by Wendy A. Hoke
When you walk into your doctor's office, the choice of magazines, the décor and the music playing all say something about the brand of care your doctor provides. Does the practice serve mostly women? Men? Families? Is the staff in white lab coats or in jeans? It depends on the clients they serve.
Like it or not, you're probably already implementing a brand. "It's your organization's personality and the way that clients perceive that personality," says Marcia Golden, managing partner at DJD Golden, an integrated marketing services firm in New York City.
What is a brand?
"It's as simple as putting on a suit to see a client. Think about the IBM dark suit and white shirt. It symbolizes the personality of that organization," she says.
A brand can be a noun or a verb. Branding is the act of implementing a brand identity. It can be a thought or a message. It can be a sign, symbol (Apple Computer), logo (General Electric), taste (Coca-Cola) or sound (Intel). It can be good or bad, help you or hurt you. And it exists primarily in the minds of your customers, consumers, prospects and employees.
You send out branding messages, but what consumers send back—their buying decisions—is the real picture of your company's brand identity. And it consists of both fact and feeling.
"People often don't buy things for the reasons you may think," explains Golden. "For example, a friend of mine was interviewing accounting firms for her business. Three firms made presentations. Although they could all equally serve her business needs, she chose to work with the one firm whose partner was not wearing a Rolex watch. She wanted someone on par with her; someone whom she perceived would work hard for her."
Other business owners may have chosen the one with the Rolex watch for precisely the opposite reason. "It's not what you do, but how people perceive you," says Golden.
Perception—notably the client, consumer or prospect perception—is the key to understanding your brand.
"The brand is the sum total of the attributes of a company, its products and services," says Rick Simon, principal of Richard & Stephen Co. (RSC), a graphic design firm and a client of Leading Edge firm KGN Financial Group in Chicago. "It is all the associations a customer has. Branding itself is an experience and it's communicated in the sum total of all the experiences a customer has," he says.
And it begins with a company that clearly identifies and understands its core attributes and those it wants to convey to the public.
One notable failure in branding was People's Express, which sought to be the people's airline. "Clients' perception is not always the whole story," explains Golden. "Its failure was not about how well-trained the pilots and mechanics were. If a passenger saw dirty tray tables then they thought that the mechanics might not be doing their job well," she says. That example illustrates some of the basic truths about buying.