As we are talking about branding and building brands, I wanted to lay the foundation of how we define and understand “brand” for businesses and startups. As entrepreneurs are embarking a journey of building a strong business, they are also keen on creating a valuable brand that can make their business grow and sustain in our hypercompetitive market.
This article will be our reference for future insights and learning on our blog.
Let’s start by dispelling a few myths:
Brand is an identity
One of the most common myths is that your brand is created the moment you create a company logo. An identity is the first step of starting a brand. It is like naming a child and the child’s picture, it does not help us understand who is this child (what is this brand about), what is his/her personality (brand personality/ avataar), his/ her behaviour (brand characteristics) which needs to shaped and nurtured over a period of time. Hence, the brand is not the identity and much more than its logo.
Brand is advertising
A brand can’t be made based on pure advertising, and it can’t be marketed without defining the brand’s core and its characteristics. Advertising denotes reaching out to mass audience about its product or service. It means we are advertising a product or service which the customer should take interest in and be willing to pay for.
Marketing as a medium is a set of activities which you extend from the brand core. Marketing uses multiple ideas, multiple channels to communicate about the brand personality, a strategy-focused message to the audience. A brand value cannot be created just by pure advertising, but it has to reflect across all marketing activities, company operation, its employees and more. There are brands that sign up celebrities for endorsements in advertising, assuming that it would create brand value amongst customers. With endorsements by various celebrities bombarded all over media, Indian consumers are intelligent enough to judge a brand based on their own experiences (product/service/event/retail). Celebrity advertising only helps create a brand “perception” but the reality is that if the consumer doesn’t find it good, no celebrity can help create brand value. Example: Shah Rukh Khan for Big Basket or Aamir Khan for Snapdeal, these celebrities can certainly be a brand ambassador or messenger of the brand positioning, but nothing more than that.
Brand is a product or service
Brand is not just a product or service, as we have plenty of similar products but why does a customer buy a particular product? There are more than 1,780 cameras in the market, but why consumers buy Nikon? There are more than 110 mobile phone brands but why consumers buy iPhone or Samsung? Is the decision based purely on the product and its features or also the brand value? There are several milk products offered in the market, some even more tasty or healthier but consumers prefer “Amul” products. Is that a brand decision?
A brand is much more than its product or service, although a good or innovative product lays the foundation for a solid business. It helps a brand differentiate amongst competitors, helps create unique brand activities and experiences that attract customers towards the product or service.
Entrepreneur can build a brand
It is a myth that brands can be built by businessmen and entrepreneurs. So, the entrepreneur is not the brand builder? Well, can an accountant build a business? Can an HR make the product? Can a COO run a company’s marketing? If the answer is NO, it is obvious that great brands are built by creative team of brand strategists, designers and marketers. It takes a “village” to build a brand, a collaborative effort which needs the flexibility and resources to create a great brand out of business, yet the entrepreneur needs to be aligned and in agreement with the brand strategy or positioning that allows the brand’s team to steer the brand with the business in the same direction.
I have come across many businessmen, startup founders, even VC’s involved with the startup that have the final decision on how the logo should look like (always a vague idea but still an opinion), what should be the brand process and sometimes how to run marketing campaigns. Entrepreneurs and VCs who don’t have hands-on experience of building a brand from scratch or never designed a successful brand logo should not unilaterally make a decision about brand building.
The decision should be in consensus with the brand team or the design agency depending on the scope. This is where I have seen many great businesses that have poor branding. Even if the business is successful due to market acceptability or customer demand, it does not validate that the company has a great brand. It can grow, but will not command 2X or 3X price, will not be able to cash on the brand equity during recession time or when new competitors arrive. Hence, a brand is built by a team and not by an entrepreneur, and the entrepreneur has to sometimes let go and bring on a quality team or consultant to help him/ her build a quality brand.
So what is a brand?
Brand is a customer’s gut feeling and willingness to pay X amount for a product or service. Why a gut feeling? A gut feeling because people are intuitive and emotional. Because brand is created by people/individuals. Not by companies, market or public.
In other words, it is not what YOU say it is but what THEY say it is.
Let me explain this from a different angle – difference between brand, marketing, advertising in its traditional/ basic form of communication:
Brand – Check out A, it’s really good
Brand building is successful when others talk about your company, rather than you spending money for people to talk/market your product/service. Word of mouth would be the conventional term. This is not just relevant in terms of sales or revenue but also in terms of building short and long term brand value.
Marketing – Check me out, I’m good
Marketing is when the company spends money to talk about itself. Marketing can be viral, sponsored, and explores multiple channels to make its presence felt which can be subtle or obvious. But this is still paid by the company unlike brand building. Marketing is also the primary channel to track Return on Investment (RoI), and revenue growth.
Advertising – Hey everyone, I’m “A” and I’m really good!
This is when the company advertises its product or service aggressively through mass media channels. This may or may not directly affect the sales or revenue but the larger public gets to know about the company, its product and the brand. Although capital intensive, this is the quickest way of building brand presence, although capital intensive.
- Customers have too many choices and too little time
- Most of the products have similar feature or quality
- Customers tend to base their buying decision on “trust”
Trust = Reliability + Delight
Trust comes by meeting and beating customer’s expectations, every time; or at least most of the time.
A great article about why trust is very important for brands and business growth has been articulated here. They touch upon interesting points which are relevant to the Indian ecosystem too. A brand consulting firm with such services bring an interesting firm like Brand Trust. On how to build trust with your customers, check out this article.
Hope this helped you in understanding what a brand is and what it is NOT to begin the brand building journey for your business.