Branding, Brands and the Pictures in my Mind

asdfI’m probably going to insult a handful of brand managers and marketing directors here in the next few moments.   The whole reason that this is going to happen is because of a definition problem.   But I am willing to risk insult (theirs) to ensure understanding.  

Here is the definition that is going to start it all downhill.  Branding is a shared emotional attachment to a recall cue.   If a group of random customers can hear the name or see the logo of your brand and it paints a similar picture in each of their minds, then the brand has been branded.   I’m not saying that upon hearing “Colgate”, everyone thinks toothpaste.  That is name recognition.  I am talking about emotional attachment.  How can you determine if something is branded?

The major problem is that these words are so close together that many people assume that if you have a brand, you are branded.   So, for the rest of this article I will refer to a brand as a “product line” (even when is isn’t going to fit well).   A simple trick I like it to try and use the “product line” as an adjective.   If I said “he’s a Harley Davidson guy” or “she’s a Rolex lady” you get a picture in your mind.   It is a similar picture shared by multiple people.  

Harley is the quintessential rebel, freedom and the open road.   Rolex is class, cost and power, rolled on the sleeve of sophistication.    If I said “he’s a Colgate guy” or “she’s an RC Cola girl” the pictures you have are much less defined, if you get a picture at all.  (Mind you, he probably has clean teeth 🙂  It’s also not a picture that is common among many people.    

There are companies out there that would tell you that they have strong branding, and many of them are wrong in my opinion.   IBM, York Air Conditioning, United Airlines, Ford, Seiko, Kawasaki, RC Cola, Wilson Athletics and Tombstone Pizza’s are all examples of strong “product lines” but not companies I would consider branded.   Branded examples would be Apple, Sketchers, Harley Davidson, Rolex, Southwest Airlines and Corvette. These names mean something to the average person.  

Name recognition or popularity doesn’t necessarily translate to whether a product line is branded.   Obviously you don’t have to be branded to be successful, as the names in the first list would prove. The companies I listed are incredible companies with great product lines.  The companies compete and win every day without being branded.    They win because of different reasons then being branded.  They win on price, quality, service or a different charecteristic.    But what advantages do you get when you carry a branded product line vs. a non-branded product line?   Unrivalled customer loyalty. 

People who feel passionate or emotional about a brand believe that they can do no wrong.   Try to get a Harley Davidson guy to drive a Suzuki motorcycle.   Engage an Apple Computer user in a discussion about PC’s.   You will soon see that the loyalty runs deep.   Even when faced with facts or opinions to the other side, you don’t sway these customers.  Just look at politics for evidence of this.   Die-hard Republicans and die-hard Democrats stick with their “product line” regardless of what happens.   

There is something about the picture that is conjured when you mention that specific ‘product line’ that the customer wants to represent them in their life.   For customers of branded products, their hearts have made the decision and their minds have followed.  For distributors of branded products, they chose to follow you to the bank.

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