Chapter 2. What, exactly, is a brand, anyway?
Excerpt from The Revenge of Brand X by Rob Frankel

     Before we move too far down the road here, I should probably address the fact that almost nobody in America seems to truly understand what a brand actually is.
     Well, that may be a bit harsh. Let me re-state that:
     Almost no branding expert in America seems to know what a brand actually is.
     Yes, that's much better.
     Branding is definitely the most misapplied term in all of marketing. Like pornography, everyone seems to think they know what it is but still can't define it. So let me take a moment here and set our definitions straight. I want to go through a couple of examples that at most, should provide a common ground as to what branding is - and isn't.
     The first example is a multiple choice test. It was going to be an essay, but my publisher refused to devote that many blank pages to the effort. This is a simple test to see how you might define what branding is.

Q: What is branding?

1 That thing they burn into cows
2. A logo or a trademark
3. A jingle or a slogan
4. I don't really know, but I'll look like a
complete idiot if I admit it.

     If you haven't guessed by now, the most popular answer - the one you'll find in most boardrooms - is #4. I can't tell you how many times I've sat in meetings with real life MBA's who sit on their hands or ask to refill your coffee when they're put to this test.
     The actual answer is #1, "that thing they burn into cows." And it makes a whole lot of sense. The term "brand" refers to searing the hide of one rancher's cattle with his distinctive mark so that it couldn't be confused with anyone else's. You can't really blame him, either. After all, if you'd spent a lot of years in the cold, snowy plains driving smelly bovine across thousands of miles of prairie, you'd want to make sure you were getting top dollar for your steers, too.
     The point, of course, is that if you work hard to mark your product or service that much better than everyone else's, you certainly want to make sure that the differentiation isn't lost on your prospective buyers. In fact, you want to go out of your way to make sure they don't miss it. In the rancher's case, that means burning the brand into the hide.
     But branding goes far beyond the marketplace. Brands have been engrained in our lives for thousands of years. You just never thought of them that way. Want proof? How about this?


     Hmmm. Pretty simple logo with fairly high awareness, wouldn't you say? And talk about emotional value. One look at this logo tells you all you need to know about it. It instantly communicates a lot about the person wearing it, too. Their principles. Their ideals. And on some music video channels, even what they're rebelling against. Very well-positioned. Extremely clear in its purpose. While it has had the advantage of several centuries in the marketplace, I'd have to say that this one has all the qualities of a true brand.
     So then, what are those qualities? What is branding?
     Well, I'd have to start with the notion that branding is indeed about differentiation. Making it easy for people to tell you apart from the next guy that's trying to pry into their wallets. But it's more than that. Much more.

Frankel's Prime Directive

     Okay, so now at least if you can't define what a brand is, you know what qualities a Big Time Brand has to possess. And while the definition of a brand may be hard to articulate, my personal definition of branding reads as Frankel's Prime Directive:

Revenge of Brand XBranding is not about getting your targets to choose you over your competition. Branding is about getting your prospects to perceive you as the only solution to their problem.

     Gives you chills, doesn't it? I know. Me too.
     If you look closely, you'll find traces of Frankel's First Law of Branding there. The one that states, "Branding is not about you. Branding is about them." Remember? This is a critical point that separates the real brands from the blowhards. This is the bell you want to ring in your end users' heads when they give you the once over. You want them to see your competition and come running your way bellowing, "Nobody understands me the way you do!"
     That's what gets them in the door -- and keeps them coming back for more.
     Once you've developed that Fourth Dimension brand, Frankel's Second Law kicks into gear. Remember that one? How if the branding is wrong, everything else is too? Now you know why that's so important. Imagine making as powerful a promise to your end users and then ignoring it in every other piece of communication that your company sends out. Instead of clear, compelling communication, you've got chaos in a major key.
     So how can you tell a good brand from a bad one? Pretty simple, really:

1. Delivers the message clearly: I don't know if it's our university system, but someone out there is teaching people that if you just use enough syllables, you'll eventually impress -- or bore -- your audience enough to the point that they really won't care about what you're saying. Alternatively, our politically correct culture dictates that taking a stand on just about anything guarantees that somebody, somewhere will take offense to it, spawning an entire industry that specialize in saying nothing with as many words as possible.

The best brands go against the cultural grain and make clear, concise statements. You don't have to be a creative genius to make these kinds of statements, either. Having contempt for lawyers certainly helps. But in any event, simply stating something clearly in a society weaned on weak generalities is the first step toward creating a solid brand.

2. Communicates quickly: The same people who brought you multi-syllabic gibberish are also responsible for creating the short attention span. The bad news, incidentally, is that attention spans aren't getting longer, either. In the age of the quick cut music video, where scenes seldom last more than a fraction of a second, an entire generation has grown up to believe that if they don't dig it in a second, it's time to change the channel. This has never been truer than it is on the web, where your home page does it all. If your brand doesn't get them the second after they've hit you, they're back to the search engine's listing of everyone else in your category -- and you're dust.

3. Projects credibility: Sometimes it seems that everyone's been trying to sell me something since the day I was born. I don't mind that so much, except that somewhere along the way, their claims, language and promises became so ridiculously inflated that they actually mutated from non-believable all the way to becoming laughable. A few pages from here, I'll go into that more deeply. If I forget, remind me.

4. Strikes an emotional chord: No matter where I travel or who I meet, the reaction is always the same: everyone concentrates on technology, products --everything but the people who do the purchasing. Even on the web, programmers push pounds of technology across the wires, promoting its efficiency, all the while forgetting that technology ain't doing the buying.

The technology is there for one reason: to put people in touch with other people.

It's the same thing with a Big Time Brand . It's not about you. It's not about your product. It's not about your service. It's about them. It's about their problems and their solutions. And that's an emotional contact. Sure, it's driven by your strategic goals and objectives. But it's the brand's job to integrate the two of them to the point where they become inextricably intertwined.

A Big Time Brand makes it easy for people to like doing business with you.

5. Motivates the respondent: When people like doing business with you, they're more prone to actually doing business with you. But lowering that barrier to sales does nothing for you unless to close that sale. A Big Time Brand will motivate the respondent to cross that line.

It could manifest itself as a higher rate of response. Or higher purchase per visit. Or greater propensity toward upsells. In any case, a Big Time Brand not only presents its solutions, it draws in end users to try it, as well.

6. Creates a strong user loyalty: Out of all them, this is the one for which branding is most widely known. Yet it's just as misunderstood as the rest because it's almost always wrongly attributed to any number of causes. The very best brands are a mix of rational differentiation and compelling personality. Two powerful ingredients that cause end users to invest their emotions -- along with their wallets -- into your brand.

     All of which brings us to Frankel's Third Law of Branding:

Advertising grabs their minds. Branding gets their hearts.

     First you create the brand, then you raise the awareness of the brand. As you can see, doing it the other way around makes absolutely no sense at all, yet that's exactly what most of mainstream America does every day of the year.
     Bad news for them. Good news for you.

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