There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about brand, a subject that’s not only misunderstood, but also undervalued. Brand strategist and author Lindsay Pedersen debunks some myths that could be holding your business back.
Brand is one of the biggest drivers of your business’s success. At least it should be if it’s clear and well defined. It should be the filter through which you make all business decisions big and small. It should be your North Star.
That may be a lot of “shoulds” but, unfortunately, too few companies let brand lead the way. Because many leaders don’t truly understand brand, they either dismiss its importance or pass it off to someone unqualified to shape it thoughtfully.
Needless to say, brushing off brand is very bad for business.
“Brand is what breaks through the chaos of a million messages and persuades consumers to buy,” says Lindsay Pedersen, author of Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. “It has the potential to be extremely powerful, but none of its potential will be realized if decision makers don’t understand what brand really is – and what it isn’t.
“There are certain very pervasive myths that spring up around brand,” she continues. “We must confront these myths and knock them down if we are to make decisions that unleash our competitive advantage and ultimately drive sustainable growth.”
MYTH: Brand is only a business’s name or a logo.
TRUTH: Name and logo are merely expressions of brand.
Many equate brand with name and logo only, which is understandable because name and logo are the most visible and concrete expressions of brand. The name identifies the brand with words while the logo does so with image and color. While both are overt expressions of brand, they are not brand in its entirety. Not even close!
MYTH: Brand is only advertising.
TRUTH: Advertising is a tactic to express brand.
“Leaders often conflate brand with brand marketing, à la ‘Mad Men,’” says Pedersen. “Since advertising is shouting your business’s message and what you stand for, advertising is quite literally an expression of brand. But advertising alone is not brand; any more than a texted announcement from me to my friends is all that I am. Brand influences everything. It’s not merely a single, temporary tactic.”
MYTH: Brand is only for businesses with large media budgets.
TRUTH: Your marketing budget and brand strategy have little to do with one another.
Brand gives you resonance regardless of the volume at which you can afford to shout.
MYTH: Brand is irrelevant for businesses that use performance marketing tactics.
TRUTH: Brand strengthens all marketing tactics.
Businesses may eschew traditional advertising and instead elect to generate demand through performance marketing tactics such as search engine optimization, search engine marketing, email marketing, and digital re-targeting. That means that if you link brand with traditional advertising, it will become collateral damage. But performance marketing tactics indicate to your customers what you stand for, and so those, too, are expressions of brand.
“When brand informs performance marketing,” says Pederson, “these tactics can amass clicks and sales in the near term, and also accrue brand affinity and enduring growth in the long term.”
MYTH: Brand is spin.
TRUTH: Brand prevents the need for spin.
Of course, some brands are just a hollow shell of lies, but that is not because they are brands. That is because they were developed thoughtlessly and likely in the absence of customer empathy and integrity. By committing yourself to building your brand with authenticity, you inherently avoid spin. An ironclad brand doesn’t have to use spin. It finds the intersection between what truly serves the customer and what truly serves the business, and then transparently communicates and builds toward that.
“Remember that brand lives in the hearts and minds of customers,” says Pedersen. “Spin cannot change this.”
MYTH: Brand is only for businesses in certain industries.
TRUTH: Brand works for businesses in all categories and of all sizes.
Because the biggest national advertisers tend to be consumer packaged goods companies and behemoth technology and telecommunications brands, many small-business owners consider brand to be exclusive to those industries specifically. In fact, if people in your industry don’t do advertising on a national or global scale, you may believe that brand strategy isn’t something you should be doing. But the businesses that most need a brand strategy are the ones that cannot afford big television media campaigns or global digital ads.
MYTH: Brand is only for business-to-consumer companies, not business-to-business companies.
TRUTH: Brand is for businesses that have relationships with human beings, whether B2B or B2C.
The idea that branding is not for B2B companies may stem from consumer businesses like Clorox, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever that used the power of the brand in the 20th century to great and visible success. But it is another false dichotomy. Both B2C and B2B serve human beings, so brand is relevant to both. Whether they buy as a representative of a household or of a business, human beings are in a relationship with other human beings. Brand facilitates and reinforces that relationship.
MYTH: Brand is not for “businesses that make or sell products.”
TRUTH: Brand and product work together, not separately.
Leaders who argue that their business is a “product” company often dismiss brand, and miss its meaning. Product is an essential part of brand. In fact, product is such an integral brand expression that Pedersen considers it the least forgiving of brand’s many expressions.
“No amount of excellent messaging, promotion, or sweet-talking will compensate for a poor product,” she says. “Further, while product is vitally important, it is the means, not the end. Customers don’t care about your cool product. They care about what they get as a result of your product – what’s in it for them. You should care most about that, too. Building an ironclad brand strategy puts what customers care about into sharp relief for everyone.”
Brand is immense and overarching, concludes Pedersen. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that it is useful in only one of its roles. “Challenge yourself to reject the brand myths you’ve heard in the past,” she says. “The truth is powerful, and when you put the energy into understanding and utilizing brand to its fullest extent, you will reap the rewards.”
Lindsay Pedersen is a brand strategist, board advisor, coach, speaker, and teacher known for her scientific and growth-oriented approach to brand building. She developed the Ironclad Method for value-creating brands while working with billion-dollar businesses like Starbucks, Zulily, and and IMDb, as well as with many burgeoning startups. For more information, visit ironcladbrandstrategy.com