The following article is based on a chapter from “The Agile Brand” by Greg Kihlström, now available on Amazon and iTunes.
Jeff Bezos famously said, “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” It’s true that a company or organization cannot control people’s opinions, feelings, perceptions or reactions to everything it does. A strong brand can help provide a common way for people to think and talk about your company, product, or services. Let’s explore a few ways that your brand is more than the sum of its parts.
Your brand is a vocabulary
Kleenex is more than a brand. It’s an object and its name has replaced the word “tissue” in many people’s minds. In many places, if you want any type of soda, it’s a “Coke.” These brand names have infiltrated our minds and have come to mean something much beyond a single product.
Branding is the vocabulary you use to teach others about your company, your product, or the services you provide, and it can paint a lasting picture in their minds. Your customers, current or potential, need to be taught how you would like them to talk about you.
With word of mouth being such a critical channel for brands to gain awareness, whether in the real world or on social media, review sites, or other online properties, it is critical to help consumers by teaching them the words, benefits, and other attributes that define your brand.
This vocabulary includes several concepts that are important to define for your audiences, such as what you do, how you do it, and the key selling points that your biggest fans can use to convince their family, friends and colleagues to try, switch to, or buy your product or services, support your cause or whatever your brand represents.
Remember, if you don’t define these things for your audience, they will do it for you, and their representations will not always be the way you’d like to be known.
To teach consumers your brand vocabulary takes time, repetition, and a strategy that ensures you are hitting the same points consistently with the same audiences.
Your brand is more than a logo
Some who are new to branding might be confused by the fact that a logo is only one element among many brand aspects.
Over time, brands have become increasingly complex, with additional components. For instance, with the advent of the Web, an organization’s website, social media voice, and any number of digital marketing elements have now become vital parts of its brand.
Your brand is a relationship
Brands have become understood as more than something you can see on a printed page or a digital platform. They are living, breathing organisms that you can gain experiences from, and they are entities which consumers are able to have a relationship with. This is the essence of the new brand, the agile brand.
While in some sense this has always been the case, more recently, with the advent of channels and venues that allow brands to have real-time and persistent interactive communication with consumers, this notion of brand relationships has become both deeper and more pervasive.
Prior to being able to tweet in real-time with a brand, consumers still felt relationships with brands, but it was often one-sided, and fairly one-dimensional. A brand fulfilled a specific need or purpose, and when that need was filled, the relationship was often put on “pause” until the need arose again. For instance, forty years ago, if you were thirsty for Coca-Cola, the solution was simple: buy a bottle of Coke. Once you bought the bottle and consumed it, your “relationship” was on hold until you wanted more of the beverage. The way around this was to plaster the Coca-Cola name everywhere it could be seen, but in a world where every brand takes the same approach, simply having your name or logo visible isn’t enough to keep you top of mind.
With the advent of communication tools such as social media, this relationship became a lot more bi-directional, or even omnidirectional since others could share in a conversation between one consumer and a company.
Your brand is continually evolving
There is one thing you can safely say: the relationship between brands and consumers is continually changing and evolving. Just as brands grow more sophisticated over time, so do consumers’ relationships with them.
Suffice it to say, a successful brand is one that is able to achieve the duality of staying true to its values and mission, while evolving and adapting to new trends, preferences, tastes, and ideas over time. This may seem like a paradox, it is the standard by which brands are judged.
While the term “branding” can be used to mean a lot of things, a brand is much more than a name, a logo or a set of guidelines. It has grown over time into something more akin to a living organism capable of establishing and maintaining relationships with multiple people, and this will continue to evolve over time.