It’s Pointless Beginning With Brand Design Without Understanding The Basics Of Why You Need Branding
Branding is sexy. It’s an exciting area of your Knowledge Commerce business. The minute you have a brand name and a logo, it’s as if your business comes to life, right?
That is the whole reason why solopreneur knowledge marketers get carried away, and don’t think hard enough about why they are branding, and what branding really means to a business. More importantly, they don’t ponder over why branding is so crucial to their customers.
At Solohacks Academy, we’d like to encourage you to feel good about your branding, but we’d also like to caution you that branding should be done to a clear strategy. Branding doesn’t just have to look and sound good, it has very hard work to do for your business.
In this article, we want to introduce you to the macro-level concepts that you must begin with, in understanding how to get started with your branding. Particularly for Knowledge Commerce, branding is everything. Don’t take it lightly.
1. Branding Strategy Principles At The Macro Level
When we talk of brands and branding most of us at the micro level of branding. We look at the visual elements of a brand logo, or at the colors that are associated with the brand – or the language tone and style with which all communication from the brand comes to us. But behind all this, invisible to customers, is the macro strategy on which the brand has been built. Like the DNA of a body holds the whole body together and projects all aspects of its personality, the macro branding strategy is like the DNA of a brand. It’s what holds a brand together in the visible dimension.
Here are a few things every marketer in Knowledge Commerce should know …
a. What Is Branding, What Is Branding Strategy, And What Does Branding Strategy Encompass
What is branding? Let’s take an example. Let’s say we have, on the one hand, a generic-looking toothpaste with no label and no name. It’s just a toothpaste in a white tube inside a blank white carton. On the other hand, we have a “branded toothpaste”. It has a name, some distinct logo and colors, and a beautifully designed carton. Is it just that one toothpaste is non-distinctive, while the other is distinctive, that makes the difference?
Why do people believe that the toothpaste with the name and distinctive packaging is better than the other one without a name and in a bare-bones white pack? Maybe the barebones-pack has better quality toothpaste after all. But then, what makes people believe the colorful pack and the branded toothpaste is better?
It’s probably because they have read many ads of that brand that show pictures of the brand and also say “Our brand shown here is called XYZ … and it’s better because it has a special ingredient ABC in it, which makes your teeth whiter.” In other words, there is a brand name (XYZ) associated with certain values (ingredients ABC) that the brand has, that promise to solve some problem the customer has (dull white teeth).Branding is the act of associating a “brand name” with some “brand values” that make a “brand promise” to solve a customer problem. Customers who see the “name-values-promise” combination, over and over again, begin to think of the brand always associated with its values and promise. So they begin to automatically imbue the brand in their minds with those values and promise. The brand name becomes shorthand for those values and that promise.
If this is what branding is all about, then what is brand strategy and what does brand strategy encompass? It is the art of cleverly giving a product a name and then associating that name with the kind of values and promise the target audience desires, so that the brand promises to solve the problem they have. It’s the art of creating that bridge in the consumer’s mind between the brand name and its associated values and promise. More specifically, if a brand is successful in its brand strategy, the consumer, when she sees the brand already imagines her teeth looking whiter. She sees in the pack not just a toothpaste, but a better more beautiful version of herself. That’s what brand strategy should do.
b. The Three Macro Keys Of Branding Strategy Have To Be Values, Relevance And Longevity
Given that the main goal behind branding is to imprint your name and associated values and promise deeply into the minds of customers, there are three keys of branding at the macro level that you should be working towards:
Think hard about the values you want to associate with your brand. What are values? In our example, we said the toothpaste has ABC ingredients. Customers may so “So what?” The brand has to state to its customer the benefit of its values. Values are what motivate people to act one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior.
So, when a toothpaste brand says it’s values are “to always use only tested ingredients”, what does it actually say to customers? It says “I really work, I’ve been tested, so go ahead and use me!” The values it claims to have are the reasons it gives on why people should believe it. This is slightly different from a promise. While a brand says its values are the surety of the ingredients, it’s “promise” could be “whiter teeth” for the customer. See the difference? Values encourage and spur customer belief and action, while “promises” give guarantees of results of such actions.
As we said before, the brand has to associate itself in customer minds with both its values and its promises. So one of the macro principles of this brand has to be to associate itself with the values that will spur action by customers.
As we have seen in our toothpaste brand example above, the brand would have no “relevance” for the customer, if the customer did not have problem of whiter teeth. We may think “Everyone likes to have whiter teeth!”. That’s true, but the real target audience for this brand, those who would put their hands in the pockets to take out their wallets and buy, would be those who acutely feel the need for white teeth. This group could include those who are very conscious of their yellowing teeth, smokers, teenagers with a social life, fashion models, brides-to-be who’ll have to flash happy smiles in wedding photos …
Which of these people could form the principal target audience of the brand would depend on who has the direst problem with less than white teeth. So one of the macro principles of this brand has to be tight relevance to the targeted audiences who are most likely to buy immediately or soon.
