I’ve never been much of an athlete. In fact, on occasion I’ve been known to get out of breath taking a brisk walk to the fridge.
When world-class athletes are in training, often much of their preparation involves doing everything else apart from the actual event in which they’re competing.
Track athletes often spend hours swimming, for example. Coaches of sports such as fencing, curling and even archery often prescribe weight training to their champions in the making.
The reasoning behind such cross-training is that, sometimes, the path to the goal is better achieved indirectly. Strengthen your core by lifting weights, for example, and it’ll help you better guide that arrow towards the bullseye.
Business First, Branding Second
But you can take that premise further. There are some things that you can only achieve by indirect means. More than that: sometimes the very act of trying to do something makes it pretty much impossible to do.
Ever tried to go to sleep when you’re stressed / excited / worried about something? A pretty fruitless exercise, I think you’ll agree. Similarly you can’t “will” yourself to be happy. If you’re stressed about something and can’t sleep, you might try a mug of warm milk and reading a book. If you want to be happy maybe you’ll go out and play with the kids, or tidy the kitchen junk drawer, or play a game on your Playstation.
You know what else can’t be done if that’s what you’re trying to do? Branding.
Speak to the majority of people who like to think that they know a bit about marketing, and they’ll tell you about how important it is for companies to work on building their brand. The problem with such thinking, as I’ve said before, is that today companies aren’t in control of their brands: customers are.
Can companies influence how their brand is perceived by their customers? Of course they can. How? By making sure that all the other things that a business is seen to be doing, is being done right.
- Making sure that the product / service that you’re offering is the best it can be.
- Ensuring that the customer buying experience – before, during and after the sale – is the best it can be.
- Taking care that marketing, messaging and communications (stop me if you’ve heard this before) are the best they can be.
Marketing activities that exist purely on the basis that they’re “good for branding” usually aren’t. There’s a joke in advertising circles that if an ad sells product, then it’s an advertisement. If it doesn’t, then it’s a “branding piece.”
Have you noticed how, especially in the various packaged-products industries, so many job titles contain the B-word? ‘Brand Manager’. ‘Brand Director’. Even ‘Brand Experience Co-Ordinator’. At the end of year financial (or calendar) year all these Brand people get their work graded against criteria such as market share, profitability, revenue, territory, and so on. However the most important metrics are rarely seen: Is the product differentiated in such as way to be truly meaningful to your audience? Did that perceived differentiation increase or decrease over time? Unfortunately in most companies ‘differentiation’ isn’t even tracked.
The thing is, all the branding investment in the world isn’t going to matter if your basic business value stinks. Think Microsoft Zune, or New Coke. Even Apple, today’s tech darling, isn’t immune to a poor product damaging its brand.
Your Customers Determine Your Brand
But in today’s world of soundbites, Likes, Tweets, and Plusses, business owners often think that they can sidestep all of that icky emotional and organic essence of a company that makes up a ‘real’ brand. Instead, we have an ill-fitting appendage, seemingly attached with Scotch tape and string, with all the authenticity and quintessence of a botox-ridden C-list celebrity on a reality TV show.
Successful companies don’t become great brands by getting a gazillion people to “Like” them on Facebook. They become great by having a passion, effectively communicating that passion to like-minded customers, and delivering on their business value (i.e. making great products or services). It’s not about customers buying because we’ve persuaded them to fall in love with our brand. It’s about customers falling in love with our brand because they’ve bought from us.
Working on building a brand for your business has a place – of course it has. But there are 1001 other things that you need to get right first. Get that other stuff right and – like the athlete – your game will naturally improve.
Get that stuff wrong and no amount of branding is going to dig you out.