman, Creative Director
You have a great product, great service, great people, great materials—and your brand still sucks. Competitors in the building products marketplace keep racking up sales while you struggle to get by. It feels like you’re trying to scramble up a muddy hill, expending time and resources with little-to-nothing to show for it. How does this happen?
Over the years, despite the emergence of game-changers like mobile devices, social media, and other innovations, most of the issues around branding still seem to fall into seven distinct areas—consider them the 7 Deadly Sins of Branding, and any one of them can sink your brand.
Too many marketers rely on what they already know to build their messages. This echo-chamber effect reinforces what’s familiar and “safe” and can actually keep you from gaining the ah-ha moments you need. Think of it as trying to steer your car down the highway while looking only in the rear view mirror, more about where you’ve been than where you’re headed. Instead, you need to be continually surveying your customers—and your prospects!—for the fresh insights needed to build a message that’s relevant today, not just yesterday.
This might seem like a near-impossibility, but it can happen. Marketing your brand to the wrong audience is most often the result of marketing and sales teams not communicating effectively, with marketing working toward where sales should happen and sales focused on where they can happen. Having a clear, agreed-upon marketing plan is essential to having your brand pointed in the right direction. Yes, these are fundamentals that should be self-evident, but all it takes is for your brand to be strong with architects but being marketed to builders instead, and your brand isn’t going anywhere.
One of the best cautionary tales comes from experience marketing to building products dealers. When offered the option to select their preferred method of receiving marketing communications, what do you think topped the list? Email? Direct? Text? How about…fax. That’s right, in our world of high-speed connectivity and mobile devices, the lowly fax was the leading way dealers wanted to receive information. Why? Because it fits how most small- to mid-sized dealers operate, with the fax machine right next to the main bulletin board. Again, surveying your audience will provide the insights to get the right tactics in play and to avoid wasting effort on the wrong ones.
If you’ve followed social media the past few years, you’ve probably heard of (or witnessed) the notorious sass of Wendy’s social media accounts. While some might think this was a bold or daring move, it’s actually highly calculated, the result of Wendy’s assessment of what brand voice would resonate best with their target. Where other fast food companies played the usual safe game, Wendy’s connected with their audience with a salty dialogue that not only aligned with the brand but helped share it more broadly online. Again, research was the key to cracking the code and connecting with customers.
One way to think of branding is simply a single message delivered consistently and aligned with customer experience. And yet, time and again we see brands shift their message as if chasing sales trends, or worse, repeatedly reinventing the message to push an idea that doesn’t match the customer experience. If your name is One Day Printing and service takes two days, that’s a brand problem. Similarly, if you say your customer service is superior and then leave customers on hold for minutes at a time, that’s a brand problem. Determining what your brand is—and isn’t!—and sticking to that is critical to developing a strong brand over time, and over time is exactly how brands happen.
All About The Product
The brands that see the greatest strength in the marketplace are the ones that offer more than just a product or service—they build relationships with those who select and purchase them. Through content offerings, customer experience design, website functionality, social media strategies, sponsorships, and other interaction-based methods, the strongest brands take on a personality well beyond something being sold to buyers. These brands can have conversations with the public, growing and evolving through the choices made in messaging and positioning—all without changing what’s being produced or delivered.
In the film Field of Dreams, we hear the iconic line: “Build it and they will come.” Unfortunately, all too many companies have followed this same advice when developing their brand—and have paid a heavy price for it. It is not enough to simply be available for purchase, there has to be a reason your target would take notice, have interest, and be willing to abandon their current relationship to gain one with your brand. And just as it is with products or services, your brand needs a unique selling proposition, too, something to make it different from the others. Is it more innovative, less complicated, focused on quality, easier to do business with? Identifying what sets your brand apart—and staying true to that differentiation—is critical to finding an audience that appreciates it. Trying to be all things to all audiences or simply showing up isn’t enough to get noticed.
Name + Logo = Brand
“We have a brand,” the marketing manager will say, pointing at a logo. “It’s right there.” Actually, no. The worn-down vehicle with your logo on it: that’s your brand. The customer left waiting hours for a delivery with no updates: that’s your brand. The defensive response to a highly critical customer review on Yelp: that’s your brand. The product that arrived dented: that’s your brand. Identity is all about a name and logo; brand, however, is about expectations and experiences. The strongest brands find success in designing and crafting the brand experience for customers, both new and current, and making sure everything aligns with that design. If it doesn’t align, it’s analyzed, adjusted or removed—why spend time and effort on something that only undermines your long-term efforts?
If you recognize any of these 7 Deadly Sins associated with your brand, have hope: Every one of them is escapable and repairable with honesty and effort. The common element to all of these brand issues is to take nothing for granted: conduct research and be willing to accept that your buyer isn’t who you think and may not think of your brand the way you do. But with focus and time, virtually any brand can find its own salvation.