Did you stop at Starbucks this morning for a cappuccino? How about hitting Tim Horton’s for a breakfast sandwich? Or maybe you stood in line for hours to get Apple’s newest iPhone.
Why did you do it? Why buy a cup of Starbucks’ coffee when you could just as easily grab a coffee drink from McDonald’s? Or buy a breakfast burrito from a convenience store?
And when it comes to technology, there are certainly other smartphones that would give an iPhone a run for its money.
I’m going to explain why you might have bought something from these companies. It’s a large part of marketing but an area I believe is often misunderstood and underappreciated.
Brand the Right Way
Yes, I’m referring to a company’s brand. It’s easy to blow by the idea of a brand. Most businesspeople are well aware of Nike’s “swoosh” symbol and McDonald’s golden arches.
But why are people loyal to a brand?
First, let’s identify a brand. Using the last names of a business’ founders is not a brand. Not unless their mission and goals are crystal clear and are communicated consistently to their clients and prospects.
A brand differentiates your business from everyone else. A brand is your unique “calling card.” It will let your clients and prospects know you offer remarkable products and services.
Your brand also is a way to build trust with your prospective buyer and your clients. When you consistently communicate a strong brand—demonstrating brand integrity—your audience will then know what to expect from you. This causes people to do business with you because they know, like, and trust you. Let’s first take a look at what a brand is and why you need one.
Why Do You Need a Brand?
There are many definitions for “brand,” but I found a good one that keeps it simple:
The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products. (https://www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/branding)
The key word is “differentiates.”
I’ve viewed hundreds of business websites and helped dozens of clients improve their website copy. However, there are some companies who look and sound the same. I came across this puzzling occurrence when I was a marketing manager for a cybersecurity company.
As I did competitive research, I quickly realized if I just switched out a company’s brand and brand colors with another information security company—one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for financial firms. Many financial advisors have used the decades-long practice of naming their firm after the founding partners. “Smith, Smith, & James Advisors” doesn’t say much in today’s marketplace.
Law firms are the same. In fact, many professional services businesses lack any real marketing power and sustainability precisely because they’ve neglected creating a strong brand and promoting that brand with every client activity, they engage in.
However, I have particularly good news for you. There is still time for YOU to create something unique and memorable with your own practice. Believe me, you’d be in the minority if you did so (and thus, far ahead of your competition). But the savvy business owner understands he or she must do things differently to stay competitive.
Allow me to put it another way: Every professional service business offers basically the same type of services. How does one firm differentiate their business from another one down the street? Why would a potential client choose your firm over someone else’s?
Joe Pulizzi, founder of The Content Marketing Institute, said this (emphasis mine):
Today, it is very hard to differentiate yourself according to products and services… because most companies offer the same thing. With today’s technologies, anyone can copy what you create. So, the only way to differentiate yourself is how you communicate.
If we believe that’s true, that means marketing must elevate itself in the organization and it becomes part of the broader business model. (“This Old Marketing” Podcast, Ep. 207)
The only way you can differentiate your services from another firm is to excel at communication. This communication must be client-centric. In other words, you need to understand your clients, what they really want, and then position your business as the preferred solution.
Think of Apple computers and how they communicate their brand. There are many excellent computer companies that offer perhaps even better deals than an expensive MacBook Pro. But Apple has mastered the “hip, cool factor” of owning an Apple computer, which hits strongly the emotional trigger of wanting to belong to the “cool kids” group.
Acceptance is one of the strongest emotions that can trigger the buying decision. No matter what age a person is, the potential of being seen as cool is a strong influence when it comes to purchases. People like to be seen as winners. And there’s no better feeling than the one you get when you openly prove your loyalty to a popular brand by using their products.
The same psychological aspect is in play with Starbucks. You can buy a cup of coffee at a local quick-mart, next to the gas station, but carrying around that cup doesn’t convey the same impression as walking into the office building with the well-recognized white cup with the Starbucks green logo.
I worked part-time at Starbucks just to learn how they delivered customer service. It was impressive, to say the least. There were weeks of training along with a thick employee manual which detailed how a Starbucks associate was to treat customers in addition to instructions for making the various coffee drinks. The goal was to deliver ‘legendary customer service’ so the customer enjoyed a positive experience (and would return for more).
Again—Starbucks is selling coffee. It’s hard to think of a more commoditized item than a cup of coffee. So how did they become a multi-billion-dollar company? By creating a strong brand that communicated exclusivity, luxury, and impeccable quality. This is the kind of brand that is memorable and creates raving fans. And… it’s the irresistible brand for those who want to appear as a member of an exclusive, elite group who will only be satisfied with the best.
What is a brand? More Than a Logo…
An easy way to understand a brand is to study the brands that already have a strong following:
- The red Coca-Cola® logo
- The circles in the Audi logo
- The blue color of the luxury jewelry brand Tiffany & Co.
- The phrase “Just Do It” for Nike sporting goods
- The golden arches of McDonald’s
Each one of these images or slogans represents a company that has spent millions of dollars to communicate a specific brand message. The brand message is how the company wants you to think and feel about them.
According to the Chief Marketing Officer at Coca-Cola® Company, Manolo Arroyo, they were at an inflection point. Arroyo stated, “The last 18 months have disrupted every aspect of life and presented us with a once-in-a-generation choice to go back to a binary, black-and-white way of seeing the world or help make the world a better place. ‘Real Magic’ is about creating a movement to choose a more human way of doing things by embracing our unique perspectives.”
For those of a certain age, the older slogan of “It’s The Real Thing.” When you think of the beverage company, images of pure refreshment and enjoyment come to mind.
When you see an Audi luxury automobile with the logo of intertwining circles, you’re to think of connection and their slogan, ““Advancement through Technology.” The company’s name comes from the last name of founder August Horch. In German, Horch means “listen/hear.” In Latin, “listen” is “Audi.” It’s not as straightforward as many brands but over the years, those circles have come to stand for quality and innovation.
The specific robin’s egg blue color used for Tiffany & Co. is trademarked. This branded color has made a Tiffany & Co. gift box stand out from everyone else and immediately conveys elite status.
The branded phrase, “Just Do It” became the heart and soul of Nike’s running shoes. The phrase immediately entered the public’s mind and stood for perseverance, discipline, and determination. It became the rallying cry of those who wanted to win—both in sports and in life.
The golden arches of McDonald’s became synonymous with prepared food at an affordable price. That yellow symbol is now recognizable throughout the world.
Although each of the companies listed above have logos and colors to identify them, it is not the complete picture of a brand. For instance, Tiffany & Co. was founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and his friend, John B. Young.
Their store, located on Broadway, quickly became the go-to store for women who wanted to buy jewels and timepieces that had a clean, American style as opposed to the more ornate style usually associated with the Victorian era.
They only accepted cash for purchases in the beginning, never credit. And their focus was on the highest quality of jewels. Their company also became associated with love and romance, since many men quickly understood if they wanted to make a favorable impression upon a woman, giving her jewelry from Tiffany & Co. would do it.
Today, every woman recognizes the blue box that instantly conveys luxury and high-quality. A good brand is memorable and generates emotion. No matter what product or service is being sold, successful companies connect their offering to an emotion.
Whether it’s the determination to excel as an athlete (and be recognized) or the desire to be wealthy and successful (or at least look like it)—all the companies I’ve listed have found a way to make their customers feel important.
Partially excerpts taken from the book, The Maverick Advisor: The New Rules of Marketing for Financial Advisors and Consultants – Get Great Clients, More Respect, and the Fees You Deserve, by Mary Rose Maguire.