Branding is not what you may think. When executives consider branding, especially those with strong financial experience and limited marketing exposure (a classic CFO), they often see an expense with questionable ROI. They see a logo, tagline, website, marketing materials and equate those with the brand. While these are tools for delivering and building the brand, they are not the brand. The brand is a deliberate mental framework with a set of perceptions that resides in the mind. It is a result of brand-building actions and creates value by influencing decisions. That’s the priceless value of a powerful brand – almost invisible influence. It’s why iconic investor Warren Buffet recommends investing in companies that have a powerful brand.
People are making decisions about your business all the time. If you want to influence their willingness to try something new, give you a shot, overlook the imperfect, buy more, pay more, cut you a break – an emotional advantage tips the scale in your favor.
Your brand is a mental filter that affects how people think and feel about your company, products and people. It shapes how people interpret what they see/experience and what they are willing to believe, accept and forgive. The Johnson & Johnson company has saved hundreds of millions in downside costs and produced even more in revenues with accelerated adoption of new products, by leveraging a brand built on the pure, trusted bond between a mother and child. That brand essence along with the “healthcare company” positioning (vs. a pharmaceutical company positioning) softens the edges, warms the heart and keeps people predisposed in J&J’s favor.
Powerful brands are built to influence emotions, and help people to see things in a specific way.
Experts tell us that up to 90% of decisions are based on emotion. From Wall Street to Main Street, people use their “gut” and take pride in making up their own mind. They even refute facts and authority when feelings are strong. Powerful brands are built to influence emotions, and help people to see things in a specific way. Powerful brands define a context and make people feel. Think John Deere, Patagonia, Nike, Chanel, American Express, the U.S. Navy, Yeti, Apple and the list goes on. There are also tiny brands in niche markets that wield enormous brand authority.
As a leader, you have experienced more and faster change these days than your predecessors did in twenty. You face challenging times fraught with unprecedented emotional volatility. It is a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The COVID-19 pandemic, Great Resignation, war in Ukraine, remote work, supply chain disruptions and extreme weather are some of the things that have businesses scrambling to keep up with constant changes in human behavior. You can address these shake-ups with a powerful brand so they don’t shake down your business. Convey calm in these stormy times. Provide warmth in a cold market. Deliver clarity in a sea of confusion. This is how to break through to people so they remain by your side and behind your business in an upside-down world.
Branding is less about marketing and more about business strategy and control. It is a strategy to consistently influence people from the inside out. Branding is soft power, not hard power. If you want to influence customers, partners, employees, regulatory authorities, journalists or anyone who can affect your business, think about the value of having a brand filter in place to shape perceptions and emotions. Alternatively, think about how not setting that mental construct and allowing the market or competitors to define it, creates risk. In today’s tumultuous cancel culture world, many consider branding an essential risk mitigation strategy.
Don’t let lack of time and resources and outdated legacy thinking stop you from doing everything it takes to influence the people that make your business live or die, grow or shrink. Take a hard look at what can really move the needle, and you’ll find it all comes down to people. Your brand is the asset that can deliver the sustainable emotional advantage needed to influence people – which sometimes means saving the day. When you build your new playbook for the new world, add what others may miss. Build a powerful brand and reap the priceless dividends that only an emotional advantage can deliver.
Jane Cavalier Lucas, CEO and Founder of BrightMark Consulting, is a nationally recognized brand strategist, board member, blogger and author of The Enchanted Brand (Amazon). She helps organizations conquer a changing world with powerful brands and reputations. Recognized for creating breakout brands like Snapple and Qwest, Jane has worked with over 100 organizations including American Express, ExxonMobil and the U.S. Navy. For more info, visit brightmarkconsulting.com.
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