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The $100 MBA

The 3 Branding Rules You Should
Always Follow.

Omar Zenhom
Branding at a Glance
Stand out. Or stand aside.
The success of a product, service, individual, business, organization, or even a city, is
based on being perceived as unique. Look at any market leader and you’ll find they each
own a place in the consumer’s mind. They have positively differentiated themselves from
the rest of the competition. Branding is creating that individual niche in the consumer’s
psyche and owning it. More than just marketing, branding is the entire effect that creates a
memorable identity.

A successful branding program is also based on differentiating yourself as unique. Effec-

tive branding creates a perception that there is no other product, service, organization or
community quite like yours. Whether the distinction is a result of function, form, ease of
use, price or prestige; the consumer believes you offer something exceptional.

For example, factors affecting the brand of an organization can be both tangible and intan-
gible, including office décor, personnel attire, organization philosophy, product/service
quality, design of printed materials and value-added services, just to name a few. It’s every-
thing people touch, see or hear that immediately sets you apart from the competition.

In other words, your “brand” is your image as seen from the outside. Your brand is who
you are — your strength, your integrity and your reputation. It’s not simply how your logo
is displayed, but rather the emotional and intellectual response your logo elicits from your
target audience.

Take Starbucks©, for example. When people think of Starbucks, several images instantly
come to mind, whether you’re a coffee drinker or not: designer coffee, expensive, yuppie,
casual atmosphere, one on every corner, green logo, etc. It’s no accident that these im-
ages flood our mind so quickly. These are brand qualities created by Starbucks to distin-
guish themselves from other coffee companies. Starbucks has created a consistent experi-
ence in every store, every ad, every employee and every cup of coffee they serve. Today,
when people think coffee, they often think Starbucks. Not only does this translate into
sales, it validates the company’s most valuable asset: the Starbucks brand.

Most organizations know little about branding. Therefore, you can get a leg up on your
competition by knowing who you are as an organization and by being able to articulate it

Whether you are a part of a nonprofit organization, a downtown association, or a growing
business, you should be thinking about branding.

Brand yourself well. Take control of your image. The next time your name comes up, it will
conjure the brand qualities you created and achieve the desired perception in the mind of
the consumer. That's the power of branding.

Rule # 1: Keep It Simple
Keeping it simple is gold.
One of the most common mistakes that marketing and advertising people make is they
say too much. I understand why this happens. A world-class product or service is difficult
to create, and there is a lot to communicate about why your stuff is better than everybody
else’s stuff. You’re proud of it and you don’t want to leave anything unsaid. However, the
reality is that if you say too much, no one will listen.

The only effective way to separate your message from the noise is to be focused, personal
and simple. Your consumer must choose to pay attention. Your message must be a simple
message, because our attention spans don’t last very long.

Just do it. Powerful, personal and simple. The imagery supports this simple message.
Someone at Nike® resisted the urge to say more. “Just walk, run, bike, ski, swim, shoot
hoops or lift weights,” says more, but who would have listened?

I’m sure the person who presented the “Just do it” concept for the first time was worried
that Nike might think it was too simple or that it didn’t mean anything.

Another reason it’s hard to keep it simple is that the message is often complicated. How
will we reach the marketplace with a message that says this in a simple, believable way?
What words and images will we choose that will allow us to keep the message simple and
easy to grasp?

This is a challenge, but, one way or another, if you want people to listen, you have to find a
way to keep the message simple.

Rule #2: Focus. It’s
More Powerful What are you about?
One of the goals of a powerful branding program is to create a memorable concept. And
to stay in people’s minds, you must first get inside. This requires focused, sharp and to-
the-point branding. How do you do this?

Define Your Brand

Make a list of every quality that describes your company:

Are you big or small?

Friendly or whimsical?

Expensive or inexpensive?

Durable or disposable?

Red or Blue?

Local, national or international?

You get the idea.

This list of qualities becomes what I call a brand definition. For my clients, I always create
a written brand definition to use as a measuring stick to evaluate marketing materials and
strategies. In any organization where there is more than one decision maker, personal
taste often interferes with effective marketing. To prevent this, I ask the following question
when presenting any proposed marketing material to a client: “Does this communicate
your brand qualities?” The answer to this question is always a good starting point for mak-
ing better decisions.

If you spend time working on this, you will likely come up with a long list. Try to narrow it
down afterwards. What qualities describe your brand in a way that’s different from the com-
petition? If the key to success in fast food is “location, location, location,” then the key to
branding success is “differentiation, differentiation, differentiation.” So, what makes you dif-
ferent from the competition?

Rule #3: Differentiate Why you?
Why should I care?
Differentiation answers the question, “Why should I care?” It also helps clarify why you
should be considered by your consumers. Sometime the reason is simply, we are cooler
than the rest. If you can prove it, you got a winner.

A great example of differentiation is the California Raisin ad campaign of 80’s. Driven by a

consortium of raisin growers in California, this group created a brand to promote their com-
modity product, and the singing California Raisins were born! Where before raisins were
just raisins, the “Heard it through the Grapevine” advertising campaign was so successful
that it essentially created a new kind of raisin in our minds — a California Raisin.

The media attention that resulted from the phenomenal popularity of those commercials
created a brand for this commodity. (The revenue generated by the raisin-man toys was ac-
tually more than the cost of the “Grapevine” ad campaign during that time period.) Other
products at the time began supporting their brand by touting, “Made from California Rai-
sins,” with Raisin Bran cereal being one example.

The California Raisin Marketing Board continues today to support this brand with its latest
angle, “Look who’s cooking with California Raisins.” While this campaign may not be as
successful as the “Grapevine” campaign, the war has already been won. We, the consum-
ers, have a sense that California Raisins are in some way different than the rest.

If nothing else, this example proves we shouldn’t limit our thinking. Open your mind and
find a way to stand out and take a chance, even if it’s unrelated to your product. On an
even playing field of commodity markets, those that separate themselves in the minds of
their prospects are the ones that will have the most success.