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Why the story is the brand

January 29, 2008 10:00 by

brand building, Dubai, Satish RajuWhile sitting down for coffee recently, a few friends from the ad-world started discussing what branding was all about. I heard several different definitions:

It’s an aesthetic style that consumers should recognize. (The visual approach.)

It’s a consistent message that must be pushed out to consumers as frequently as possible. (The big-advertising approach.)

It’s a story that we tell ourselves and each other. (The narrative approach.)

It’s a reasonable amount of value that consumers should be willing to pay a reasonable amount for. (The classic marketer’s approach.)

It’s a culture. It’s a promise. It’s the iPod.

It’s whatever we can do to be like Nike/Starbucks/Coke.

While I think that each of those statements is accurate to some degree, the reality is different for every company. After all, different companies have different customers, services, and business goals. Not every company sells a famous logo printed on a container of sugar water; thus, not every company should try to be Coke. Each company must find its own path when crafting its brand.

But if I had to give one definition of branding that applies in all cases, it would go something like this: The brand is what you tell your friends about afterwards.

PASS IT ON. Think about it. When you have a great (or bad) experience with a restaurant, an airline, a hospital or a Web site, what do you tell your friends about? Do you echo the messaging from their advertising? Do you suggest they try a brand because it has the coolest logo?

Of course not: You tell your friends what was important to you - the details about your particular experience.

Here’s an example. Sitting down for dinner at a Chinese restaurant last week, I overheard a neighboring diner telling his friend, who was new to the restaurant, why he loves the restaurant’s “devil chicken.” He went to great lengths to explain how consistent that dish was. Spicy, not oily, great to look at - all the things that he valued in his personal experience.

This was the most accurate description of the brand he could give, and the most effective that his friend could hear - better than a dozen TV commercials. The restaurant couldn’t control what the guy said, but they could - and did - control the experiences he had as a customer. Thus the brand got built.

And I ordered devil chicken myself.

And that’s the brand. Nothing more, and nothing less, than the sum total of all the customer experiences served up by that company.

TELLING STORIES. Word-of-mouth is the least expensive and the most credible form of brand building. And it’s a sure winner. Every business, either knowingly or unknowingly, generates word of mouth, be it positive or negative.

How many times have you made a decision to do business with (or avoid doing business with) a certain company based on what someone you trust or admire has told you about them? Probably more than you realize or can even count.

Another example from my own life: Recently, I picked up a pair of shoes from a new store on my friend’s recommendation. He’s made it his mission to drive his family, friends and anyone else who’s willing to listen out to the store.

So what turned him into a walking-talking advocate for the place? His customer experience. The friendly salesman who helped him get that perfect pair of shoes. The guy used a device to assess the pressure points on my friend’s feet as he walked. He was told that because of his style of walking, he needs a certain style of shoe for him to be comfortable. A short while later my friend’s leaving the store in a pair of shoes that are ideal for him. And voil

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