What is a Brand?

When I ask small business owners about their brand, they often tell me about their logo, tagline, company colors, website and literature. But they are really missing the point.  They don’t really seem to know the answer to the question:  What is a brand?

Those things are the trim around the brand. Your brand is a promise you make to your customers and prospects. It is a promise about the experience of doing business with you. It encompasses every touch point in your business,  from the type of products and services you offer to your customer service policies. It includes your culture, your marketing messages, delivery and even return procedures.

McDonald’s is a great example of a well-defined brand. They promise reasonable quality at a fair price in a fun environment with clean restrooms. So when I walk into a McDonald’s, I don’t expect to have a steak and I am not disappointed when I don’t get one. On the other hand, if I pull off the highway and walk into a McDonalds and the restroom is dirty, I am disappointed. I feel that they have lied to me, letting me down by not holding up their end of the bargain.

And breaking a brand promise isn’t always about providing less then someone expects. It could just as easily be about walking into Wal-mart and finding a display of designer clothes at full price. This is in violation of the promise they make to me as a potential customer as to what I will find in their store.

What Do You Want Your Brand To Be?

As you think about your brand and the promise you make to the marketplace, you have to decide what you want your brand to be. Remember, a brand is not always about being the biggest and the best but about setting an appropriate expectation in the mind of your customer.

As you look to build your brand, think about how you will consistently demonstrate your promise in all of the touch points and all the elements of the brand experience. This includes, but is not limited to: product quality, customer service, processes and company culture.

You Can’t Please Everyone

And you have to face the fact that as you define your brand and decide what you will and won’t promise, you are going to turn off some segments of the market. Some people just won’t like or be interested in your brand promise, and you have to be OK with that.

To be valuable, your brand has to be relevant, and the more you water it down to please everyone, the less relevant your brand becomes to your key audience. The more you flex your brand to accommodate everyone, the less consistent you become, and the more likely it is you will disapoint some as you fail to live up to their version of your brand promise.

Live Your Brand

Building a brand requires more then just slapping your tagline on all your marketing material. It has to be an integral part of what you do. You have to consistently reinforce the message in everything you do, all the touch points and interactions you have with your customers. The benefit? Once you define all the elements of your brand and what you are willing to promise your customers, extending it into all areas of your business becomes easy. It is easier to develop meaningful and relevant marketing messages to build relationships which will grow your business.

Great brands evolve over time, but they begin with a promise. What’s yours?