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Branding: the Mental Drawer

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 11:09 p.m. MDT

Skilled entrepreneurs carefully craft a memorable brand that captures the imagination and continuing interest of targeted consumers.

A brand is defined as a cluster of experiences that connect with customers at an emotional and personal level. A logo, a tagline or even advertising messages are manifestations of the brand and what a company promises its customers.

Think of a brand as a customer's shortcut to decision making. Each of us, as consumers, is bombarded daily with thousands of product messages designed to entice us to buy a certain offering. Seeking to unclutter our minds from the overabundance of content, we simplify our lives by buying brands that we know and trust. We ignore offerings that do not have a significant personal connection.

Our mind, like a powerful and logical computer, inputs data and stores it deep within the brain. When we have a question, we access our memory bank of information for an answer.

Think of a traditional filing cabinet. It has multiple drawers with alphabetical folders in each, complete with data tabs. Within each folder and tab, there are documents containing saved information. When we need specific content on a given topic, we can find what we seek by using our organized filing system. Our brain functions in a like manner.

In a similar way, computers store data digitally in drawers and folders. Our desktop devices have simple icons that link to important files. Data is easily downloaded, stored and retrieved with a click of a mouse.

Branding is about creating neat tabs, folders and drawers in the minds of customers into which relevant product information can be placed. From such an excellent memory base/file drawer, a consumer can quickly retrieve messages on brands that have a deep personal connection.

For example, let's say it's lunch time and we are hungry. To satisfy our need, our mind, based on prior experiences, goes to the mental drawer on food. Three brands are recalled. A short cut in our decision-making process appears. One is Wendy's, another is Taco Time and last Subway. All are popular, well-known and trusted. We decide on Subway. Our current diet mandates the choice.

The decision process was fast and easy. We didn't hesitate or fret. There clearly were scores of lunch-time food options before us, but these were not filed away and were without merit.

To prove my point, please answer the following questions. Please say the name of a high-quality, personalized coffee shop; the name of a brand of high-resolution television; the name of a high-end German automobile; the name of a trusted cream for wrinkle removal; the name of a quality European beer; the name of ready-made soup.

If your answers were Starbucks, Sony, Mercedes, Oil of Olay, Heineken and Campbell's Soup, you matched the responses of 95 percent of all people.

In short, most people think of the top brands in a given category. I would guess you probably didn't think of smaller, lesser known-brands such as Green Mountain Coffee, Vizio, BMW, Dove, Guiness or Lipton.

Typically, we have a mental association with leading brand names; companies that offer quality, dependability, personal touch, ease, comfort, beauty, simplicity. The top brands have earned the right to be top brands in our mental drawers by having connected with us and our needs through products we know, enjoy and trust.

When we consume any of these brands, our positive experience matches the product's promise and as a result we continue as loyal customers.

Crest toothpaste exemplifies this notion.

Whatever happened to Ipana toothpaste and its mascot "Bucky Beaver"? When was the last time you bought Gleem? Historically, the products in this industry were about cleaning teeth, not fewer cavities. Crest was the first-to-market toothpaste with a simple new additive called fluoride. When the company marketers told mothers their kids would have fewer cavities, Crest gave families a simple drawer in which to store their brand shortcut: "Mothers trust Crest to protect kids." Drawer: Mothers. Folder: Kids. Tab: Protection. Did it work? Absolutely. Today this well-known consumer brand continues to hold the top spot in the minds of American shoppers.

Is a brand drawer about features? Yes. Is it about benefits? Definitely. Great brands combine these compelling features and benefits into neat, tight and succinct summaries that buyers will know, feel and trust. The goal of business leaders is to firmly place in the minds of consumers that their products are the very best choices compared to all other options. This takes place over time as customers become aware, try and enjoy the overall product experience.

In the world of investing, I see savvy entrepreneurs who understand and know how to create and establish a profound connection between their products and the needs of consumers. It's a technique that brings long-term success to business leaders who focus on their customers and how they think.

In my next article, I will discuss brands that build bridges to their customers.

Any questions? Please send your requests to me at www.AlanEHall.com or connect to me 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 chairman of Utah Technology Council.

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