Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Reputation Does Your Organization Have?

Branding has been abducted by the insincere.

In recent times, branding has come to represent a façade that marketers wrap around a product or service to increase customer sales and loyalty. Branding has become only what they can convince others to think about their business. This is the great lie.

The Marketing Rule is “Find a need and fill it.” But many in business don’t really consider what their customers may need, but rather, what they want their customers to buy. From this point forward, the branding process is usually doomed to either fail or to fall dramatically short of what it could have been.

What should happen is that the client takes his first year’s communications budget and spends it trying to figure out:
  1. what unfulfilled needs the market has,
  2. how they articulate those needs,
  3. how they feel about the currently available options at meeting those needs, and
  4. what would qualify as a perfect solution to their needs.
In other words: find out what the customer really wants, what the competition has, and what they can bring to the party.

In his book Building Strong Brands, David Aaker offers a Brand Identity System that moves planning for a brand from its current brand image (as a product, as an organization, as a person, and as a symbol) through development of a value proposition with functional, emotional, and self-expressive benefits. This planning paradigm helps define the future of the brand-customer relationship.

According to Aaker, it is from this definition of the brand-customer relationship that the brand’s positioning can be developed. The positioning statement -- which includes core brand identity elements, the target audience, the competitive advantage, and elements of the value proposition -- directs the communications effort.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? I’ll say! Not only is it a lot of work, it is a significant investment of sincerity. The above process can’t be faked. There is no way an organization would go through the complicated process described by Aaker unless they were very, very serious about developing long-lasting relationships with customers.

When I speak to clients about what a brand is, I talk in terms of a “reputation.” I do this because most everyone knows that a reputation is hard to fake. Whatever reputation someone has, it is generally deserved and that is what I want my clients to think about. Act honestly and the world will generally know you have integrity. Do a good job and they will say you are competent. Return their calls quickly and they will say you are committed to their future. Reduce your service to them and they will cut their revenue stream to you.

Branding has become only what they can convince others to think about their business. This is the great lie.

The great marketing guru Ted Levitt of Harvard has said that a business’s purpose was not to increase the wealth of its shareholders, as is generally taught in business schools. Instead, the purpose of any business is to create and keep a customer. Increasing shareholder wealth, says Levitt, is merely a requisite of creating and keeping a customer.

You don’t create and keep customers with a façade. You do that with a reputation that has been developed by listening to your customers and building products, services, and delivery systems that truly meet those needs. If business acted on this mantra, instead of trying to build veneers around products and services that offer little in the way of differentiation from their competition, we practitioners of the branding art would either find our jobs easier or find our services unnecessary.

[Photo used under the Creative Commons License courtesy of Flickr.]

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