It’s been said that the only term more globally understood than “Okay” is “Coca-Cola.”
How’s that for brand recognition?
Billions of people all over the world, regardless of their native tongue, see “Coca-Cola” and think “classic,” or “refreshing.”
What’s the secret of businesses like Coca-Cola? How did they drive the logo, tagline, and unique selling proposition of their drink into the minds of people all over the world?
The answer is easier said than done: consistent, meaningful branding.
What is a brand?
A lot of people use the word “branding” interchangeably with “marketing” and “advertising” — but they don’t all mean the same thing. In fact, despite being the lesser known term, “branding” is a more powerful and important technique than both of the others.
In short, “marketing” refers to the positioning of a product or service in a marketplace, while advertising is the technique for getting that product or service in front of the eyes of target audience members in that marketplace.
Branding, though, is the art of building a brand. Without a strong brand, no amount of advertising or marketing will sell your product or services.
But, what exactly is a brand?
A lot of people have tried to answer that question, but none have done it better than the father of modern advertising, David Ogilvy. He says a brand is “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.”
Think of it this way — your brand is the public perception of your business as a whole. Anything and everything you do involving your business affects its brand equity (the strength of your brand).
High brand equity is the reason, branding expert Scott Goodson says, Bill Gates purchased the Four Seasons hotel chain for such a high price tag:
“when Four Seasons Hotels, Inc., a Canadian-based international luxury, five-star hotel management company, sold itself to Bill Gates and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia for $3.8 billion, what did they buy? Locations? Restaurants? Staff? Beach front property? No they bought the brand.”
High brand equity is the reason that Gap customers lost their minds when the company changed its beloved logo, to the point that Gap spent millions of dollars to change it back:
Ultimately, a strong brand is what can get your product or service chosen over one that’s almost completely identical. And here’s the proof…
The effects of a brand on purchasing decisions
Numbers speak louder than words. Here are just a few stats that prove brand has an enormous effect on consumer behavior.
- 38% of people are likely to advocate for, or recommend, a brand they “like” or follow on social media.
- 28% of consumers have purchased a product strictly because it was from a brand they are fans of.
- 38% of mothers are more likely to buy from a brand that other women follow on Facebook.
- 64% of respondents in one survey claim they’ll open an email if it’s from a brand they trust.
- 16% recalled a brand more readily when it appeared in search engine results, vs. a competitor that did not.
- 300% more word-of-mouth-marketing goes to brands that establish an emotional connection with their audience.
- 59% of shoppers say they prefer to buy a product from brands that are familiar to them.
- 31% of people say trustworthiness is the most important characteristic when considering multiple brands to purchase from.
- 4 in 10 Americans have boycotted a brand in the last year as a result of its irresponsible behavior.
Now that we’ve briefly proven the power of brand to influence consumer decisions, let’s touch on the two major things brands need to do to build high equity.
The two keys to building a strong brand
When you’re starting from scratch, it can be difficult to determine how to build your brand in a way that will differentiate it in the overcrowded world of products and services. Great businesses do these two things better than most.
Establish an emotional connection
Most brands try to get customers to buy, while the great ones try to get them to feel. They understand that humans are largely illogical decision-makers, choosing which products to buy based on emotion rather than factors like price (but that’s still important, too).
To build an emotional connection between your brand and the customer, you have to ask yourself, “How does my product or service fit into the lives of the people I’m selling to, and how can I make them feel something related to it — whether it be happiness, sadness, fear, etc.?”
Sometimes answering these questions can be tough, especially when your product or service is seemingly boring. But if you spend enough time thinking about how your customers use your product, and how that can be turned into a great story, even uninteresting brands can tug at their audience’s heart strings. Take these commercials, from Google and Mastercard, two “boring” companies — a search engine and credit card provider.
Both of these commercials are highly relevant to the product or service involved, and they both tell stories that we could all, in some way, relate to.
But establishing that emotional connection isn’t enough.
Be consistent in your messaging
Once you’ve made that initial connection, you have to then build on it in a way that reinforces your brand identity. Take Subway for example.
Before spokesperson Jared Fogle’s scandal, he was the face of the brand. The image of his fit body holding up the baggy pants he wore before losing 200lbs. on the “Subway diet” is one that most of us remember.
Because we all want to look attractive and feel good (not to mention we could all probably afford to lose a few pounds), that image was something people could relate to. Then, Subway built on it by continuing to add healthy options to their menu, while leveraging the celebrity of fit athletes like Michael Phelps.
But it’s more than just the content of that messaging that needs to be consistent — it’s the format as well. Let’s use Coca-Cola and Nike as examples. First, their logos:
Haven’t changed that much over the years, have they? The colors, typography, and overall imagery are all very similar to what they were 30, 40, even over 100 years ago.
But more importantly, the meaning behind those logos haven’t changed either. Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor and director at George Washington University’s School of Business, had this to say about the company’s “Just do it” tagline:
“It caught on because it was short, simple, easily understood and remembered and – to the point – a little bold and confident, like many of the Nike athletes at the time. Nike commercials and advertisements all supported the slogan.”
“You did not see Nike without ‘Just Do It.’ The slogan became synonymous with the brand and vice versa.”
The goal for the message, Nike CMO David Grasso says, was to “to inspire every athlete, whether it’s inspiration to run their first mile or win their fifth MVP title.”
Today that message still resonates with athletes of all levels, motivating them to get out on the track, court, and field, to “Just do it.”
But what about Coca-Cola? How did they get to be the choice brand of carbonated beverage around the world?
If you look back at 130 years of Coke taglines, it’s pretty easy to see.
● 1886: Delicious and Refreshing
● 1905: Coca-Cola revives and sustains
● 1907: Good to the last drop
● 1924: Refresh Yourself
● 1929: The Pause that Refreshes
● 1939: Whoever You Are, Whatever You Do, Wherever You May Be, When You Think of Refreshment Think of Ice Cold Coca-Cola
● 1958: The Cold, Crisp Taste of Coke
● 1959: Be Really Refreshed
● 2016: Taste the Feeling
For almost a century, Coca-Cola’s messaging has remained largely unchanged — their focus on emphasizing the refreshing taste and thirst-quenching ability of the drink. It’s no wonder we all think “refreshing” when we see the brand’s logo.
How does your brand build relationships with your customers?
The strongest brands spark emotion in their customers, and build a relationship over time with consistent messaging that reinforces brand identity. When that relationship becomes strong enough, you’ll even see people create nicknames for it, as though it’s a close friend, like “Coke” for Coca-Cola, and “FedEx” for Federal Express.
How does your brand fit into the lives of your customers? How have you turned it into a compelling story, and built a relationship based on that story? Let us know in the comments!