Brand hopes v. brand reality

Every business or organization has two brands. Or, more accurately there are two facets to the brand.

Most of us are very aware of one of those. It is all the ways in which we present ourselves to various audiences – customers, donors, employees, and constituents. It is reflected in the messaging and aesthetics of websites, social media platforms, logos and print material. Savvy marketers know that is also expressed in the way people are communicated with when they interact with an organization.

But there is a second facet to your brand that is equally important but neglected by many organizations. It hinges on a more sophisticated understanding of what a brand is. Seth Godin defines a brand as

“the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” 

Your brand is determined by the way customers perceive your organization. There is a kind of tyranny in that. You can spend infinite resources on strategy and creative but your brand is only as good as people say it is.

We can take that a step further with this great comment from Susan Gunelius in a post on the Forbes blog.

“Remember, companies don’t build brands, consumers do by experiencing those brands, developing feelings for those brands and emotional connections to them, and talking about those brands with other people.”

 Ouch! That’s pretty humbling – but absolutely the truth.

In fact, the folks at Social Fresh would advance the argument by saying that not only do customers build your brand, they have the potential to become part of the product itself. People often choose to buy, donate or affiliate because they become part of a community. That community in effect becomes a feature of the value proposition you are putting forth.

Now we can better understand my two facets analysis. Given these definitions of a brand, the outbound facet – the promotional material, the look, the messaging – is really the aspirational side to your brand. It is the way you hope to be perceived.

The second facet to your brand is what people are saying or feeling about your organization. That is the reality aspect of your brand. In a perfect world (think Apple) the two facets are in unison. People’s perceptions match the positioning and messaging of your marketing efforts.

In most organizations however the reality brand is not a perfect reflection of the aspirational brand. That demands attention and here’s what you can do.

1. Set the goal. Make sure your aspirational brand is well defined and therefore you know how you will measure brand success. What do you want people to be saying about your organization? How do you want to be perceived? That articulation of your brand will set the bar

2. Face the facts. Don’t be afraid to discover there is a gap between the way you want your organization to be perceived and the way it is. It’s not a failure. Brands are inherently dynamic and a continual work in progress. To improve your brand you need to actively seek to determine the size of the gap between your aspirational brand and the real brand.

3. Conduct research. This can be qualitative or quantitative. Yes, survey your customers or better yet, prospective customers. Consult your sales people or front line staff about what they hear through their interactions. Ask “people on the street” if they have heard of your organization and what their perceptions are.

4. Monitor. Whether it’s on social media sites, in parking lots, on op ed pages, or in grocery stores, take every opportunity to listen to what people are saying about your organization. This is where the real truth will emerge and you better be there to hear it.

5. Engage your community. Ensure your stakeholders have an idea of what your aspirational brand is. Provide them with a statement that goes something like, “We want people to think about our organization as …..” Train them to not just ambassadors but receptors so that they are sensitive to people’s perceptions and can report them to you.

6. Be open to change. It’s possible that people have positive perceptions of your organization that aren’t reflected in your outbound marketing. Perhaps those perceptions have the potential to create a powerful brand statement. As opposed to influencing perceptions, you may want to change your positioning to match those perceptions.

Being aware of both facets of your brand and working to making one an accurate reflection of the other will undoubtedly bring success to your marketing efforts.

What do you think? Do you buy the two-facet analysis? What do you do in your organization to make sure perceptions align with messaging? What suggestions do you have for others? Please comment.

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