The best way to define a sustainable brand is to explain what a non-sustainable brand is. What is not sustainable is for a company to think it can maintain a brand through advertising when it fails to deliver on its brand promise—not just through its core product but through every customer touch point. Unfortunately, too many in the business of branding have not evolved their definition of branding. They are stuck in the old Madison Avenue view of branding that should have been retired with the three-martini lunch.
Social media has delivered a wonderful wake-up call for companies stuck in the past. You can’t hide your deficiencies or bad behavior behind a slick ad campaign. You may get a boost in brand awareness, but you won’t build brand equity or value until you deliver on the expectations for your brand. Why? Because millions of people are getting in on the brand conversation through Twitter, Facebook, and a myriad of online forums. Advertisers and mass media no longer control brand communication in a one-way stream.
Brand is a marriage between the rational (your competitive positioning in the market) and the irrational (the emotional response to you). Building a unique position forms the foundation for a sustainable brand. You need to target a key customer segment that has a problem that your product can solve better than any other. This is your positioning strategy.
Then you need to develop an emotional connection with your target customers. This is best done by consistently delivering a great brand experience—for instance, your product works, your service is friendly and responsive, your website is fun to navigate and maybe you have a personable and helpful social media presence. The stuff that most people think branding is about generally falls into the category of building the emotional connection. You know, like a logo, brand messages, brand symbols and images.
In the Branding Pyramid graphic above, the hierarchy in building a sustainable brand starts at the bottom of the pyramid. Here are the key steps:
1) Positioning and Brand Strategy. You’ve got to know where you are headed to achieve your goals. Without a good strategy, your ship will be rudderless and it will take you a lot longer to achieve success, if ever.
2) Whole Product. Well before you think about advertising, make sure you have developed a differentiated product that 1) works and that 2) customers want. Then, make sure you take responsibility for the “Whole Product”—that is, all the elements and partner added-value that the customer needs to receive full value from your offering.
3) Positioning Leadership. For a brand to be sustainable, you need to establish credibility in the market—though sales momentum and through the third-party endorsement of people who’s opinions carry weight (the market influencers).
4) Brand Experience. The brand experience that you deliver is your opportunity to wow customers and to have them keep coming back. How consistent are you in terms of brand behavior, visuals, and the tone and voice of your communications?
5) Brand Value. If you have done all these things, then you have probably won the loyalty and good will of your customers. You have a sustainable brand. With proper care and feeding your brand should live a long and rewarding life.
How close are you to achieving a sustainable brand? Find out by taking the interactive Brand Pyramid quiz on my website home page. I developed it somewhat tongue in cheek, but I think you’ll find it a valuable diagnostic tool. Let me know how you fare!