After a couple weeks of decompression from Vegas, I’ve had a few sleepless nights to think about what I learned (remembered?) from my trip. It seemed that calls for branding were even louder than last year. As I listened to said calls, I looked around the room to gauge reactions. Some people nodded in approval, while others looked at each other with a quizzical look on their face, while others mindlessly tapped away on their iPhones. Over the years I’ve had many great discussions regarding branding strategy (When Business People Go Wild, I know). I went on a bit of a tirade on the subject last year, and it looks like it’s time for another one. It’s pretty clear that branding needs to be empirical. If you can’t touch it, feel it, smell it, taste it, then you can’t pass those senses along to potential clients.

Defining a brand is hard, which is probably why so few companies do it well (I’m going to go a little academic on you, so consider yourself warned). Webster’s has a few definitions for brand: a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership; a printed mark made for similar purposes (trademark); a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer (make). Our oft quoted pal Seth Godin goes further, stating: “A brand is 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. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” In his newest book, “the End of Business as Usual,” Brian Solis came up with 9 Criteria for Establishing Brand Essence: Focus, Feeling, Individuality, Experiential, Consistency, Credibility, Longevity, Personal, and Portable. If you stayed awake long enough to read these different definitions you probably realize that it’s safer to take the 30,000 foot view.

Since we all can’t be Nike or Apple, let’s do an exercise. In Guy Kawasaki’s book “Enchantment,” he mentions his “Enchantment Hall of Fame” to get one’s creative juices flowing. He lists the following categories: car, Macintosh, airline, city, book, political leader, actress, engineer, TV host, female blogger, male blogger, singer, parenting, architecture, and clothes (I’ve included Guy’s list, as well as my own, below). I’m going to hijack Guy list for the purpose of example. Please proceed carefully: it’s not the fastest car, the hottest actress, the best band, or clothes you aspire to own. Just answer the questions (if you’re too cool for school, feel free to skip ahead):

Category Guy’s Bill’s
Car ’65 Mustang Ferrari 288 GTO
Macintosh IIci iMac
Airline Virgin America Continental
City Istanbul, Turkey London, UK
Book “If You Want to Write,” by Brenda Ueland “Infinite Jest,” by David Foster Wallace
Political Leader Nelson Mandela Harry S Truman
Actress Queen Latifah Natalie Portman
Engineer Steve Wozniak Adrian Newey
TV Host Mike Rowe Jeremy Clarkson
Female Blogger Jenny Lawson Amber Naslund
Male Blogger Robert Scoble Christopher S Penn
Singer Corrinne Bailey Rae Layne Staley
Parenting Adopting Children Natural Biology
Architecture Antoni Gaudi Frank Lloyd Wright
Clothes Aloha shirts by Anne Namba Brooks Brothers

I agree that some of these categories aren’t things that readily come to mind, however that’s why its an exercise. I’m also not going to argue with Guy Kawasaki because he has a bajillion followers in seven different galaxies, and more than 100 pages of reading after this passage. But let me ask you, can you can you give me at least five reasons why you chose your pick? Here are some easier ones for you:

Easy Picks Bill’s
Restaurant III Forks Austin, TX
Hotel chain Marriott (JW)
Athletic shoes Puma
Detergent Tide
Deodorant Old Spice
Cereal Kellogg’s
Soda Pop Coca-Cola
Beer Guinness
Sports team The Detroit Red Wings

Take all your picks, and start asking yourself these questions:

  • How do your choices/products make you feel?
  • What memories do you have associated with them?
  • What are you consuming?
  • Where are you consuming it?
  • If you have the choice, why are you buying it there?
  • Do you feel a twinge of guilt when you do not go with your picks?
  • Do you get a feeling of disappointment when something changes?
  • Do you feel the need to share with someone at the company when your expectations aren’t being meant?
  • Who are you buying it from?
  • Where was it made?
  • Who made it?
  • How was it made?
  • Who started the company?
  • Where was the company founded?
  • Do you ever go with the cheaper option?

If you can’t possibly answer these questions on a regular basis, it’s time to start. Let’s face it: these are gut-questions. These are also the same questions your customers have about you, as well as the products and services you sell. As consumer-facing automotive sites continue to consolidate, and the reliance on social media becomes stronger, the amount of differing opinions will continue to shrink. You need to understand the fundamentals of branding before it’s too late.

Learning what it takes to exude brand from everything you do, takes a great deal of time, consistent effort (ask Tracy Meyers if it happened overnight), and a ton of energy. Hopefully, by going through this process (and practicing) you will not only have a better understanding of your own tastes, but will begin to understand all of the dimensions of a strong brand. Continue updating your hall of fame. Who knows, maybe next year you will be the one doing a brand presentation.