While this is perhaps the most widespread and persistent myth surrounding what a brand is, it’s easy to understand where it comes from. In most popular culture, branding is still portrayed as a dark art practiced by flashy advertising executives, polo-necked designers and PR gurus reminiscent of Mad Men’s Don Draper. Brand owners don’t help dispel this misconception when coverage focuses on the change of a logo or a new campaign more than what the change means for the business. Yes, visibility makes logos and advertising hugely important, but they are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to branding.
The many components of brand identity
The original role of the logo was to differentiate the brand so that it could be protected by law. For consumers, a logo meant they could more easily identify and trust purchase of a particular product or service, and for owners, it could be sold as a key piece of intellectual property. Since Mad Men, the importance of distinctive brand identities and consistent advertising has not diminished – our increasingly noisy, omnichannel world demands it – but even if great branding is simply based on the external expression of the brand, logos and advertising are not enough.
Alongside packaging, slogans, product design and colours, brands also register trademarks for sounds, smells and even gestures. Compumark, the trademark research and protection business, reported that American wrestler Diamond Dallas trademarked the ‘diamond cutter’ hand gesture made when joining the thumbs and index fingers on each hand to create a diamond. Years later when Jay-Z began using a similar gesture, Diamond Dallas filed and successfully settled a trademark infringement lawsuit against Jay-Z for an undisclosed sum. Personal brands and giant corporations alike will go to great lengths to create and protect a whole ecosystem of distinctive assets.
What brands are really built on
Ask anyone at these corporations however and they will tell you that the experience the brand promises is far more important to customers than any of its visual identity or advertising. Brands are built through the delivery of consistent, recognisable, and rewarding experiences across every touchpoint a customer might have, from the company’s service style to its method of distribution.
Amazon is perhaps the most evident example of a brand choosing to invest in customer experience over advertising. Although warned against it, Jeff Bezos believed in his early vision to offer a million books when a traditional brick-and-mortar bookshop could only hold around 300,000. He was right to. Once people realised they could get virtually any book they wanted from Amazon, the word-of-mouth effect was enormous. Since then, Amazon has prided itself on its ‘customer obsession’, continually investing in improving how we buy. Amazon’s pioneering one-click experience was the main contributor towards brand building for many years. It’s only comparatively recently in the nearly thirty years since its founding that the brand has begun conventional advertising. It was simply not valuable enough before then.
Customer experience fuels brand perception
We see the impact customer experience has on brand perception when we think about airlines. Most people’s perception of an airline is driven by the way they are treated by the onboard aircrew and check-in staff. Southwest Airlines, the most consistently profitable and popular airline, puts a huge emphasis on recruiting people responsible for the overall customer experience, those whom it describes as having a ‘warrior’s spirit and a servant’s heart.’ On the other side, United Airlines’ stock price plummeted by 10 per cent costing shareholders $180 million when a passenger made a viral video about staff’s incompetent and uncaring service after they broke his guitar. Just think how many replacement guitars that could have paid for. Consistently, studies carried out in the UK and the US have revealed that when asked what made any customer switch from one brand to another, around 66 per cent of the reasons given cited the attitude of the person representing the brand or business.
In the book Don’t Mess with the Logo, a brand is defined as ‘everything you say and do’. For today’s brand builders in a world where people are craving authentic and engaging experiences and not just entertaining advertising, taking care to build your brand on everything you say and do is vital. The logo is fundamental and advertising can be crucially important, but in reality, brands are created by a whole chain of experiences that shape perceptions and preferences.
To read more about this topic and other misconceptions, the Myths of Branding book by Andy Milligan and Simon Bailey is available for purchase here.