In advertising we toss the word "brand" around quite frequently. But have you noticed we usually default to the noun form of the word?
This may not appear to be a big deal, but let's take a moment to walk through the implications: This is a word that used to mean searing a mark into the hide of our property. It's now been reduced to a set of graphic standards and a tagline. The force of action has been replaced with a static identity.
Why does this matter? Mainly because not every brand has a differentiated story or the advantage of an HBO, with unique programming and great, shareable stories to tell. Sometimes you're just a consumer-packaged-goods company. And while dog-food makers and soda bottlers can mix the formula a bit and offer new innovations, the only truly differentiating element for these companies is the customer's experience with the product. Given this reality, the noun form of "brand" isn't enough to really move people -- it just doesn't bring the brand to life in a way that inspires customer action.
To meet this challenge, ad execs would make up a marketing story and call it "branding." "Brand fiction" is a superb technique for creating emotional, shareable connections to an unemotional product like laundry soap. But it can become problematic when it's only a marketing message. Today's networked consumer has amplification, credibility and influence. And when they complain about a disconnect between what a brand is saying and what they are doing, it impacts effectiveness. If a brand story really is just fiction, consumers will more than likely uncover it en masse and penalize you for it.
To truly "brand" a corporate identity or a product in today's networked society, we can't just rely on messaging, graphics and a good creative story anymore. In today's marketplace, it's a customer's past experience with your product, or the recommendation of that product by a friend that results in conversion.
This requires a process of coming up with ideas that don't just message, but give consumers a reason to participate, get excited and share their experiences. It's branding that is truly objective-driven and measurable in terms of the desired result. And it's branding that can inform operations as much as marketing, so that the aggregate experiences of your customers can be shaped into your strongest brand voice. Instead of creating "brand fiction," brands must look to inspire brand advocacy.
If today's branding is an aggregate of every experience the customer has with a brand, then the brand must impact the customer at every touch point. This makes customer service and shipping just as important for communicating the brand promise as marketing and sales. And it creates the imperative to make every experience with your company an opportunity for a shareable customer story to be created.
Branding efforts simply need to offer bigger thinking. The ad campaign and mass-awareness media buys put a brand name on the radar, but it's only legitimate branding experiences that generate genuine loyalty, advocacy and ongoing purchase.
Ultimately it's about making brand a verb again -- an action that drives advocacy, rather than simply awareness. And when awareness and action work together, that 's when we derive true ROI from our marketing efforts.