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Your Customers Own Your Brand

If you think you are in charge of your brand, it's time to think again.

Your brand doesn't exist inside your company. It is not your advertising, your logo, your pr or your tag line. It exists in the minds of your customers, clients and donors. It's the images, ideas and feelings people have when they hear your name, see your products and services, view your materials. It's everything - the stuff you want to communicate and the stuff you communicate in spite of yourself. The value of your brand lies in people's perceptions of who you are and what you stand for.
Quick, think Apple computers. What comes to mind? IPod and IPhone? Cool? Innovative? Mac? Easy to use? Not compatible with PC?

Now think Red Cross. Emergency? Helpful? Great cause? Financial questions?

All those thoughts and feelings you just had represent those brands to you.

Too many marketers spend far too little time managing their brands. Here are a few common myths about brands and some tips for creating and developing brands that support the passion and work of your organization.

Myth #1: Only consumer products are brands
Make no mistake. You do have a brand - whether you are a small business, a nonprofit, a service company or a one-person operation. Even a person (Bill Gates) or a state (Florida) can be a brand. Consumers need brands, both good and bad, to help navigate a messy and crowded marketplace. A brand is a kind of short hand for consumers so they don't have to think through all the available options every time they make a decision.

Myth #2: Our communications materials are our brand
Everything you do contributes - positively or negatively - to your brand. Your advertising, pr and promotion may visually represent your brand, but your products and services, staff, customer service all contribute to the perceptions people have of your brand. You won't find organically focused Whole Foods stocking its shelves with highly-processed junk food. And if you are touting customer service but people can't reach your service department, you'll never make service an inherent part of your brand. Your brand should be front and center of every decision that you make.

Myth #3: We communicate the same things to everyone
Not unless you have only one target audience - and you don't. Since your brand is really a perception people hold, it can differ greatly among your audiences. Think about existing customers/users vs. potential customers/users. Your existing customers know you, your products/services and what you can do. Potential customers have less knowledge and less strongly held beliefs about you. While you want to keep your overall messages consistent, don't overlook the fact that you may need to focus on different issues and benefits for different audiences.

Myth #4: We need to change things up to get attention
Not really. Brands fail because they fail to stay consistent. You will be bored with your logo and your colors and your message long before anyone even notices them for the first time. When you jump from message to message, produce materials that all look different and have a different strategic direction every year, you lose the opportunity to build your brand.

Myth #5: We build our brand on our company values
Okay, but is that the same as what your audiences think is important? If you talk about being a low cost solution, and your materials, staff and products reflect that, great. But what if service and expertise is what your target audiences really want? It's easy to fall into the trap of saying "this is what we're about" without thinking through, investigating and understanding whether that's going to resonate with your audiences. Your brand really isn't about you. It's about identifying the unique benefits you bring to your customers and clients to help solve their problems, then telling that story over and over.

Do a brand checkup
So how's your brand? Pull out any research you have, get out your marketing and promotional materials, listen to customer interactions with your staff and review your products and services. Are you consistent? Focused on what your customers want? Communicating your messages clearly in your materials? Be ruthless in weeding out the things that take away from the brand you want. And get busy creating the messages, images and experiences that help you build a winning brand with customers.

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