Companies need to clearly define their brand to bond with customers

Published: Monday, May 14 2012 5:46 p.m. MDT

As entrepreneurs, we often focus on finding the right employees, establishing the best strategy, and aligning a product or service with the needs of customers. But we fail to spend time and deep thought about crafting the right brand for our unique businesses.

As an active investor, I am alarmed when a company's leadership doesn't clearly define their corporate brand. When this occurs, I invite an expert to help develop their stories that will be valuable to employees and consumers.

To really understand, let's begin by first noting what a brand isn't. Brand comes from an Old English term for "burning stick." Cowboys apply a searing branding iron to a cattle's hide to establish ownership. Egyptians used it to identify and deter livestock theft. Merchants and craftsmen used marks to identify their products and creations. Customers accepted and trusted the marks of quality producers.

The problem with the metaphor is that business owners view branding as only a mark. This leads many design and marketing professionals to erroneously confuse a brand with a company's logo. A brand is not the logo, nor is it a tagline or the colors or a witty advertising campaign. Think of a logo as a marker along the consumer highway. It's a beacon on a hill that customers see and use as a guide or a "short-cut" to decision making.

My wise friend and branding expert, Mark Hurst recommends that instead of talking about "BRANDING", we should focus on "BONDING."

Starbucks Coffee is a exceptional bonding example. Before this Seattle company emerged, there was no nationally branded coffee shop chain. Starbucks saw an opportunity to own the market and gradually became a ubiquitous corporate name when one of its stores appeared on almost every corner.

Management understood that their beverage used the same common beans as in all cups of coffee. Their genius was conceived in the belief that enjoying coffee is about getting people together, slowing down, taking a break; that coffee consumption is about community, connectivity and convenience. They built their brand around the enjoyment of the coffee experience, not the coffee itself. Their brand value proposition is stated this way: "Rewarding life's experiences."

Leaders know they are not in the business of simply selling gallons of coffee. They recognized they are in the business of delivering all the satisfactory sensory experiences that surround it. Their branding strategy is to provide a rich coffee brew but also create an enduring bond with coffee loving citizens. Loyal customers returned. Now take a look at Starbucks' visual images. Everything we see and feel ties back. Even its slogan is spot on. "Starbucks doesn't see itself as a company of people selling coffee; we are a coffee company that serves people."

As business owners, if we can carefully and accurately understand our customers, understand their satisfaction level regarding our products and services, and find a smart way to directly connect with their longings, their needs, and their expectations — if we can fill the voids in their lives and respond to their emotions and their desire to be seen as successful, then we can better know how to bond with them in a profound manner.

Business leaders succeed by clearly communicating to their target audience how their offering emotionally fulfills the desires of their customers' hearts and minds.

With the exact bonding/branding elements in place, we can design a perfect logo, and create terrific marketing programs and promotions that come together naturally.

Entrepreneurs should focus carefully on the nature and scope of the ultimate customer buying experience and then develop a world-class brand that tightly bonds a company with grateful customers.

How would you describe your own corporate brand? Does it communicate in a compelling way to answer your customers emotions and needs? You can reach me at www.AlanEHall.com or at @AskAlanEHall.

Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is the Chairman of the Utah Technology Council.

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