When you think of a product’s brand, what comes to mind? Product-oriented marketers might tell you it’s about how the product looks or feels or fits or performs or anything tied to the product itself. But for organisations that want to truly establish a strong brand, they’ve got to think beyond the product.
Why Branding Beyond Products Matters
Branding is about identity, image, personality, and much more; it’s rooted in establishing trust with your customers through a promise. (Trust should be the golden goose us marketers seek to find; it’s an important factor in the success of any branding initiative.) This promise extends well beyond a product’s structure, packaging, and promise of results. Trust is also built by providing convenient payment and shipping options, rapid response to product issues, and rewarding loyalty programs.
Some experts believe it’s more important to have a better brand than have a better product. As advertising legend Al Ries puts it, “Everything in life is ‘perceptions’. There are no superior products. There are only superior perceptions in consumers’ minds.” What does that tell you about the importance of branding?
20th Century Branding
The early school of thought was to focus branding efforts primarily on product development and distribution. Build a great product, put it in the customer’s hands, and the brand will build itself, right? Company brand then meant something tangible tied to product access and performance. Branding research was done with field testing, focus groups, and the like.
That was before customers could find you through a search query and visit your website or YouTube channel.
Branding has evolved to require a promise of a great digital experience when customers engage digitally and physically with your messaging and products. In fact, one 2013 study suggests that “B2B buyers will pay, on average, 30% more for a superior customer experience”.
Branding Today: Digital & Physical
Now brand marketers are focused on ease of access to solutions as well as products. Consumer-driven engagement cycles require us to develop branding that meets them on their turf. Buyers are web savvy. A 2014 Forrester Research study showed that over 50 percent of B2B buyers had been making work-related purchases for six years or more.
Much of branding’s best practices today are fueled by developments in technology and the Internet. For example, search engine optimization has driven a movement to create wildly unique brand names. Look at Google, Travelocity, eConsultancy, and Twitter. I could go on for days naming brands that established their identities with unusual brand names for SEO objectives.
Therefore, branding now fuses together the digital and physical worlds. To brand right these days, you’ve got to invest in ways to bring those two worlds together in a seamless and simple way. As ad guru Lois Geller writes, “It takes a lot of time, money and very hard work to build and maintain great brands…brands that can speak volumes in just a few syllables.” I would add that brands can speak volumes with fantastic customer experiences.
Now, brands focus on CX in many ways:
- Online marketing: Are your marketing activities focused on the online customer? Does your online marketing support your offline activities and vice versa?
- Ecommerce: Do you offer online purchasing? Is your online store easy to navigate and search?
- Content publishing: Are you serving interesting or helpful or compelling information online that supports your brand identity?
- Social media: Have you established an engaging and interesting brand personality on social channels?
- Analytics: Are you using analytics to strengthen and grow branding?
- Payment options: Do you offer nsf or mobile pay options?
- Shipping fulfillment: Is it free? do you have an overnight or 2‑day delivery option?
- In-store experience: Are you nearby, are products easily found in-store? Is it fun to shop in store?
Evolving Branding Opportunities
New connectivity with consumers such as Internet of Things, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence will drive further branding efforts. Where do we go from here? In many ways, product brand will still remain a critical attribute, but the entire experience marketers create will likely rule in the customer’s mind.
Brands are more than the products and solutions an organisation delivers, because customers need to recognize a trusted, knowledgeable brand before they’ll try your products. This recognition takes place typically online from here forward. Therefore, branding beyond products has to be focused on the digital consumer. Don’t stop branding for product development purposes, but lead with a strong digital brand and you’ll likely find success.