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How to Build a Bullet-proof Brand: Part 3

Information overload

Why bother with branding?

First, let’s talk about the bad news, and how to address the mess. Next week we will tackle the good news.  

1. Attention is the new value in our economy. It is a very scarce resource.

Research shows that humans are totally incapable of seeing what is right in front of them, if they are completely focused on something else. This phenomenon is called Inattentional blindness. It is the inability of the human mind to process anything that is not the specific and direct focus of attention at that moment. Magicians such as David Copperfield and Criss Angel use this to create their amazing magical feats.

This is also why we ignore banner ads, billboards, email subject lines and other advertising unless we are specifically interested in the subject. Once we have seen them and determined they are not of interest, they literally become invisible to us. In his book, The Buying Brain, A.K. Pradeep mentions that the brain is frustrated by clutter and messages that distract us or don't apply. It will ignore anything and everything it can, that is irrelevant to us.

Combat this phenomenon by making sure that you are speaking directly to your customer’s deepest wants, needs and fears. Craft your content and visuals to appeal directly to what they desire.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

2. You are now competing in a global marketplace for attention.

Research shows that as of 2018, businesses send and receive 124.5 billion business emails each day, while consumers send and receive about 111.1 billion consumer emails each day. And that’s just emails flying around the world. People spend time watching almost 5 billion videos on Youtube every single day.

The cure: Provide value and interesting content. People are attracted to stories, visuals, videos and meaningful information. Use your content and branding to build meaningful, long-term relationships instead of gunning for the quick sale.

money jars and coins

3. You have limited resources and capacity.

If you’re a solopreneur or small business owner who does it all, "tag, you’re it." As in, you get to do everything, unless you have a fairy godmother on your side or an unlimited back account. We are all limited by our access to resources and capacity to get stuff done, regardless of the business size. We have only 24 hours in every day, and 365 days in a year.

This may feel contradictory, but this actually helps us. Limitations force us to prioritize our efforts and energy on what is most important. The old saying goes, “if you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.” The consequence of standing for everything is that you end up watering down your brand and wasting your efforts.

I tell my clients to focus on being the best possible version of you instead of attempting to be someone else or a generic everybody—what is it that only you can provide? Be laser-focused on delivering this brand promise to your ideal audience. Make sure that your brand reflects your specific uniqueness. Limitations also mean choosing our marketing tactics and communications carefully and purposefully, to ensure that we are getting the brand impact that we want.

large crowd of people

4. You often have multiple markets, audiences, products and services that require a complex, multi-dimensional message.

Most businesses have more than one group of customers or target audiences. Product-based companies can have multiple brands with hundreds of products. That being said, your business should have only one thing that your stand for. Otherwise you will confuse the heck out of everyone.

The world’s greatest brands have known this for generations, and standing for one thing is baked into their brand DNA. You may see campaigns or sub-branding that promote slightly different value propositions depending on the audience, market, product or service offerings, but they always link back to the main brand essence. A great brand flexes and bends when needed, but always stays strong at the core. The core never changes.

Marco Rangel, left, and his daughter Montserrat Rangel load up on cookware during Walmart's Black Friday events on November 27, 2014 in Bentonville, Ark. Walmart is offering deep discounts on items across multiple categories in stores and online though Cyber Monday. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun/Invision for Walmart/AP Images)

THE BOTTOM LINE: You already have a brand.

Whether you like it or not, whether you are aware of it or not, you already have a brand. Your brand is the feeling, interactions, images and other intangible attributes that others associate with you and your business.

As an example, let’s pick on Wal-Mart. When I say, “Wal-Mart” to you, and if you are familiar with this brand, you will immediately have a mental and emotional response based on your perceptions of the Wal-Mart Brand.

Branding changes are not always better for the brand

In 2007, Wal-Mart dumped their old tagline “Always low prices” to “Save Money. Live Better" to combat the brand perception that they’re cheap, cheap, cheap. I get the business rationale behind wanting to change the tagline. If they wanted to shift to selling more upscale goods to compete with Costco and Target, the consequence is that they can’t always offer the lowest prices on everything. This strategy change ended up creating a huge consumer disconnect with their brand—they can’t be both the cheapest and the best at the same time.

As a result of the shift, the shiny new tagline and ad campaigns didn’t fix their brand image problem of being the cheapest on the block. The new warm and fuzzy advertising campaign created confusion with audiences who didn’t experience warm and fuzzy with their in-store experiences. It was same old-same old Wal-Mart. Nothing had changed except for a branding band-aid.

Brands should encourage customers to remain loyal, not push them away

Branding expert Rob Frankel said outright, "This campaign is a 100% guaranteed failure. It's not a brand strategy, it's a price claim. It doesn't do anything to encourage you to be loyal, and it's even insulting—people don't need to be told that it's a good idea to save money."

In fact, he said, emphasizing price adds to Wal-Mart's image problem. "To shop at Wal-Mart is almost the same as admitting you are poor. As soon as people can figure out a way not to shop at Wal-Mart, they do." As a result of their 19-year branding strategy, Wal-Mart is now finding itself locked into a brand perception of dirt-cheap, shoddy goods and service at the bottom of the barrel. Wal-Mart has a tough time competing with Target and Costco with that kind of brand baggage dragging it down. Especially if their new tagline loos suspiciously like the Target tagline which is “Expect more. Pay less.”

The irony is that Target once had a similar brand image to Wal-Mart in its early beginnings, but the company consciously chose to evolve into a more upscale, trendy yet affordable brand. I’ll save that brand evolution story for a future post.

In conclusion, if you don’t know what you do and can’t communicate it well, neither do your customers and prospects. You need to proactively manage your brand. Don’t become a Wal-Mart branding disaster.


Next week: Part 4. After this week’s brutal reality about branding, we could all use some good news. I’ll talk about how to leverage what you already own to make your brand a brand worth getting to know.

Until then, feel free to do your homework. Download the presentation now!

About the “Build a Bullet-proof Brand” series

This series of blog posts is based on a branding masterclass workshop from last fall. The topic is evergreen, based on the number of brand-related questions my partner Robynne Davis and I field every week in our marketing meetups. This series is designed to bring all of these important elements into alignment with your authentic brand:

  • Your true brand essence
  • The visual experience behind logos, fonts and color
  • The emotional connections with feeling that happen with images and videos
  • The power of words to convey your brand promise and your brand essence
  • How you appear in the many worlds of social media – consistently and meaningfully.