We spend lots of effort choosing the words that convey every nuance about our product or service. We choose colors, just the right shade of green, to invoke a particular sensation in our advertising. CEOs spend millions of dollars searching for the singular word that instantly conveys a sense of acceptance, trust and need for their products. But does branding work?
You just have to look at commercials for the latest apps to see how much time and effort is spent on branding. Consider Takl, the app that allows you to hire an on-demand trusted workforce to accomplish household tasks. Is there anything that makes Takl different from similar apps, including Home Advisor or TaskRabbit, that offer essentially the same services? Is there anything that differentiates Uber from Lyft? Is there a true perceptual difference between the two ride-sharing companies or a taxi service?
The bigger question is: Do you really have control of your brand — or does your customer?
In 2017, after the explosive account of what life was like inside Uber, its market share plummeted from 90% to 75%. Was it because of a difference in the level of service provided to customers? No, it was the perception of the brand that made customers leave in droves. To date, Uber is still recovering, selling off international business investments as it looks toward an IPO in 2019. But what made so many customers leave the leader of the ride-share industry?
Companies need to distinguish but also tie together their brand identity(what you want customers to think about you) and brand perception (what they actually think about you). You’ll spend a significant amount of time and money determining your brand identity, deciding on the image and promise you give to customers. If all goes well, your brand perception will match your brand identity and people will believe your promise to them. You’ll be rewarded with continual sales and brand loyalty.
Uber is an example of how a brand identity, or promise, was broken and how the resulting brand perception was impacted. When you make a promise to your customer, you need to keep it. If not, you lose their trust — immediately.
Enduring brands understand this concept. McDonald’s continues to reinvent itself, starting out as a fast-food restaurant that offered low-cost, standardized meals that families could enjoy together. Throughout the years, it became known for high-calorie, high-fat food that came under protest by consumers as a collective interest in healthier lifestyles took hold.
What is McDonalds doing now? Reinventing itself — and its brand. Egg-white McMuffins, turkey sausage, more salads and less high fructose corn syrup are all on their way to a McDonald’s near you. McDonald’s is aligning its brand identity and brand perception to renew its promise to customers and keep legions (and generations) of loyal customers happy.
Never underestimate the power of your customers. Just ask the Coca-Cola corporation. Not only did it break its brand promise, it broke the hearts of its customers with the announcement of an improved product, New Coke, in 1985. The event happened over thirty years ago, but any product failure is now known as a “New Coke.” Its failure branded all colossal product failures across industries for years to come.
You can spend thousands on your brand identity, hire consultants and conduct a social media barrage. But if your customers don’t believe it, you’re done. So, spend time knowing what your customer wants by asking them. Successful leaders get out of the office and ask questions: What do you like? What don’t you like? Why do you like our competitors better? Staying connected to your customers fulfills your brand promise. If you don’t know your customer, you don’t have a brand.
Before, during and after a client engagement are all great times to connect and get feedback. In our service-based web design and branding business, we reach out to the customer during the proposal process to find out what’s not in their written request. We discovered in a pre-bid phone call that one potential client had an exceptionally strong, century-old brand identity that was not used consistently. Our solution was simple: Leverage the logo consistently across all digital and physical marketing materials but don’t change the brand identity. Without that feedback, precious resources would have been wasted to solve a brand identity problem that didn’t exist.
Conversely, a brand perception can be used to strengthen brand identity. We worked with a banking client whose customers didn’t trust its website, resulting in reduced deposits and account openings. Historically, our client used TV ads with a friendly logo, which customers had come to love. By placing the logo on every page of their new website, customer activity increased because they trusted the brand. By asking the customer what didn’t work, we corrected the problem.
A few simple questions will start the conversation: Do your customers get what they expect? If you could change one thing about your marketing, what would it be? These questions will point to gaps between brand identity and perception.
You also have a secret drove of information at your disposal. Where? Your staff.
It’s critical that your team knows and understands your customers. During our kick-off and status meetings, we learn about our customers as businesses and people. We learn how they started, how they survived and their hopes and fears for their ongoing success. The brand identity we create together represents more than colors, pixels and text. We’re helping to define how they will be seen in the world. But they must trust that our staff has their best interests in mind to create their identity.
Your brand identity and brand perception are the lifeblood of your business. Delivering what you think customers want will state your promise. Understanding what your customers really want fulfills that purpose.
Written By: Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).
This is an invitation-only, fee-based organization comprised of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs 40 and younger.