Branding – in the customer’s mind, not yours

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Yesterday's post on understanding how customers see you – and what they value about you – embellishes a conversation I've been having recently with branding experts and internal communicators.

Now, the definition of a brand varies according to the discipline and thinking of the person on the other side of the table – all the following are versions that I've heard:

  • A shortcut to a decision
  • A trigger for patterns in long-term memory
  • A promise or commitment
  • A story

All of which work in their contexts. And all agree that the important element is that all these happen within the customer's mind.

Where it comes unstuck is that the focus is still on the customer when it comes to branding. There's a bigger article that Ton and I have talked about – complexity and branding – but for now it's enough to note that while yesterday's example was around sales and customer processes, it should be the first stop of all branding.

First, understand what customers see your brand as. And that may well change from person to person, from application to application and from place to place. (E.g. my iPod Touch is a business tool when I'm in meetings – a calendar, email, reference document storage; when I'm travelling, it's an entertainment device with opportunities to read heavy articles if I'm feeling virtuous; when I'm keeping my children occupied, it's a games machine. The iPod Touch brand then varies according to my role and context. Ask me to define it and I can't do it out of that context without losing half of that valuable data.)

Secondly, take the material – the micro-narratives – that come back as part of that research to the brand/advertising/marketing teams. And let them build the new material and messages from authentic, real examples. (In the UK, one bank used advertisements featuring customers talking – complete with authentic-sounding um's and er's)

From the patterns that come through, it's also easy to see which elements of customers' beliefs are particularly fixed, which are likely to change suddenly and which are open to opportunity – great places to start the next evolution of the brand…

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