Some time in elementary school or middle school – I don’t remember exactly when – my English teacher taught us a very basic way to analyze characters in stories. There are four ways we find out about characters, she said:
- What they say about themselves.
- What they do.
- What others say about them.
- What others do regarding those characters.
This isn’t university-level literary analysis. But this sort of approach works very well for understanding branding and brands, especially if you think of brands as characters, with personalities and reputations.
The first two ways deal with branding – how companies set out to establish their brand in the marketplace. They do this by talking about themselves (that’s everything from advertising to the way sales people are trained) and by acting.
How brands behave is important, because the old cliché is true – actions speak louder than words. The airline can say it cares about you, the customer, but if your plane is delayed and nobody will tell you why or when you might actually get off the ground, you’re not going to believe that message about caring no matter how many times or how creatively it’s delivered in an ad.
Numbers 3 and 4 deal with brand. The difference between brand and branding is simple: Branding is what companies do to create their brands. Brand is how people experience a company — how they understand and think of the company.
What people say about your brand tells you something about how it’s perceived. When Jeff Jarvis started blogging about his problems with Dell, and others joined him, Dell’s reputation for quality took a hit – because of what its customers were saying.
How people behave also tells you a lot about your brand. If you have the best quality widget, and everybody says it’s the best quality widget, but nobody is buying it, than you know that something else is going on. Maybe it turns out that quality isn’t that important to widget buyers. Or maybe your price is so high compared to the competitors that the quality isn’t enough to justify the extra cost. Your brand might be more than just quality — it might be quality that’s not really worth the price being charged. Understanding the distinction is essential for understanding how your brand affects your sales, or any other critical goals you might have.
What’s all this mean to you? Well, the bottom line is pretty simple. When these four elements are all in agreement, you’re in good shape. But when they’re in conflict, you’ve got a problem. Identifying the source of the conflict can take your brand from weak and ineffective to strong and vital.
Have something to add about brands and branding? Please share it in the comments below.