Brands communicate quality and value – and give us some idea of why a product might cost more or less than its competition. They tell us in symbolic terms whether it’s our kind of thing, made by our kind of people, or not.
The result …
Strong brands justify higher prices than weaker brands.
Do you have a brand?
Every organization and every public figure has a brand, whether it wants one or not.
Which is why it pays to nurture those parts of a brand we can actually influence: creating better impressions won’t necessarily attract revenues, but they will support your pricing.
Branding vs. brand.
It’s not always obvious that branding and brand are two different things.
Is the grand total of everything people think and feel about a given organization or public figure. Most of that is out of our control, subject to the fads and fashions of the moment, the movements of the marketplace and the pleasures and proclivities of public opinion.
But we can influence those perceptions with any number of things that are under our direct control. We call those things, collectively, branding.
Traditional branding materials.
Logos and websites – really, all our marketing materials – are just the beginning of what can come under the branding rubric.
Apple has taught us to pay attention to the way we package our smallest products – and the tiniest components buried deep inside our biggest boxes.
Decades of data across industries from cars to consumer electronics have shown us the critical importance of customer service (and still, almost nobody gets it even close to right).
And a long road trip will show you the value of the predictable experience at retail. Suburban sameness may be the poetic lament of popular music, but you know how relieved you are when, after five hours of driving, you finally hit a town that’s big enough to support a Starbucks.
I am starting to hate the word content. As if the things we write about and talk about and take pictures of were entirely separate from the websites and sales materials and videos they live in – when nothing could be farther from the truth.
Content is not something we ladle on at the last minute, like gravy. It’s the whole point of building and producing all the media we do.
But there is some validity to the idea that we need a way to distinguish material that informs and intrigues – that helps us build an audience – from the material that moves the merchandise. Old media got along perfectly fine separating copy – the material that pays the bills – from editorial, which is the stuff that brings in the audience.
So instead of the much-bandied-about and grossly overused content, I’ll use the term editorial.
A little attention to public relations – at least on the level of avoiding the major gaffes that bring bad press – and a little outreach to your industry and your prospects’ industries – can go a long way towards building positive perceptions of your organization, your people and your products.
Perception versus reality: the brand promise.
Branding helps us persuade people that our products and services are a safe investment, before they actually take the plunge and buy something. Marketing people talk about that persuasion as the brand promise.
When someone buys, we get the chance to deliver on that promise – and customers have a real experience to compare to their expectation beforehand. Marketers call that difference between the promise and the reality the gap in customer perception.
Narrow the gap, grow your business.
That gap is measurable. It’s cheaper and easier than ever to get customers to tell us what they were expecting and what they actually experienced when they bought – when they landed on our website or shopped in our store, or did any number of other things.
Then we can use that information to train our people or change our online experience – and check the results. Did sales go up? What did people think of the changes?
Experience shows that brands who continuously measure and remeasure – who constantly narrow the gap and improve customer satisfaction – improve sales and margins more than brands who don’t.
Ignore your brand. Will your business go away?
Some folks are still talking about how usability and features are more important than how something looks. “Gmail was ugly for years, and people still would rather use that than any other email product!” they argue. They’re right – up to a point: Gmail is a free product.
If you’re offering a free product, people won’t care how it looks, either. They’ll use it if it works well.
But if …
… You’re tired of everyone you meet constantly questioning your prices and your methods, and your people want their recommendations accepted the first time, without arguments or whining, it’s probably time to pay attention to how you’re packaging your people, products and organization.
Look cheap, sell cheap.
Think about car dealers on television who do their own commercials. Intellectually, we know they’re amateur announcers who have never had media training. But the reality is they don’t just look like bad television actors. They look like bad car dealers.
Likewise, if you don’t pay attention to the quality of your website or your signage – if you just use a basic PowerPoint template to make presentations – people will question your expertise. They won’t just assume you didn’t invest in packaging your organization and your products. They’ll assume you don’t invest in anything.
Package your organization for profitable pricing.
On the other hand, great materials – designed to send the appropriate message to your audience – automatically make your people look smarter and your organization look stronger. People listen more carefully to what you have to say, and they take your advice more readily.
Not only will they quibble less about price, you may well be able to charge a significant premium for what you offer – and for things your competition normally throws in for free.