Thursday, September 27, 2007

Brand = Critical

Yes, "marketeers," you believe you have a crystal-clear definition of your brand. After all, you went through the process to define your target customer and even created a brand “bullseye” to illustrate your brand’s promise. In fact, because of this, you know your brand wants to be friendly, accessible, and affordable. It should appeal to 18-25 year-old, early-adopters, who are still living at home but might attend college. You have a definition...yes, it's a good start. But...there's a catch. What is your brand actually communicating to customers? What does your product design -or- distribution strategy -or- price point -or- packaging -or advertising campaign make your customers think? And are you using consistent enough cues across your product line-up? Can customers look at a product and instantly know it belongs to your brand? Do you even know what people think you stand for?

So why is your brand image important? I would argue that the image your brand conveys is the reason your company is selling products (or not) and why you even exist in the market place. Your brand image is what customers base their assumptions about your products upon. And if you aren't consistent in your message or your message is a little “off,” customers will get confused, and chances are they won't be loyal. Why should you be concerned? In the current marketplace, there are so many options out there, unless you lack competition in your category, it's pretty easy for the customer to just walk away. And for companies, one customer walking can have significant impact. Why? In this age of internet research and social networking, we are very willing to share our opinions. Customers are more likely than ever to write about negative customer service experiences or product issues, write product reviews, share information about product modifications that they’ve done, take photos of products and upload them to websites, etc. If we do something wrong, a lot of people are going to find out about it. Market research and understanding our customers and what they want should be easy these days. We don't have to seek out customers; instead, they seek out us. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. I mean, let's be honest...there's a lot of junk out there on retailer shelves. I guess this just proves that most companies still have a lot to learn.

We are all customers. But being in business, we often tend to forget about things. We discount our opinions about our own products, because we are too close to them -and- know too much about how they work. We tend to say “Well, I am a product expert. Most of our customers won’t care about this.” We still don't get it. Many of us are stuck in an age where cost means the most and we don't seem to think customers will pay for a better experience -or- for a better product. We know what the customers want, better than they do, don't we? (Do we actually listen to ourselves when we say that? We sound like idiots!). We're stuck in a mindset of fear. Fear of the costs associated to taking risks. Yet we don't seem to notice that due to our risk-adverse nature, our products get watered down - and - so do our brands.

So why did I decide to start a marketing blog called “Brand Critical?” While working on my MBA at Ross, I found I really enjoyed deep-diving companies and their products, especially investigating areas within the marketing realm. I liked assessing what companies were doing wrong (and right) and making recommendations for change. Finishing up my degree, I knew I wouldn’t have class projects to work on any that's where "Brand Critical" comes into play.

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