Branding A Customized World

Among marketing professionals, we’ve often described a brand as the service or product promise that resides in the mind and heart of the consumer.

At first, explaining a brand this way was a bit confusing for our customers. So with more definition of what a brand is, the more questions become uncovered, and the more confusing it can be to easily explain. It’s a little embarrassing to launch all types of explanations of what a brand is, and is not, for such a seemingly simple question. The long explanation that ensues after such a short question can be misinterpreted as not clear, or worse yet, intentionally deceptive. Certainly, the complexity of what a brand is warrants detailed explanation and understanding; but unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Add that to today’s consumer demand for individualized products and services, and clearly defining a brand becomes even more complex.

Over time, my clients have begun to understand that a brand has many, many integrated parts. There is no short answer to the question “what is my brand?”.

Everyone agrees that the famous Nike swoosh logo is one of the world’s most highly recognized, and revered brand logos. Enter Nike iD, an innovative service that enables customers to design their own shoes, right down to the color of the laces. Yes, the swoosh is omnipresent – but the consumer is now able to choose where it goes, what color it might be, and even adds their own name directly to the product – right next to the one of the world’s greatest brand images. In short, aligning themselves through a customized experience directly with the brand.

Can you imagine how challenging it must be for the company’s brand stewards to monitor, and control the millions of brand image variations this creates? How do you establish a clear corporate identity position when the consumer decides, in part, what the brand will look like individually?

Consider the wildly growing Build-A-Bear Workshop franchise. A core value of its brand is to provide its customers with the means to precisely define the brand image to their individual specifications.

Today, you can even “build” your own Mercedez-Benz online, or if your tastes are far less expensive, design your own t-shirt. Why not design your own t-shirt that says “I built my own Mercedes!” if you choose. The possibilities are truly endless.

What makes these, and other individualized brand experiences most accessible and available is the ability to customize the product online. We’ve only begun to see the crude beginnings of the use of this channeled technology, and the future is bright with promise.

Given this new world of possibilities, what then, is the brand’s role? How do we enter into creating a lasting brand when it can be so readily defined by any individual at any given time?

Take a look at your iPod. Hold it in your hand, and look at the front. No logo.

I can hear the marketing team raise their voices in protest. “Your going to put one of the most identifiable logos in the world on the BACK of the product where it won’t be seen on display? Are you crazy?” Thankfully…they’re much smarter about branding than that.

Place the iPod up against any of it’s competitors – and there is clearly a brand recognition difference. Even without a visible brand image/logo on the product’s face. Add to that, the world came to know iPods as being white. Then a dramatic change to black. And today… a rainbow of product colors help define the brand image. You choose the color that suits you best.

How far are we from choosing ANY color of iPod that speaks our name when we power it up, and asks us what we’d like to hear? Not far.

As with any greatly successful brand, the logo is just a small part of the brand itself. From the sound of the navigation click, to the broad array of iPod styled accessories – the consumer has made an immediate and lasting connection to the “i” brand. Today, you can place a small case “i” in front of any product name, and you identify it with Apple. iGet it? Brilliant. Apple could say it now owns its own letter of the alphabet as part of its brand image.

What does all this individualized customization of worldwide brands mean? It means the brand becomes more important than ever, and that we as marketers will play an even more critical role in defining and maintaining the brand for our clients and our customers. No longer can we rely on a brand image/logo to convey a feeling, or an intended meaning. We must now immerse ourselves in the very essence of the brand, and be certain it speaks in every word, every thought, and every communication from the brand.

Get ready for the brand revolution. Try this test. Begin with the most important brand basics by taking your logo off your product, your collateral, or anywhere you’ve placed it – and then take a look.

What’s left? Does it convey the emotion you intend? Does it truly position your brand clearly in their mind?

If you don’t recognize the core values of your brand, and clearly communicate them in every aspect of your business, your target market probably won’t either. And if they can’t, you’re in trouble.

There’s always time to begin to change a weak brand position. If you don’t know how, contact me, we can help.

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