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Uncover the why in branding

What truly makes a great brand great? What makes a company, product or service memorable or “sticky?” Great brands resonate with people. They communicate, either in an implicit or explicit way, some promise. The answer is both simple to define and hard to define.

Uncover the Why in Branding.

Over the last two or three years, there has been a lot written about branding. In the context of online marketing, the conversation has been mostly about how branding fits into or onto advertising campaigns and the measurement of “awareness.” Because of this, the essence of what branding IS, and what it can do, is lost in the analytics.

What many of us miss is that simply advertising or “pushing” out a brand message, and then attempting to measure a response rate rarely shows positive results. Aside from the indirect path needed for tracking true attribution, advertising, in and of itself, is not branding. (I’ll dive into this more deeply in a subsequent post).

Branding, by its very nature, is not a direct response endeavor. At its core, branding is the communication of ideals or values that resonate on an emotional as well as practical level. To look at it another way, branding is the “why” behind a product or company, whereas advertising delivers the what, where, and for-how-much proposition. Branding is a promise, advertising is an offer.

These terms represent tools whose strengths are best applied at different stages of the decision funnel, but which are often used together closer to conversion as well. When a well-crafted branding strategy comes together, it’s because the entire customer lifecycle is considered in light of the product or company’s brand strengths.

Branding is a reference point for consumers faced with making difficult choices among similar offerings. In our increasingly commoditized, consumer-driven culture, it is the brand promise that provides the differentiation consumers need to make choices they’ll feel good about. Branding attempts – and sometimes succeeds – at infusing human values and creating expectations for interactions. To put it another way, branding doesn’t relate purely to quantitative measurement, but requires a qualitative and organic approach.

Take a prime example of branding’s qualitative impact – the online referral or review. Sometimes thought of as digital “word of mouth,” online reviews and social sharing are impacted by branding. Evangelists of successful brands have bought into a belief system or feel a connection with a brand’s core values, which can act as a subtext for how they and others they communicate with live their lives. The foundation of this deeper “buy in” to a brand is based on a sense of trust, confidence, and security.  Connections like these result in loyalty that inevitably causes margins to rise.

Indeed, it is branding’s deeper psychological mechanisms that make this part of marketing so rewarding, and at the same time, daunting. It also makes branding hard to quantify for analytics. Yet branding is essential for consumers to build relationships with products, companies or services.



Many large corporations today take on directors to conduct and report on their branding efforts. They latch on to buzzwords like branding, and without goal setting, look for short-term ROI without understanding the abstract nature of the term. They also hire outside marketing expertise to create or burnish their brand. While it is true that most brand directors have a true passion for their brand, they often overlook the core of its identity: namely, the people and company culture that inspire it. If a marketer doesn’t start here, he or she is not setting the table for an enduring brand.

In simple terms, a brand best develops from within and is only refined for marketing by external intervention. When brands are developed in think tanks, the organization then needs to adjust or change with it. For sure, a brand must align itself with realistic business objectives. But consumers are interested in what they are getting out a relationship, be it financial or emotional. The consumer has little concern if you are only in it to make a buck.

A mentor of mine used to say, “You can only sell a bad product once.” What he meant was that all the advertising of product features, benefits and promotion, all the logo or slogan proliferation – even placed contextually – would not generate meaningful longer term results unless the product or company had a brand the consumer could identify with. Genuine brand development and subsequent engagement will generate the word of mouth on third party review sites and social platforms that is later complemented by advertising.

In short, marketers and companies can’t “fake it” beyond the initial introduction to the public. Authenticity is key. Today, the folks in the “C” suite, their people and their product actually have to reflect the brand at every customer touchpoint. They have to BE the Brand and LIVE it every day, or it will show. It originates from the “why” I mentioned earlier. It’s the deeper motivation for what companies do as well as how they do it. Ironically, the paradigm shift brought on by the increased online accountability that consumers now expect is what has necessitated more genuine brand development from within. That has to be for the better.

Taking this a bit further, you might ask, “What if my company or client doesn’t have anything special going for it? What if there is nothing we can identify or create that could act as a catalyst for branding?” My response is that nearly every entity has a definable quality that can stand in as a differentiator. But you may need some help finding it. The only alternative is that companies are left to the nearly endless cycle of sales promotion on top of sales promotion and the low margins that come with being the low-cost provider.

Conversely, companies that go further, communicating a higher social purpose on top of their brand, inoculate themselves somewhat from market missteps and, more importantly, keep demand high. They provide a consumer with something to believe in that’s bigger than the transaction at hand.  This corporate idealism can become part of people’s lives and more than just a disposable something bought for an attractive price point.

As behavioral analytics become a better predictive tool and attribution models are more inclusive of buyer behavior outside the transaction, branding from within will demonstrate a value long hidden, and a skill set that marketers must develop. We will explore that process in our next post.

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