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How Important is Brand?

While in the field with a member of our team, a client made the comment, "we ask ourselves all the time, how important is brand?" Over the last 30 years, I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that. The problem is that most people get the wrong answer when they ask that question. Like this individual, they ask their customer if brand would make a difference to them? Would it make any less or more likely to do business with them? That's the wrong person to ask because to them you already are a brand. If they are already doing business with you, it's because they have bought into your personal brand. You have to find somebody who chose to not do business with you and find out why they didn't pick you. The bottom line is everything and everyone, to some degree, is a brand.
There are three ways to build a brand. The first way is through the experience. Matthew's Pizza and Lou Malnati's are both amazing brands. Many of you outside of their marketplace may have never heard of them. Matthew's on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore often has a line outside to get into the small neighborhood pizzeria. I just waited 45 minutes to sit down at Lou Malnati's after opening day for the Chicago White Sox, and that was on a Monday. You see, both of these places are proven brands to me because I have experienced their product. One of the challenges in building a brand based on repeat business is that you can't control the audience regardless of how superior you are. I don't travel to Maryland any longer, as a result, I'm not a Matthew's customer any longer. This means you have to replace the customers that cycle out. However, how do you get that customer for the first time? This is where brand can be relevant. You can also capture the customer through referral, word of mouth, or through something like Yelp.
One way to become a brand is market presence or market share. You don't have to have a national advertising program to become a brand. RE/MAX became a household name via market penetration city by city. They did that long before they dominated share of voice on television. When they advertised nationally, the RE/MAX brand went to another level. Facebook ran MySpace into outer space by grabbing customers by the millions. Facebook also did it without advertising.
Advertising is the fastest way to build a brand. Look at how GEICO transformed an industry. It all started with the caveman, and the phrase, "so simple a caveman can do it." Then, along came the gecko, the pig, and a host of other commercials. They took the boring insurance industry and painted it in a new light. Soon after, Progressive responded with Flo, their new spokesperson. Next, Mayhem became a star for Allstate. Now, even State Farm is trying to catch a laugh. GEICO created  branding bigger than its message. The "fifteen minutes or less" is not what made them relevant, but a brand that had everybody talking about their commercials. People stopped fast forwarding through commercials to show somebody the newest commercial. It doesn't matter if you like the gecko, pig, or caveman. GEICO accomplished the task of building strong creative marketing.
Brands can even become bigger than the product itself. Consider Under Armor, this was originally a thin product that could keep you warmer than the heaviest of sweatshirts. Today, you see people people wearing hats, golf shirts, and t-shirts all with the Under Armor logo on them. It started with a competitive advantage and transformed into a major clothing line.
Brands can also become a culture or lifestyle. Enter Harley Davidson. This isn't just a motorcycle. It's a way of life. Harley sells you many accessories for the bike, along with everything from vests to underwear. The patrons are almost cult like in immersing themselves in the brand. Unlike other sports, the NASCAR fans are loyal to the products and sponsors of their favorite driver. Once again, it's almost a lifestyle. Apple completely reinvented itself with the iPod and built such customer loyalty that the Mac became a strong competitor to the PC. Once, the Mac user was a niche customer. Now, there are Apple Stores dedicated to a full line of products. Remember the lines of anticipating customers waiting for the latest version of the iPhone. It's safe to say Apple is a culture or lifestyle not a brand. 
Brand can also be used as measuring sticks. You will hear, "I received Marriott service." People used to call it "the Cadillac of..." meaning the product was a cut above the rest. Today, Mercedes is that barometer. Certainly, McDonalds is something most look to when they consider market dominance. People also for years have replaced products with the brand that made them famous. Somebody would say, "hand me a Kleenex" not "hand me a tissue." This is a great example of a brand that has stood the test of time. No phrase may have come on stronger than "Google it" as opposed to "do a search engine attempt for..." Even stores like Walmart, Target, and Walgreens know the value of brand names. They place Waltussin next to Robitussin at Walgreens. Target puts their generics next to Advil, Motrin, and Aleve. Why do they do it? They know the consumer believes this product works. They use their less expensive product to relate to what we already know works or what we perceive has value.
Lastly, in out minds, brands add value. Are you more likely to stop at a Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans, or Applebee's when you get off the highway versus a place you're not familiar with? You might even order something new on the menu. The fact that we recognize the brand creates in our mind a level of comfort in the unknown. Consider that generic I just referenced on the shelf next to the Motrin. Which product would you buy if the Motrin was the same as the Target brand? Now, let us assume you have tried the Target brand, and you know it works. I buy the generic because it is less expensive, and I know it works. If they cost the same, I would buy the Motrin of course. If you agree, then you believe the only time to go non-brand is when you can save money. If I haven't convinced you yet, do you have an MP3 player or an iPod? No fair, if you know have an iPhone and stopped using your iPod. You could have bought an MP3 player for a fraction of the cost.
Having said all this, I'm now going to tell you why building a relevant brand maybe the most important part of your future. The reason is the explosion of Generation Y. The Millennials will be a stronger buying force and larger in mass than the baby boomers. This group is all about brand. They wear Chuck Taylors, my generation called them Converse. They love Starbucks, Target,  iPod, iPad, iPhone, and anything else with an Apple logo on it. They buy branded clothing and grew up eating their favorite fast food between and baseball or softball practice. Let me share two stories that define this group, and how it speaks to brand. When my youngest was on an eighth grade trip I went along as a chaperone. The kids were on a tour of Conseco Field House where the Pacers play basketball. When they finished in the gift shop, they didn't run to buy a jersey or a hat. They ran to Starbucks inside the gift shop to buy an expensive coffee drink. The next day while having lunch at Panera Bread, none of them were drinking double chocolate mocha whatevers. Starbucks is cool and good in their minds. The next example was shared by a client. We were discussing the power of brand, and she shared this gem. She had taken her kids to do some window shopping and to make their Christmas lists. When they went to the electronics department, they all ran over and said, "I want an iPod in (name the color)." Each wanted the iPod, but each in a different color. She explained to them that they could get an MP3 player for less money, and it held more songs. This meant they could have more presents. The response was, "Okay, but I want and iPod in..." If you plan to succeed in the future, your brand will play a major role with Millennials. This generation has grown up around it and is all about the brand. 
I remember a commercial that said, "this is not your father's Oldsmobile." How important is brand? It's very important, because your brand is who you are or maybe more important, it's who you are perceived to be.

9 Comments to How Important is Brand?:

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broadband providers compare on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 3:29 AM
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Shelley on Friday, July 12, 2013 10:10 AM
I love this, it supports my answer to the question, that brand is you, it is everything!
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Andy on Monday, July 15, 2013 9:39 AM
Great insight regarding what "Gen Y" gravitates towards.
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It seems to be pretty obvious thing that a well-known brand is always willing to keep their quality on high. It is all about the reputation that they have been trying to make by satisfying their customers.
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