One of my favourite definitions of band is brand is what people say about you, not what you say about yourself.
A great corollary for guiding marketing is brand is what the market gives you permission to believably say.
Great definitions, and I do like them, but I would like to point out that there used to be another word for that – reputation.
People and companies had reputations, and business was conducted around said reputation. Brand is, as used, largely a shadow of reputation and this is doing massive damage to people and businesses alike.
Reputation is More Than Brand
Some example reputations to compare against your sense of what brand means.
- IBM had a reputation of being able to solve big IT problems.
- Consultants had a reputation for great work (or not).
- School-yard fights occurred when someone insulted your reputation.
- Reputation was socially important to survival in herding cultures, as people had to know not to mess with your flock.
Are these brands or reputations to you?
The gory, honest, brutal truth of it is that reputation is more powerful, and more meaningful then brand, and when companies talk about brand, they are actually engaged in a half-assed effort to repair or create their reputation.
Brand, as practiced, is what you wish people would say about you, and it cumulates in a 4 to 10 page messaging document and updated web-page design. It never takes a hard look at what people actually say about you, and it never makes the hard decisions about people, processes, critical capabilities, and strategies that truly effect reputation.
Branding Considered Harmful
So with that, I have to say it – branding should be considered a harmful practice. The next time someone says “we have to improve our branding” tell him to shut up, and lets talk about improving our reputation.
And you know what? That hurts. It takes YEARS to fix a reputation. It requires effort, leadership, coordination across multiple departments, painful reorganizations, and clarity of vision and decision making that most companies are completely unable to perform.
Rackspace is one of my favourite “branding” stories. You know how they improved their brand? They got rid of the answering machines in technical support. All calls had to be answered live. Shitty service and crappy processes where fixed almost immediately, the right people were hired, the right critical capabilities identified, and the rest of the organization adjusted to support this actionable, customer facing activity. And the reputation followed, and it followed quickly. The rest, as they say, was history.
Compare that to most companies branding activities- a new website with a slogan that says “we care”.
So shut up already about branding and start thinking about your company’s reputation.
Test-Driven Marketing Checklist #1: Successful Branding
- Are you talking about reputation, as universally defined, or brand, as almost always poorly practiced?
- Are you talking about specific markets (a group of people that reference and trust each other), and personas (a very concrete definition of a buyer) or a generic market that doesn’t actually exist? This is essential since companies often have different reputations in different markets (“oh, they are a engineering solution company and don’t know a think about manufacturing”, “oh, they are a hospital solution, not a pharmaceutical solution”).
- Have you identified measures of reputation?
- Have you identified what you want your reputation to be?
- Have you identified reputation building events? For example:
- Reference accounts
- Success rates in activities critical to reputation (e.g. rapid deployment, quick solutions to issues, fantastic customizations to exact customer need)
- PR in that market (good coverage by analysts, interesting articles in magazines, etc.)
- Have you identified critical capabilities to create reputation building events?
- Have you identified the critical capabilities needed to create those reputation events?
- Do you have a concrete long-term plan in place to achieve your reputation goals?
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Thanks and happy testing.