Brand Terms of Endearment

We know that a business plan should include a marketing strategy, but very little is said about branding. Just because a business is new and has yet to establish its identity, that doesn't mean it's premature to engage in strategic thinking about the brand. Even before differentiating yourself in the market, and before establishing cash flow, you need to put some thought into making your enterprise "an ongoing concern," advised Marsha Lindsay, CEO of Lindsay, Stone & Briggs.

"The way they make it an ongoing concern is to not just have an idea of something you can make or do, but think a little bit about what is the meaningful role it can play in people's lives." Creating a brand comes before the marketing plan; indeed, it's the core of the marketing plan. "It's important to come up with that statement of how you are going to differentiate yourself, and what that position is," noted Kay Krebsbach, president of RS+K. "Your marketing plan then shoots off that because it drives what you need to do, who you talk to, and how you spend money."


The branded core

Lindsay cited author Jim Collins, who wrote the book Good to Great, and identified what he called a brand's enduring purpose. "Think about it this way: the world doesn't need another travel magazine," Lindsay explained. "It doesn't need another yogurt. It doesn't need another craft beer. If you want to start something amid all the others out there, what would be the role you could play in peoples' lives that others do not?"

In Lindsay's view, to brand means more than having well-known symbols or logos, but symbols that manifest a meaningful role and serve as a placeholder in peoples' minds. Hypothetical examples abound. When the iPod first came out with the 99-cent music download, it wasn't about offering the service of downloading music. The meaningful role the iPod played in people's lives is to provide the soundtrack to life. Music lovers don't have to buy whole albums, they can custom mix individual songs to provide morning music or a drive-time soundtrack.

In addition, companies build distinctive symbols around that meaningful role, and the "iconography" is easily recognizable. In the case of Starbucks, the brand is about a taste exploration, but the company's distinct logo is ubiquitous on street corners globally, and therefore registered in our minds.

When done correctly, the brand registers at varying points of customer contact via sales presentations, customer service, and most notably, advertising. In the view of Jim Sendecke, a principal with RS+K, the brand does not miss a chance to express an organization's core values. "When you talk about brands, everybody on the planet has a different definition of what constitutes a brand," Sendecke said. "People tend to think, 'Well gee, it's my logo' or 'Gee, it's the color I'm using right now.' Our perception around here has always been that a brand is the totality of virtually all the different contacts you have."

Also significant, according to Sendecke, is how the brand is communicated, which incorporates how you're going to get clients to trust it, and how you're going to get them to believe that your core value is important to their decision-making process.

Even with all the talk about segmenting your market (i.e., paying homage to your most loyal customers), Lindsay said a lot of marketing strategies don't do this. One reason is they rely too much on one channel – the Internet – when it can take forever for someone to discover you accidentally online or through a search. Even successful brands get a jump-start in traditional media, so the fastest way for start ups to reach and penetrate the marketplace is to rely on traditional mass media "to get folks started with you online," Lindsay said.

Brands can help businesses stand the test of time, no matter how much change occurs. With a strong core value system expressed in the brand, companies can adapt their products, services, and marketing to new realities. As demonstrated by Ford Motor Co., which has constantly reinvented itself over its 108-year history, if an organization doesn't stay relevant in the marketplace, it doesn't exist for very long. Krebsbach says it's possible, and necessary, for a company to make the necessary adjustments without losing its soul. "If you kept the name Ford, there's always a continuation as generations move on and there hopefully is a good reputation that goes with that name," she said. "You can change products, change innovation, and change your brand presentation, but hopefully the core value is still there."

"Businesses that tend to spring up based on an opportunity tend to die before the opportunity dies," added Sendecke. "Businesses that are founded on a core value system tend to outlive product innovation, tend to outlive pricing competition, and they tend to outlive changes to the marketplace."

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