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Lets talk about what ‘brand’ really means

I’m always amazed at how many ‘experienced’ business leaders misunderstand the meaning of ‘brand’.

It’s not their fault, it is a relatively newly used term…many are just hooked in to the idea that it’s a fluffy little tool as used by marketing that has very little to do with the ‘important’ parts of the business.

Meanwhile they’re wondering about things like “Why don’t our staff have any initiative?”, “The carbon tax is stopping spending” and “Quick we better have another sale, no one is buying anything!” I apologise for generalising, but the misunderstanding has many business leaders, including those earning salaries of seven figures, struggling to adapt to a world that has shifted dramatically and is continuing to do so.

So…I thought what better way to start writing for Dynamic Business than to share the opportunity that lies for small and medium businesses. Whilst the big boys are grappling with a rapidly changing world and trying to figure out how to turn their big ships around, the little guys can be more agile, do it right and work their way in to the hearts and minds of consumers.

There is a divide getting bigger by the day between leaders that understand the power to the consumer (and thus brand), and those that believe that all strategy is firstly about profit and economics. There are businesses that continued to grow during the GFC like Apple, Google, Zara (whilst Myer, David Jones and Just Group were crying poor) and IKEA and Kogan (whilst Harvey Norman was crying for tax changes). The shift has occurred and the rules are no longer the same. I’m not saying I don’t like big business because they are very important employers but I do like seeing smaller guys and girls punch above their weight and brand allows them to do that.

Brand is a word often used but rarely understood to it’s full capacity. Have you ever heard people saying – we’re just getting the brand “out there”? Having people aware that a brand exists doesn’t mean it’s a good brand. We all know Tiger Airways exists but….anyway enough said.

Your brand isn’t a logo. It’s not what you advertise and it might not even be what you think it is. Your brand is how others see you, it’s how they feel about you and most importantly it’s what they’re telling their friends about you. Many business leaders say “brand is too intangible to have an effect”, obviously I disagree.

Brand amongst many other benefits has a positive effect on:
– margins,
– engaging your customer base,
– retaining and attracting the most effective staff for your organisation,
– risk mitigation,
– generally staying focused on a strong vision, and
– achieving momentum.

The secret is a term we like to call ‘brand convergence’. It’s the nirvana achieved when the word on the street matches what you want them to be saying.  The two ends of the conversation have come together not just on the day, but as a long term connection. You have created raving fans and ambassadors for what you do. This doesn’t happen without discipline and it doesn’t happen overnight. Trust has to be earned day in day out. Luckily I’ll be contributing regularly to deliver real stories, about real brands that you can learn lessons from and adapt them to your unique brand.

Your actions truly speak louder than words. It’s not just the brand messages that you put in your campaigns, it’s about the behaviours that get people talking. I’ve always liked the quote by Samantha Wills who runs an international jewellery business… “Find out what gets people talking, then do lots of it”. Consumers have more choice and are armed with more information in the palm of their hand than ever before so you need to offer them a reason to do business with you and getting recommendations from peers is still the most effective form of marketing.

With choice comes competition and this is where simple and authentic brand foundations allow an organisaton to be truly effective. It’s no longer about what you do, but why you do it. It’s no longer about campaigns but about conversations.
The days of baffling a customer with spin are gone because the truth is right there on an iPhone.

Many people say to me that brand doesn’t really exist in big industries like mining or organisations like hospitals. Again it’s untrue. Every individual, product and organisation has a brand. If people feel or say things about something then it has a brand.

By keeping the brand in the second drawer of the marketing department it means that it never really infiltrates the culture of the company. This is a downfall in most of the existing industry leaders. In contrast, think of Apple and Virgin as two companies that people connect with on an emotional level. They live and breathe consistency. They feel human. They stand out from the crowd. That’s because the brand is infused from the board level all the way down. It’s part of the decision making process in every area. If you need to look on the wall to remind yourself of your ‘mission statement’ then throw it out – you need one you can remember.

Brands are never perfect, but when they know who they are and why they exist their fans will often forgive them for minor mistakes and come to their defence when someone tries to bring them down. Being on the flip side means that just about every time you advertise, you’ll be kickstarting negative publicity. We need only look at the difference between QANTAS and Virgin Australia as an example of this. There are brand lovers on both sides but it’s the ratio that sees the scales tip to one side or the other.

From today remind yourself that you are not just running a business, you’re running a brand. It’s the vehicle to achieving your vision. A great brand is authentic and trusted by the many. A great brand stands out from the crowd and attracts a price margin superior to lesser brands.

I’m hoping you have a passion for your business. I love what I do and I love seeing the difference in a business when they clearly know what makes them amazing.

Let’s get effective, let’s help you become a brand people love.

Rick Marton

Top 5 shifts in the attitude to brands.

1. Just because it’s out there doesn’t means it’s good.
2. It is part of culture from the top down not part of the marketing department.
3. Brand is set more by behaviour than of your promises.
4. If people are talking about someone or something then it has a brand regardless of how small it is.
5. Brands clear the clutter, clear stress and make money.

What do you think?

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Rick Marton

Rick Marton

Rick Marton is a recognised leader in brand engagement, passionate about effective business and in particular strategies to build the love between business and their target audiences. Rick has worked with many of Australia's best-known brands and also counts many small businesses as clients. He is the type of person that loves people watching, loves asking "but why?" and loves to challenge to find the best outcomes. His vision is to inspire a world where every small business is empowered to become a brand people love.

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