Ten Top Fallacies of Branding

Having done brand development for the past 20 years, it is a cause of amazement to find how frequently most companies use other creative or advertising avatars as stand-ins for a true brand. If you are a marketing consultant, odds are high you have heard these top excuses for branding.Here are the top 10 Fallacies of Branding heard from clients, and a “tough love” (TL) response.Fallacy #1: I’ve/we’ve been in business a long time – my customers know what we stand for.TL: Please show us your data. Because we bet they don’t. If we talk to 10 customers about you, we will get 10 different answers. We will. We know this because we’ve never done a brand project where customers responded how executives thought they would respond. Some of the customer responses you won’t like. And most likely, what they actually think of you isn’t quite (or at all) what you’d like them to think of you.Fallacy #2: We have a logo done (by the CEO’s nephew), and that is our brand.TL: What is the meaning behind the logo? Is there a story? What is it meant to convey? What is your promise to your customers that they will experience each and every time they connect with you? Is your logo hinting at that promise? When your customers see that logo, do they immediately know what to expect? Do they even recognize the logo? Does the color of the logo convey meaning about your brand? Can customers name your company when they see the logo? Is the logo original and differentiated?Fallacy #3: We have a website and that is our brand.TL: How does your website operationalize your promise to your customers? Does what your website says match with what you are trying to deliver? Is the website an offshoot of your brand position, promise, personality and core messages? (And are those written down anywhere so you can leverage these across all your communications?) What kind of brand experience do you customers have when they visit?Fallacy #4: We have an advertising campaign, and our brand is communicated through that.TL: Oh, you have a brand campaign? How does this campaign move the needle on your customer’s brand experience? Is it building brand loyalty? Is it moving you higher in their consideration set? How does it communicate your brand promise? Are you resonating emotionally? How do you know? Or… is your campaign really a product campaign or leads generation campaign?Fallacy #5: Our CEO has created our mission, vision and guiding principles, and that’s our brand.TL: Please, please don’t confuse these with a brand. And please prove to us these are original, well thought-out (not just a writing exercise), and are ingrained into your culture. Please demonstrate us how these are carried out in your company. Show us how these principles provide a foundation for your brand. (If you can, then cheers! We use that as input to the brand.)Fallacy #6: We know what our customers want. We talk to them all the time.TL: Yes, we know. You’re talking to them about how you’re serving them now and you’re having a lot of transactional conversations. When have you asked what they need in the future? Have you asked them if there is something they want that you are not doing? Have you hired a third-party to ask them tough questions (because they may not tell you the hard truth to your face?) Do you have quantifiable numbers that show you how you’re doing with customers compared with competitors? What is it they would like you to stop doing? Have you probed enough into their buying and usage patterns to identify a need they haven’t even thought of yet? Do you have enough customer responses to trust betting bet several million dollars on a new product or service?Fallacy#7: Our advertising agency had a creative session, and told us what our brand is.TL: Really? Because top brands are based on original internal and external research and data. Specifically about you. So branding isn’t simply a creative exercise, it’s a strategic process tied directly to your company plan that uses data to shape strategy. Your brand informs your go-to-market approach, is operationalized through how you interact with customers, defines and deeply informs you about your priority customer segments. It will guide your product offerings, your R&D and even who you hire. Creative is highly necessary to give a brand “lift” but it comes last, not first.Fallacy #8: We use the same colors from our logo on everything, so we look really consistent.TL: Please don’t confuse consistency with meaning. Consistency is excellent, if it is reinforcing the important meaning behind, and the selection of, your brand. What do your colors mean? What do your colors convey to your customers? How do you use them to support your brand promise?Fallacy #9: Our customers know our name.TL: No, no and no. Some customers know your name. Many customers cannot remember you if you asked them to list companies or brands in your category without help (unaided awareness.) Many customers will be able to name the number one company in your category. Hopefully, it’s you. If not, you have brand work to do. If your customers do remember your name, can they say what you stand for? And does what they say match with what you want them to say? What about customers no longer doing business with you – have they forgotten your name? Oh, and what about potential customers? Do they know your name?Fallacy#10: We think we’re the leader, so we really don’t need a brand.TL: Leaders need brands to stay leaders. Because if your competition gets smart and gets branded, you’ve got some serious competition in the wings. If you truly are the leader (and we’d love for that to be true), how did you become the leader? Can you replicate what you did again and again – in new markets, among new customers, with new products or lines of business? Why not bottle what makes you so great and ensure you never, ever lose the recipe to the secret sauce?