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Sunday, October 05, 2008

What Makes Your Brand Come Alive?

The Brand Alphabet originally uploaded by InThePictureDesign.co.uk [do visit the
original as you can test how well you recognize the brands behind the letters...]

Consider an alternate question to What Does Your Brand Stand For?  Instead, ask yourself what makes your brand come alive?

It used to be that the right product or service was enough to validate the existence of a brand.  Now, in addition to an unique product or service, the brand must convey an intensity of commitment to the end user's experience with that product or service. Google comes to mind. Lego, too, even Apple.

Those brands come alive because they connect with and listen - as Anna Farmery succinctly defines in When I ask you to listen to me - closely to end users.  And, they take into account feedback. By doing that authentically and respectfully, the brand truly engages users or consumers in an improved brand experience and the brand grows.

[Another take on listening is Tesco's Sir Terry Leahy's advice to "Think Customer – reset your business to what customers need right now. Customers can change faster than companies." You can read the full review of his speech on Paul Dunay's blog.]

However, a brand can't be an abstract concept existing in a void. To engage with human beings, it must have dimension, presence, intelligence and all of the human qualities that we seek when we associate with people.  In other words, it must be real, it must have warmth. It must be alive.

In What Does Your Brand Stand For?, Tim Girvin left a comment asking what a brand's leadership stands for, "Meaning, literally, the ... person that lies at the heart of the enterprise -- what's the character that enlivens the soul of the organization?"

What a relevant question!  What or who gives a brand soul -- another human characteristic, by the way --?

Efrain Mendicuti in Growing Out of Your Brand makes a wonderful case for small businesses where an owner can more easily "reflect... their personal values onto their brand; which is probably the best position to be in. Why? Because the business owner can make sure those values come across all their marketing and communication efforts. This is something that larger organizations have a hard time doing." The brand is alive because it reflects the owner's beliefs and values. The owner lies at the heart of that organization.

Larger organizations complicate the process. In fact, that's often the challenge for a brand transitioning from an entrepreneurial environment to a more established one. Many fail. But, many don't. They save the soul and manage to infuse all those within the organization with the magic, so that each individual can contribute to the integrity of the brand experience and extend it consistently to end users outside the organization.

There's a serious social dimension to brand building.  The brand must reflect some aspect of an original vision or soul, but unless it connects with others, it cannot come alive.  In coming alive it establishes relevance with others, making it strong enough to grow beyond the original concept. It becomes further infused with warmth, personality and character of such strength that it comes alive for many others. 

But, there's still the transition from single brand energizer or motivator or soul infuser to multiple keepers of the flame which must happen successfully, with focus on what the brand stands for in the mind of end users...

Putting all of this into perspective and keeping in mind these unsettled times, I was struck by this 9/30/2008 article titled Consumers: Banks Are Bad, But My Bank Is Good by Aaron Baar. The article offers an upside down take on how consumers perceive bank brands: in general banks are bad; specific banks are good.

My take on that is that when a brand becomes infused with soul, with personality, with authenticity, it connects with its audience [here, the local bank]. When the brand becomes too abstracted and disconnected from the day-to-day, it loses meaning and takes on negative traits.

Per the article "banks--both as individual institutions and the banking industry--need to be proactive to regain consumers' trust. "This is the financial version of the Tylenol poisonings... The trust is going to come from the ways companies like Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase are behaving, putting customers ahead of absolute profitability.""

Only by focusing on how your brand can be meaningful to others, can it come alive.  That makes me think of David Wolfe's Firms of Endearment and Lewis Green's newly reborn book How To Grow A Business By Putting People First.  Outward focus shares your brand's value.

If your brand truly stands for something, if it truly engages others, if it truly listens and puts others first, then it will come alive and grow beyond your wildest dreams.   That's a living brand.

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