Branding comes from Old English, and it originally referring to burning a mark of ownership into a cow’s hide so everyone knew their owner. Now it now refers to burning memes into consumer’s brains so everyone knows what products to buy. “Always remember: A brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world; a corner of someone's mind.” - Sir John Hegarty
Successful brands are collections of memes – Memeplexes – that have evolved into symbiotic relationships, because they work well together. The set of associations in the consumer’s brain that make up a brand got there by being distinctive. Brands that blend into the crowd don’t get remembered or shared.
Benefits of Branding
Branding isn’t just about putting a logo on a product. Consistent branding across every interaction with a consumer reassures customers that they’re in the right place, buying the right thing, from the right people. Consistency breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds trust.
“The question generally isn't which product or service is best; the question is which product or service people think is best.” - Kellogg on Branding
Most purchases aren’t considered for anything more than a few milliseconds, and most consumers aren’t currently in the market. If you can use advertising and other promotional methods to reinforce a company’s distinctive assets – memes – in the minds of target customers, they’ll think of the product when it’s time to buy. Where early ads might have just shown the product or someone using the product, modern ads tell stories about the type of people who might use the product, as these are more effective vehicles for transmission.
The consumer’s frame of reference changes everything about how they interact with your product. Compare a Nespresso machine to instant coffee, and it seems expensive. Compare it to the cost of buying a coffee in Starbucks, it looks like a less expensive, more convenient option.
When you’re in Starbucks, take a look at the Muffins. If you check out the ingredients they’re basically exactly the same as the cakes. Yet most people would have a muffin for breakfast, maybe even think it’s a healthy option. Positioning is what gets us unknowingly eating cake for breakfast.
Here are the six components of effective positioning:
- Competitive alternatives. What customers would do if your solution didn’t exist.
- Unique attributes. The features and capabilities that you have and the alternatives lack.
- Value (and proof). The benefit that those features enable for customers.
- Target market characteristics. The characteristics of a group of buyers that lead them to really care a lot about the value you deliver.
- Market category. The market you describe yourself as being part of, to help customers understand your value.
- Relevant trends. Trends that your target customers understand and/or are interested in that can help make your product more relevant right now.
When potential customers consider your product they will look for contextual clues to help them figure out what it is, who it’s for and why it’s important. The brand positioning of your product creates the context they need to make their decision.
Minimum Viable Brand
You must have a point of view about what your brand stands for and the value you’re offering. Everything the company does should be guided by this focus. For a new startup, a brand strategy is a hypothesis that gets validated – or not – by the market, but it should be clearly defined before the product is launched. That said, startups have limited resource, and can’t afford the luxury of expensive brand consultants developing grand propositions over the course of months.
A framework for defining and developing a Minimum Viable Brand is the “6 What’s”:
- What we stand for – our brand essence
- What we believe in – our defining values
- What people we seek to engage – our target audience(s)
- What distinguishes us – our key differentiators
- What we offer – our overarching experience
- What we say and show – our logo, look, and lines (messaging)
SOCO / SOCA
If your brand is successful you will get many press opportunities. Media training is a whole other discipline, but there is one trick you can use to make sure your appearance is additive to your brand. The key is to remember your SOCO: Single Overarching Communication Objective. You define this in advance as part of your brand strategy. If your audience only remembered one thing from your appearance (if you’re lucky!), what would you want them to remember? That’s your SOCO.
This should be something you believe, that’s easy to remember. Most importantly, it should form an opinion about the world, that if believed, would make your offering the obvious choice. This technique comes from public health PR so an example might be “lives will be saved if children and adults get the measles vaccine”.
Here’s a framework for developing your SOCO:
- Step 1: What is your issue?
- Step 2: Why do you want to focus on this issue and why now?
- Step 3: Who needs to change behaviour (target audience)?
- Step 4: What is the change that you want to see in your audience as a result of your communications.
If you were a crypto trading app, your SOCO might be “crypto allows everyone to participate in wealth creation, not just accredited investors”. While a SOCO is the most important thing to remember, the media will often bring up that one topic you want to avoid, intentionally or not. We call this the SOCA: Single Overarching Communication Avoidance. For our crypto trading app it might be “doesn’t bitcoin waste a lot of energy?”. It pays to be prepared with talking points for if that topic comes up, so you sound confident and can move the conversation along.