Since it obviously takes quite a bit of effort and time to ingrain a brand with its associated values and promise into the customer’s mind, you can’t be changing your branding often. That’s death to a brand.
Over time, the very name acts as the shorthand for the values and promises and results. So if you change the branding, you dismantle the entire construct you have created in the customer’s mind. That’s why brands have to think so hard when they get into rebranding exercises. Rebranding is a huge subject in itself, because it involves a lot of psychological play.
Nine times out of ten, brands have to rebrand because they got themselves a very limited original branding that couldn’t stand the test of time. A brand name has to be based on some evergreen customer appeal. If the toothpaste says it will give you whiter teeth, you can be sure whiter teeth will always be in fashion and coveted. The moral of the story? A brand’s promise has to be based on results that will always be appealing to audiences, now and forever.
If a brand can be relevant over a time, it gets a chance to deeply ingrain itself into the customer’s subconscious along with its values and promise. Longevity of the brand promise is imperative if the brand has to build itself into something with an eternal and reliable market.
c. In Knowledge Commerce, Personal Branding And Business Branding Are Deeply Intertwined
Typically, in any online business where you are selling other products, your personal branding is important as a trust-factor, but it’s not everything. In a Knowledge Commerce business, however, your personal branding is the primary branding you have to worry about. When you are selling your knowledge, the first question potential customers may have is: “Who is giving out this knowledge? What does he have to back his authority on this topic? Why should I trust and believe his words? In what way is he more valuable than other experts in this field?”
Is it a good thing or a bad thing to get your personal branding so intertwined with your business branding and your product brands? The answer depends on the future you see for your business.
If you have multi-faceted knowledge, and may like to create other businesses later around other topics that fascinate you, the idea may cross your mind to sell your currently-owned business someday and make a lot of money. In that case, if the business was hinged inexorably with your own personal branding, you may not be able to sell it to someone else, without selling yourself too. Because you are the brand.
In such cases, you may want to plan ahead to name the business differently from your own name. If you don’t envisage selling the business ever, you’d do well to put your personal branding front and center, and give the branding all you’ve got. How many chances do we all get to see our own names emblazoned across the Internet as A-Listers, Top-rated Influencers, Domain Experts or Topic Doyens?
Note one thing though: whether you are the brand, or you own a brand different from yourself, that branding still has to be ingrained into the customer’s mind with its values and promises.
2. Branding Strategy Concepts At The Macro Level
There are some interesting concepts related to branding that you should get familiar with. These are Brand Hierarchy (also known as Brand Architecture), Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose. Every now and again, you’ll see experts say that one or more of these is more important than the others. Right now, everybody’s touting Brand Purpose as the most important thing in branding ever.
Be sure every concept is equally important, and they all have their days in the sun, when they are believed to be the ONE thing. It’s best to know them all.
a. What Is Brand Hierarchy or Brand Architecture? How Does it Matter To Customers?
Brand Hierarchy or Brand Architecture is the way a business arrays its main and sub-brands into some logical order. This makes it easier for customers to understand how the brand prioritizes its own portfolio.
Most marketers don’t start thinking about organizing their brand hierarchy until they have several products and the relationship between the products starts growing vague. It is then that the panic kicks in because the customer seems confused and unable to choose, which in turn affects earnings.
There can be many ways to arrange your main and sub-brands meaningfully – both to yourself and your customers. Here are a few examples of how big brands do it. See three models below:
Image courtesy: Persona Design
In the image above, on the extreme left is the model where the Master Brand is always present and given most prominence, and is linked to all products and sub-products. In the center is the Endorsed Brand model. There are individual brands that are connected to the parent brand, but the parent brand does not take centerstage, nor does it stay in the background. It is simply present in all communication as a silent strength. In the last model (to the right) we have what is often called a House of Brands. A business builds independent sub-products and their brands, while the main parent or corporate brand sits discreetly in the background.
Why do marketers have to bother with proper arrangement of their main and sub-brands? Here are the advantages:
- Customer confusion about how the brands stack up is drastically reduced.
- The business looks professional if it displays clear logic in offerings.
- The relative importance between the main and sub-brands is maintained clearly.
- The business will know where to slot its future brands given its current hierarchy.
- Each brand or sub-brand gets its due and appropriate attention and priority.
