Over the past few years, dealing with business owners and marketing directors, I’ve found that about half my clients don’t really know their brand. Their own conception doesn’t match the market reality.
Brand is an overused, misused, yet essential concept. Simply put, your brand is what your customers and other key audiences think and feel about it. It’s not a logo, though a logo may have an impact. It’s not a line of products, even if they’re excellent. It’s not something you can simply declare. It’s something you must plan, execute, constantly monitor and maintain. It’s the sum total of the public’s experiences with your branded products, services, information, people and systems.
You can spend a lot of time tying to convince people how great your brand is, but it’s better first to listen to their input and improve their brand experience.
It’s our job as marketers to make those experiences fabulous. Marty Neumeier says it best: Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is. (A must-read: The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier, Peachpit Press. Maybe the best thing you can read on brands and branding.)
It’s hard to know precisely what people think of your brand if you’ve never asked them. You may know whether they’re buying your product or service —
but do you really understand why? Not understanding what’s holding up or holding down your brand is a sure way to kill it.
Some of the audiences you might want to talk with, in no particular order:
- Existing customers
- Lost customers
- Desired customers
- Senior management
- Middle management and staff
- Job applicants
- Strategic partners
- Board members and investors
- Analysts and press
There’s no particular order because every company faces unique business challenges. A successful professional services company might want to prioritize understanding its existing customers. For a tech start-up, industry analysts may be key. For a company with a new management team, perhaps it’s the staff.
But one way or another, you must understand each of the experiences that add up to your current brand image. It’s like discovering you have an unwanted reputation. If you don’t know how you got it, it’s hard to change it.
Companies rarely regret the investment in understanding their brand —
especially understanding their brand in the context of its competition. Large, brand-oriented consumer goods companies constantly invest in such research. For small companies, or large B2B companies with a finite number of large prospects, the findings may be even more important.
Qualitative research doesn’t have to cost a lot. And once you know where you stand with your customers, your employees and the press —
you’re a lot closer to knowing what you’ve got to do.