Abiding Themes 4 / The Importance of Brands

Every penny that your business has spent on office space, technology, and recruiting great staff, every advert, every piece of product development, every board decision, every customer interaction, every car in the car park, and every element in your logo contributes to your brand.

Whether you’re a corporate multinational, or a sole trader working in a single neighbourhood, the way in which your business promotes itself will be a big factor in why people want to trust you.

You should think of your brand as a combination of corporate identity, reputation, and personality. It is more than a logo.

It is also never yours.

The most successful brands are the ones that audiences feel an affinity with, and in order for affinity to develop, the users need to feel like they own the brand, that it is theirs.

In order to discover what your brand is all about, you need to talk to your customers. Ask them to describe your business for you.

Look at the terms they associate with your business, and compare them to how you see yourself. You can’t be too precious about how you feel about the brand, because the whole point of a social strategy is that you pass a lot of the ownership over to the customer.

What is a Brand

Although we identify a brand with a product or modern company and a a branding agency, it was not always the case. The concept of branding originates in farming, a livestock farmer would burn an identifying mark onto his animals to demonstrate ownership, a simple logo that could be recognised at a distance so that anyone who saw the animal would know who it belonged to.

Old School Branding - Painful

An interesting, side effect of ownership branding was that as a farmer developed a reputation for quality in some aspect of breeding or feeding, their animals would be more sought after at market.

A quality bull from good stock, and raised well would attract higher bids at auction. Seeing the brand of a good farm on a beast as it was led into the auction hall would encourage more people to aspire to ownership.

Modern logo branding serves the same purpose, make a product identifiable on a wearer or a supermarket shelf to create aspiration, or to assure a set of qualities are present, but it is the work that is carried out beneath the logo that creates its value. The logo is a label to identify the output of a particular manufacturer, the brand is the associated work, the reputation, the ideas that underpin the qualities that are seen in the brand.

When we talk about brands and brand perception, we should always look below the surface, the underlying principles a company works to is what we should buy, and what a company should work to build. A snappy name and a cool logo with nothing behind it is no match for a robust product with substance. No-one buys a logo, they buy what it stands for.

Why Brands are important

The primary value of a brand is that it acts as to differentiate between two products and simplifies customer decision making.

There are many ingredients that contribute to a brand, but you can summarise them in a few lines The quality of what you produce, the quality of your staff, the way you treat your customers, the cost:value ratio of your products, the innovation that you demonstrate, the way you sell your product, and eventually, these all boil down to a central theme of customer experience.

Do Brands Work Online

The simple answer:


Of course brands work online. In fact, online is the place where a brand can make more of a difference in the purchase cycle than anywhere else.

Imagine you are about to spend the equivalent of two weeks’ wages on an expensive digital camera, and it is available from from 2 different websites. One is a specialist company that they have never heard of which operates from a PO Box in some town you’ve never been to, the other is the online presence of a high street camera shop. The fact is, most people will opt to buy the camera from the company they have heard of – the brand they recognise.

When consumers buy online, they need to have a high level of trust in the seller. On any given day, there will be a story about one online selling scam or another in which a person has bought a product online from a fly by night web store that never really existed.

Having an established brand can make a huge difference to conversion rates online. The consumer perspective is that a brand is more secure, less likely to scam them, more likely to deliver on a promise.

Eric Schmidt, the outgoing Google CEO Google said as much in October 2008 during his presentation of Google’s earnings over the previous quarter:

The Internet is fast becoming a ‘cesspool’ where false information thrives … Brands are the solution not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool

– Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, 8 October 2008

The Value of a Brand

Trust matters and has value.  this is demonstrated in the added price that a brand can charge for their goods – the brand value – a company that doesn’t invest in building their brand will always have to compete in other ways, which usually means reduced prices – and therefore lower margins.

In simple economic terms, the value of a brand can be measured in the increased price that people are willing to pay to associate themselves with it.  Whether this is an extra 25p on the price of a can of coke compared to the own label goods in a store, or an extra £100 for the security of buying the identical camera from a shop they trust, this incremental value is the reward for investing in building a brand that end users or customers feel more comfortable with.

It is in higher margins and improved conversion rates that you can find a tangible – if not directly attributable – ROI from social media, and other hard to measure channels of marketing.

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