Do They Understand Your Brand?


More times than I care to remember, I’ve stood, totally baffled, before a piece of abstract sculpture. Here’s the typical scenario: After racking my brain to its limit, I scratch my head and ask everyone within earshot, “What is that?” Then, I read the description plaque, shrug my shoulders, and walk away.

Unfortunately, I experience the same bafflement when viewing most Websites and listening to CEOs articulate their companies’ brands. They think they’re building brands, when, in reality, they’re slapping together abstract sculptures that nobody can understand.
Stamping It on An Animal’s Hide

My TV experience has taught me that, if I cannot articulate my main argument in 15 seconds, goodbye audience — goodbye ratings. The same principle holds for Websites, keynote speeches, sales presentations, brochures, and all branding platforms: it’s all about ratings.

Rudov’s Rule: You can’t build a brand they don’t understand. If people don’t grasp the acorn, they won’t fathom the oak.

Today, the biggest business buzzword is branding. One can find it even in politics. MSNBC, the unofficial Barack Obama PR department, recently posted “The Return of Obama Branding.” Everyone is talking branding, but few understand it.

Branding is an age-old identification practice, traced back to the Ancient Egyptians, that owners of livestock use to permanently mark their herds. The actual brand affixed to an animal, in and of itself, has no meaning — other than reflecting its owner’s distinction from his competitors. In other words, a brander must create his brand before stamping it on an animal’s hide.
Customer Service Is Not a Brand

An instructive “branding” episode of NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice, starring Donald Trump, aired on March 8, 2009. The men’s team, led by ex-skater Scott Hamilton, competed against the women’s team, led by Khloe Kardashian, to produce a winning branding character for, an online purveyor of clothing. This branding character, in cartoon form, was to be aimed at busy professional women — to help them closely identify with the shopping experience on

Each team met with CEO Tony Hsieh to glean his branding philosophy and objectives. Alas, Mr. Hsieh was unclear and completely lacking in passion when articulating his brand. In fact, his only specific point was that excels in, and is known mostly for, its customer service.

Customer service? Customer service is not a branding element — it’s a prerequisite for running any successful business. Great customer service will buttress a good brand; lousy customer service will ruin a good brand. But, customer service does not a brand make. Customer service for what? Serve customers who are buying what? For the life of me, based on the teams’ exchanges with CEO Hsieh, I could not fathom the brand of

The women’s team won by creating a not-so-great character based on the letter Z. The men’s team lost, and consequently Scott Hamilton was fired, because it created a better character but one oddly called EEE — for everywhere, everything, every time. Huh?

In essence, the men’s team took a company, Zappos, whose branding is already nebulous and made it more so by infusing yet another branding element, without context or logic. Major faux pas.
Rx from The WhiteNoise Doctor™

One cannot build a brand that doesn’t exist in the first place. Having a company name, product descriptions, trademarks, and a fancy homepage does not constitute successful branding.

Customers understand your brand if, and only if, they:

  1. Identify with it
  2. Know instantly how to describe your company to their friends
  3. Never confuse your company with its competitors.

Be honest. Do you really have a brand?

Let me repeat Rudov’s Rule: You can’t build a brand they don’t understand. If people don’t understand your brand, within 15 seconds, you have no brand to build.

If your brand is abstract, like a baffling sculpture, you have no brand. But, you do have two choices: make it crystal clear or display it in a museum of modern art.


About the Author

Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.


© 2009 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.


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