This is a guest post by our co-host, Nick Armstrong.
Let’s Play the Word-Association Game
When I say, ‘Coca Cola,’ what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Polar bears and football?
Your first date?
Lazy summer days daydreaming about reading a blog post like this one someday?
How about Zappos?
The great heels that perfectly compliment your “assets?”
Great customer service?
The place your 401k is currently visiting?
One last one: Chick-fil-a?
Like most fat kids, I’ll own up to the fact I start drooling like one of Pavlov’s dogs at the very mention of this company. As a marketer, I love their Eat More Chickn commercials. But, like most things I want to love (energy drinks, paintball, Glee), I know it’s bad for me.
I’m willing to bet half of you said “delicious” and the other half of you said “disgusting” — possibly for reasons beyond flavor.
Okay, I lied about that being the last word association.
There’s one more: Branding.
What’s the first thing that pops into your brain?
A color palate?
Tangible things, right? The way the product looks, feels, and is packaged.
This definition of branding is wildly incomplete. Why?
When you thought of Coke, did you say “the coke logo,” “red and white,” or “cursive font” first? Or did you think of something the brand made you feel?
OK, try this on for size:
Did you get thirsty or feel something else you associated with Coke earlier? Funny how you got that from a picture of old wooden boxes (probably riddled with poisonous spiders and tetanus).
Now think of NASA.
If you’re like me, the Space Shuttle, an EVA suit, the Hubble Telescope, or the Mars Rover come to mind. I can’t picture the logo at all. I had to look it up to remember what it looked like.
Holy Cow, Get To The Point, Nick…
Right then…so Branding is a combination of tangible and intangible assets. More than that, a brand is almost always something outside the business’s control, that is: it exists in the minds of the people who’re aware of the business.
A brand is a combination of tangible, intangible, and meta assets.
It’s the look and feel, certainly — including not just the product (weight, quality, texture, voicing, level of knowledge of an expert), but also the logo, the colors, the typography, and the iconography. These are the tangible assets.
Even more than that, though, the copy, the specific words chosen, how they flow, what they make you feel, what imagery they evoke, and any nicknames are also added to our definition of brand. These are the intangible assets.
But we’re not done yet: you also have to include the actual product/service, the experience you have with the product/service, the experience you have with the staff, other clients, salespeople, interactions with management, word of mouth, the shared cultural experiences, how your past experiences with similar products or services or companies shades your view of your service/product/company, the placement of the logo in societal contexts (actor sponsorships, ad placement, etc)… These are the meta assets.
In short, branding pretty much encompasses the known universe, at least as far as it knows about and interacts with a product, service, or company.
Why Does This Matter if I Can’t Control It?
Be honest — what’s the first thing you do when you come up with a cool new project idea?
If you’re like me, you snag the domain name. Then, you maybe sit on it for a bit to let it sink in. At last count, I have 109 such domains in my arsenal.
I bet you don’t give much thought to how the receipt you give your customers will look. Or the specific copy of the thank you note for early testers. Or what the autoresponder looks like when someone signs up to your mailing list. At least, not at first.
Even so, these are all things that will contribute to the two branding assets you have no control over: intangible and meta. That is to say, the thought and consideration you put into your tangible assets (the things you can control, the copy, the typography, the color, the voicing of the copy, the pictures you include, the format) directly impact the intangible and meta assets.
Zappos IS amazing customer service. That’s their brand. Customer service agents can make any decisions necessary and are allowed to stay as long as they need to on the phone with customers — whether or not they’re going to buy something — just to make sure the customer’s issue gets resolved. When’s the last time you didn’t have to ask for a manager when calling a company?
Knowledge Is Power
My first reaction to learning this much about branding instilled a somewhat helpless feeling; 2/3rds of my brand is subject to assets I can’t directly control? Even so, I can direct 1/3rd of my brand assets to adjust and influence the remainder. And that’s a comforting thought.
From a marketing perspective (and as any consultant can tell you), just being aware that branding is more than a logo puts you light years ahead of your competition.
Now that you know the scope of a brand, you can do something about it.
So, how will you use your tangible brand assets to influence the 2/3rds of your brand that you don’t control? Share with us in the comments!
Photo Credit: Gerard Stolk
About the Author
Nick Armstrong is unapologetically awesome at explaining difficult-to-grasp marketing and technology concepts regarding the web. In his day-to-day work, he helps small business owners swear less and profit more through kick-ass marketing.
For the last 3.5 years, Nick’s business WTF Marketing has amassed a large number of happy clients, among them Fortune 100s, solopreneurs, and everything in between, including three distinct $2M+/year businesses. Leveraging over a decade of web design experience and eight years of hands-on, knee-deep community building and marketing.
He founded the Digital Gunslingers in 2009, teaching $5 classes on social media and marketing concepts and donating all the proceeds to charities in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can connect with him on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook.