What comes to mind when you hear the term “brand”?
It’s interesting because every time I have a discussion around brand building, it is often confined to a company name, logo, color, fonts, and imagery.
And then business owners fret and are dismayed that their “brand” is not getting any traction! It’s not their fault I suppose, considering that most definitions of a brand start with these rudimentary elements.
For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”
No wonder few startups and small businesses understand the true meaning of a brand. While the definition of a brand is communicated in its simplest form, it doesn’t end there. It’s much, much more.
A brand is more than a pretty face
A brand is more than what you can see visually. It is the essence of what your company stands for – your beliefs, culture, values, personality, people, and your story. A logo is just a manifestation of that story – something people can immediately connect to the persona. It’s like a pretty face. A good-looking visage may get you a few superficial stares, but good looks don’t make for a lasting relationship.
To cultivate loyal customers that will soon become your tribe, your proposition must be deeper.
So, consider: what makes you … you?
Once you identify that core proposition, you brand journey starts. Delivering on this promise again and again, consistently, without compromise, is what builds a brand. An extension of this promise to adjacent things – not just your product or service, is the foundation of an iconic brand.
Branding takes time, it takes patience.
Remaking a brand from within
This may be news to some, but the success of a brand is not measured in social media likes or follows. Instead, ask yourself – can we do what Harley-Davidson did?
In 1983, Harley-Davidson (H-D) faced extinction. “Significant market forces—including Japanese competition and a recession—and a long-term decline in quality, were pushing America’s last motorcycle maker into bankruptcy.”
But their story didn’t end there. “In 1981, however, a group of executives who loved the company and its product closed ranks to rescue Harley-Davidson from decline… [and] they persuaded Washington to impose a temporary tariff increase on Japanese- made motorcycles. The law gave the bikers-cum-owners the time they needed to completely remake their company from within.”
So H-D went to work, overhauling their manufacturing process, improving their product and launched an “ingenious marketing strategy that appealed to the extraordinary loyalty of its die-hard customers and enticed new converts as well.”
A part of that strategy was the launch of an enthusiast brand community, Harley Owners Group, for Harley owners with shared lifestyles, tastes, and ethos. Today it is a matter of pride for Harley owners to be a part of this group. More than just buying a Motorbike, Harley has succeeded in becoming a coveted tribe.
Re-imagine your brand journey
Their fight back from irrelevancy and slowing sales shows what a difference a smart brand strategy can make. And it lends itself to the question: How do you build a tribe then?
It starts with your brand journey.
1. Define your purpose.
Unless you know who you are, you cannot engage potential brand loyalists who share your beliefs. “You have to identify your target audience and what they want, say why you are better than your competitors and come up with a short statement that describes your brand’s purpose.”
2. Don’t leave it to marketing.
Building a brand is not a marketing activity. Marketing can at best enable a brand. “In essence, marketing is what you do to get your message or promise to customers, while your brand is how you keep the promise made through delivery to customers and colleagues.” It is the organization as a whole that must live and breathe the brand. Every interaction of every individual defines what the company is. And that becomes your brand. So gear up, and get involved.
3. Your brand is not a fan club.
If you plan to wax poetic on your company achievements, you may as well say goodbye to your tribe. A community is about sharing and enabling stories of the people within it. Celebrate people and they will celebrate with you.
4. Relinquish control.
If you want to monitor every conversation that happens about your brand, think again! Sure there’s Google Alerts, but it’s nearly impossible in this digital era. And anyway, that’s not what a brand community is about. You have to let people share opinions – even if it makes you flinch sometimes – and learn from it. If your community does not have a life of its own – it’s a fail.
5. Leverage great content marketing.
At the heart of every great brand community is brilliant content. Since ancient times when people congregated around campfires, stories have brought people together. Research suggests that, “ending the day around the campfire, where songs, stories and relationships blossomed, ultimately shaped cultures and perhaps even helped develop some of our ability to understand one another, cooperate and internalize culture.”
Share narratives of your brand purpose and its manifestations and watch the buzz build.
Why am I so focused on communities and tribes? Is that what a brand is all about?
Not really. As I said before – a brand is all it says and does – but perhaps a community is the strongest testament of brand success.
Today, the currency the world lacks the most is trust and people are hungry to make connections – to belong. You have an opportunity to get them in your club; the question is, will you stop looking at logos long enough to capitalize on this?
This article has been edited and condensed.
Supriya Jain is the Director and Chief Storyteller at Zensciences. Prior to this she was the Global Head of Thought Leadership and Content Marketing at Wipro Ltd. She is also the settlor and trustee for GSMT. With the temperament of a Swiss army knife – Supriya has an itch to do many things. She is passionate about ideas, communication, and giving back to the society. Connect with @jainsupriya on Twitter.
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