When Mr. John Deere sold his first plows in 1838, he didn’t have a famous brand. No leaping deer emblem adorned those early plows. Nor were the implements green and yellow.
Mr. Deere didn’t have a famous brand, but I think he did have a brand of sorts. That’s because, in simple terms, a brand is a reputation. In 1836 Mr. Deere had left Vermont and moved to Illinois, where he opened a blacksmith shop and made and repaired tools for local farmers.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and Deere quickly encountered the problem of cast-iron plows not working well in the Midwestern soil. Farmers needed something better. Sticky soil clung to their moldboards. Deere’s first steel plow worked so well for his first customer that other neighbors soon wanted them too. His reputation was growing.
Later in life, Mr. Deere said, “I will never put my name on a product that does not have in it the best that is in me.” We can assume that he brought that same attitude to those first steel plows that he made. That kind of commitment is a good foundation for building a brand. It creates loyal customers who keep coming back for more.
What is Branding?
We use the word branding differently, and it can feel like a difficult concept to grasp. I like to think of branding as the activity of building and managing the reputation of your business.
We intuitively understand reputation personally, and it’s not difficult to make the leap to understand it on a business level. A business that has a strong reputation has a strong brand. In a broad sense, your brand is what people think, feel, and say about you.
A person’s reputation is built on what they do, what they say, how they dress, their personality, and so on. A business’s reputation—its brand—is built on its products or services, the way it presents those products or services, the employees’ behavior, the customer experience, the way the business talks about itself, and more.
You can see that a brand is not confined to the marketing department, but it is something the entire company creates.
We also use brand to refer more specifically to a business’s colors and logo. When you think of John Deere, you see green and yellow. When you think of UPS, you see brown. And when you think of Mcdonald’s, you see yellow arches. These are visual elements of a brand.
Babies can recognize colors and simple shapes even though they cannot read or write. Similarly, the visual elements of a brand help make things easy for our brains. They are mental shortcuts to help the people quickly identify and then later remember the company.
The brand’s visual elements also allow the company to label its products, much like a steer was branded with a ranch’s brand mark to identify which ranch it belonged to. Deere & Company began using a leaping deer logo in 1873 to identify their products as genuine John Deere products.
At Rosewood Marketing, we can partner with you over several months to create a strong visual brand that fits your company. But the other aspects of your brand already exist in the minds of your customers (as well as past customers and people who declined to become customers). The way they think and feel about your business can only change with time.
What is Brand Positioning?
Philip Kotler, the author of Marketing Management, defines brand positioning as “The act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market.”
Brand positioning is building your brand to appeal to customers in your market niche. It is taking into consideration your competitors and staking out territory that is different from theirs.
Brand positioning is built on or related to concepts covered in previous articles in this series: knowing your company and its goals, knowing the competitive landscape, understanding your customers, and owning a market niche.
Here are some questions to ask on a brand positioning project:
- What is our brand promise? Your brand promise, whether stated or implicit, is what you provide to your customers. In the case of a wooden toy company, the brand promise could be stated as, “Healthy play with simple, fun, old-fashioned toys.”
- What personality should our brand portray? It’s helpful to imagine your brand as a person. What personality would they have? What clothes would they wear? What would they value? A toy company may want to portray a happy, free-spirited brand personality.
- What part of the market does our brand need to appeal to? The toy company we are using as an example does not sell children’s video games. It will not portray itself as slick and sophisticated, appealing to harried, hustling parents who just want someone to keep their offspring out of their hair so they can live in peace. Instead, it should appeal to those who are tired or wary of being glued to technology, those who admire the simplicity of yesteryear and want a piece of that old-fashioned joy for their children.
Key Brand Elements
The following elements or expressions of your brand are significant in shaping people’s perceptions of your brand.
Your name. A strong brand name is memorable, carries positive connotations that fit other aspects of your brand, and is easy to spell and pronounce. A well-crafted brand name can save you thousands of dollars of marketing expense because a strong name will travel farther on each marketing dollar than a lackluster name.
Here are several brand names that Rosewood Marketing has helped create:
- HooverTec, replacing Hoover Diesel Service
- Kinfork, a new fresh food co-op
- Stagecoach Trading Company, replacing Wood Energy Solutions
- Wisteria and Duchess, two new paint brands
- WhistleBerry Market, a new country store
Your logo. Your logo is a symbol that represents you. It stands in for you everywhere it travels. Depending on what business you are in, your logo will be reproduced hundreds, thousands, or even millions of times.
Like a brand name, a logo should carry emotion or positive connotations that resonate with your target market. A strong logo is both simple and expressive.
Your brand theme. Your brand theme includes the brand’s colors, fonts, and visual styling. Colors carry emotions and connotations: some colors are lively and energetic; others are calm and soothing. Some combinations of colors have a masculine feel, while other combinations appeal to women.
Your font choice (the lettering style) for your logo and your brand font may seem like a small detail, but even these seemingly small details send a message to customers and prospects. Some fonts are flowing and elegant, while others are blocky and bold.
Using a font that conflicts with the rest of your brand sends a mixed message. For example, using stylish, elegant typography for an excavating company feels inconsistent.
Your slogan or tagline. Not every business needs a slogan, a short, memorable statement that reinforces or explains what you do for the customer. Following are some well-known slogans (it is interesting to note that the first three are more brand-focused, while the last two are more customer-focused).
- Nothing Runs Like a Deere
- Built Ford Tough
- America Runs on Dunkin
- Save Money. Live Better
- Good to the Last Drop
A slogan doesn’t necessarily need to be as catchy as these examples. For example, a different type of slogan or tagline is more like a subtitle that tells the customer exactly what you are or what you make:
- Creating Places to Call Home
- Quality-Made Western Wear
- The World’s Foremost Outfitter
- Traditional Good Family Shopping
- Old Country Store
The Importance of Consistency and Integrity
Consistency is important for your brand in many ways. Customers expect to consistently receive the same level of excellent service or the same quality of product each time they interact with you. Apply your brand theme consistently across your marketing collateral, signage, and vehicles.
Everything from the way you answer the phone, to the way your staff are dressed, to the atmosphere in your store, to the style of your advertising, to your product packaging should be shaped to fit together like puzzle pieces to form a consistent brand presentation and experience.
Your business should dress to look your part. We don’t see bankers in T-shirts and tennis shoes. We know a policeman because of his uniform. Your logo, brand theme, and marketing collateral are like the clothing of your business. They don’t change who you are.
As a matter of integrity, your brand should identify you correctly. For example, having a light-hearted or flashy brand when you are a serious company or work in a no-nonsense or high-risk industry can cause mistrust because of the mismatch. It’s not what people expect.
Another kind of disconnect can occur if you have a sleek brand that doesn’t live up to the expectations it builds. Perhaps your products are inferior, or your customer service is weak. This is hard on your reputation, and of course, weakens your brand.
As respectable individuals, we dress to fit the occasion. We put on Sunday clothes for church. Showing up for a special event in coveralls and barn boots will cause people to question our character. The same is true of our business brands. The right brand positioning will ring true to our existing customers and appeal to new customers who share our values and are looking for what we offer.