- Cross-selling or upselling products is easier if inter-brand relationships are clear.
b. What Is Brand Positioning? How Is It Different From Business Positioning?
In an earlier article I had written about how to position your business in the competitive market and how to differentiate yourself from the crowd of marketers in the consumers’ mind.
The process of differentiating your business from competition I had described was as follows:
- Look for high-priority problems customers want to solve and make that your niche if it fits your expertise.
- See how customers perceive your competitors to be best positioned to solve their problems.
- See if there are market gaps under-serviced by competition.
- See if it’s appropriate for you to arrogate those market gaps to differentiate yourself and serve customers better than the competition does.
Brand positioning is slightly different from the business position you occupy in consumer minds and in the market. Brand positioning derives from your business positioning but aims to solve a problem, not just in general terms, but specific to why the brand was created. Let’s take an example to see how this works:
Let’s say your business is about “advising on health foods for obese people between 10-20 years”. You may have arrived at this slot because no competitor is specifically looking at youngsters and teenagers with obesity problems. Now let’s say you want to create sub-brands in your overall knowledge brand of health foods. You may breakdown your sub-brands by age and gender – say, advice for 10-15 year-olds (male), for 10-15 year-olds (female), for 15-20 year olds (male) and for 15-20 year olds (female).
Would it not make better sense to make each of your sub-brands occupy a more specific positioning in the market based on exactly what benefits they offer to their respective customer groups? While your overall business positioning is about “how to eat healthy if your between 10-20 years and obese”, you could have a sub-brand with a positioning of “healthy eating advice for obese girls between 10-15 years”.
While you are examining such sub-positionings there are two things to keep in mind: one, the sub-brand positioning has to align with your overall business positioning slot; two, it also has to see if it has competition in its own slot, and tweak its positioning to be able to beat its own slot-wise competition.
For example, if the slot of “healthy foods advice for 10-15-year-old obese girls” is already occupied by a competitor, you could adjust your sub-brand positioning to “how to prevent obesity before it occurs in girls between 10 and 15 years”.
Either way, both your business positioning and the positioning of your different brands have to beat the competition at their own level, while remaining coherent to each other.
c. What Is Brand Purpose? Why Is There Such Hoo-Haa About It Now?
There are many people around us who like to ponder: “What is the purpose of my life? Why am I here on this Earth? What larger destiny have I come to fulfill?” The same questions can be asked of brands. What is the larger purpose why a brand exists? What does it want to do to serve humanity as a whole, or have a meaningful place on this planet?
Most customers these days like to be associated with brands that have a larger purpose than just selling more products and making money. People want to know what bigger canvas the brand has seen as its reason for existence, and what larger cause it supports as part of the human endeavor.
For example, let’s say we have two brands of Knowledge Commerce sites that teach the “energy saving” concept. One brand focuses on product reviews – it checks out components that save energy, like lights and electrical items, and the website is all about selling more of these things by reviewing them. But then, we have another brand that makes products sales incidental to the larger message that “every watt saved is charging up Planet Earth for another generation.” Which brand do you think rubs off on you as more lofty in its ideals, and built towards serving a larger purpose? Both may sell the same goods eventually. But one sells the “consciousness of energy saving” before it sells products. The other sells products.
The purpose behind both these brands is as stark as night and day. One business has a greater mission in life and that is to raise human consciousness about depleting energy reserves and the need for conservation – for which its products are tools. The other sells the tools themselves without giving you a “why” behind it all. This is the difference between a brand that dominates, while another is an also-ran. As Simon Sinek, the expert and speaker says, “People buy the “why you do it” and not the “what you do.”
3. Branding Strategy Goals At The Macro Level
What else would you like your brand to earn for you aside from money from the sale of your products? You brand can earn recognition, recall, fame, loyalty, fans and followers … why, it can even become a highly-priced asset on your business balance sheet.
The idea is to gain more from your brand over time than surface-level pricing. You can and should think big and have great goals for your brand. Here are a few things to aspire for …
a. Aiming For Prompted And Unprompted Brand Recall
At this point in this article, let me ask you a question. Can you name the top two toothpaste brands in your country? I’m sure the names are at the tip of your tongue. I’m from India so I’ll say Colgate and Pepsodent. Okay, now I’ll ask you: “Name the three toothpaste brands that occupy the No.3, No.4 and No.5 positions in your country”. It may need some thinking on your part, right? You’ll get there – but maybe with some hints and prompting?
When you easily and spontaneously remembered some brand names it’s what we call “unprompted recall of brands”. When you needed some prodding and prompting to remember some brands it’s what we would call “prompted recall”. Naturally, in marketing terms, if a brand has been able to achieve “unprompted recall”, it’s probably the market leader or the close second. When brands require prompted recalling by customers, they are not quite up there in the consumer’s memory.
