March 28th, 2009
There’s only one way a CEO can confirm his brand’s effectiveness: buzz, word-of-mouth. Without buzz, there is no brand.
Buzz is easy to discern — listening to customers and journalists, searching on Google, checking blogs, monitoring users’ groups, eavesdropping on general chatter, and analyzing advertising expense as a percentage of revenues (the higher, the less buzz).
The next time you’re at a party, ask the guests to describe a Chevy Malibu. You’ll see puzzled looks. I wouldn’t recognize one in a parking lot without its nameplate. Then, ask them to portray a Corvette. Without even thinking, they’ll be depicting its distinctive stingray design. Two brands from the same manufacturer: one unique, one part of the white noise.
When a brand is unique — one of a kind — it can speak for itself. Contrary to what many believe, there’s no such thing as “fairly” unique or “very” unique. Uniqueness is a binary quality: it either exists or doesn’t. Few brands are unique, fewer remain unique: in most cases, a unique brand quickly gets demoted to distinctive or, worse, ordinary, as competitors copy it.
Unfortunately, too many vendors fall in love with their brands — believing they’re unique and self-explanatory. Such insular thinking leads to inadequate, opaque, arcane messaging — with the assumption that customers will grasp their products as easily and enthusiastically as the designers who created them.
Here’s a test: Read any Website for 15 seconds; then call your friend to explain the vendor’s brand. Can you? If so, it’s a miracle.
Messaging: The Achilles Heel
The culmination of creating and maintaining brand uniqueness is buzz. No buzz, no brand. Below are four key elements of brand uniqueness:
As time evolves, elements 1, 2, and 4 will deflate, forcing the brand manager to continuously improve and sharpen the messaging, element #3. Messaging is the mortar of a brand’s foundation.
Alas, messaging user value is the Achilles heel of most companies, because they think it connotes giving a product description. It doesn’t. Customers care only about themselves and their needs, not about vendors’ products. Messaging, therefore, must be written in customer-speak, not vendor-speak, and it must address specific customer problems or wishes.
Rx from The WhiteNoise Doctor™
The goal of branding is to establish and maintain uniqueness. Without uniqueness, there is no buzz. Without buzz, there is no brand. If a product is dull or unfathomable from the outset, the branding challenge is enormous, maybe impossible.
Great messaging will keep a brand unique, even after its product attributes cease to be … but not for long. It’s an eternal cycle, and that’s why vendors constantly update their products.
Apple is a master of this cycle. When the iPhone first launched, acolytes bought it without question. But, stories eventually emerged about poor user experiences — with the device and the network — and competitors began to capitalize on those weaknesses. Apple responded with product improvements, enhanced applications, and new messaging — never wanting the buzz to die.
When assessing your brand, ask yourself this honest question: do your customers rate it a Corvette or a Chevy Malibu?
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.