Where this issue becomes big for a marketer is that people tend to buy what comes to memory first when they have to make a choice. If they are in a hurry at the store (as most people always are), they’ll pick the brand they best remember without any prompting. They won’t stand at the counter and say to themselves “Now, where’s that toothpaste that I cannot quite remember the name of – the one with the blue and brown packaging?” They’d look around, see all the brands stacked there, and pick the one whose name is well and truly entrenched in their frontal memory.
Advertisers often teach their students the same lesson, using the question, “Who was the first man on the moon – and the second?” Most people will say, “Neil Armstrong – and Buzz Aldrin.” But then ask them, “Who was the third man on the moon?” Most people would flounder. The moral of the story? If your not first (or nearly first) with something, you’re almost nothing. It’s very important to try and aim for market leadership because your brand name will be the one most remembered.
b. Aiming For Brand Loyalty And Brand Co-Ownership
Another great goal all brands should aim for is Brand Loyalty. It’s something all marketers covet, because, in these times of great competition, loyalty of consumers is hard to hold. Getting new customers to buy your products is at least 6 times more costly than getting existing customers to buy more. So, all in all, brand loyalty is a great thing for marketers.
But one point that most marketers miss seeing is that loyalty is the default status of any customer. Most people – if not all people – dislike change and disruption. We humans are creatures of habit. Once we latch onto a good thing, we like to keep going with it. So what then causes people to leave one brand for another?
Very often, it’s the poor customer management that drives customers away, rather than customers leaving your brand on their own. Customers really don’t ask for much. They simply ask marketers for speedier and more empathetic responses to any problems they have. If they need answers, you have to respond fast. Your answer needn’t be spectacularly detailed. It just has to be to the point and fast.
Similarly if a customer has a problem after a purchase, you must respond fast. You have to quickly spot the actual issue (which may not be the stated one) and you have to apply a quick and soothing Band-Aid to the major irritant – and then at a little leisure help the customer solve the underlying issue. In all this, you have to be empathetic too. You have to care – and you have to be seen as caring.
There’s one more aspect to building loyalty that many marketers miss. If you allow a customer to co-own your brand he will seldom leave because he has contributed to the brand creation. For example, if your knowledge brand encourages user-generated content on your site – may be blog posts, or photos or videos – and people love this feature, they will own your site as much as you do, and will never leave you. That’s the power of loyalty that comes from a sense of co-ownership.
c. Aiming For Brand Equity On The Balance Sheet
Finally, let’s examine the goal of “Brand Equity”. People often use the term loosely – for example, if a brand is well remembered, recognized and respected they say it has built “good brand equity”. They mean it has earned a lot of goodwill.
But these days brands that earn such goodwill are actually treated as financial assets with value on the balance sheets of a business. If you had such a brand that is truly valuable, it is estimated for value in money terms and expressed as a money asset in your books. Should you want to sell your business, your brand may be the costliest item for the new buyer.
How is a brand’s worth determined? There are many different formulae people use, but in the final analysis, it depends on the buyer and seller deciding how to value it. There are also market analysts whose word counts. Although Apple is not quite selling the company, it is estimated in the market that Apple’s brand value is $154.1 billion, or nearly three times its total annual revenue.
You may think that Apple’s brand equity is high because its annual revenues are high. But the opposite also holds true. Brand equity may be the main reason brands like Apple can command premium price points for products. So it’s like a chicken-and-egg situation.
As you can imagine a lot goes into making a brand acquire brand equity. If you had a knowledge product like a big-ticket consulting service, the price wouldn’t just be calculated by the hours you put in or even your own domain expertise level. It could include your innovativeness, your ability to produce out-of-the-box or game-changing solutions, or your ability to turn vices into virtues or failures into successes. Most often revenues and brand equity increase with the level of uniqueness.
Whatever the measure, though, it’s always great to aim high, and then go on to achieve great things with your brand. And if you are the key brand in your knowledge business, that exultant feeling, when you succeed, is to be felt to be believed.
In Summary …
- It’s pointless beginning with brand design without understanding the basics of why you need branding.
- Branding doesn’t just have to look and sound good, it has very hard work to do for your business.
- The top 3 branding principles to learn are: what is branding; what brands aim to gain; and how personal and business branding differ.
- The top 3 macro level brand concepts to know and plan for are brand hierarchy, brand positioning and brand purpose.
- The top 3 macro level brand goals all brands should aim for are brand recall, brand loyalty and brand equity.
- Whatever the measure, it’s always great to aim high, and then go on to achieve great things with your brand.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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