Building a Brilliant Brand

How do you know a brand is successful? It creates and retains customers. Successful branding is actually that simple. What creates more controversy and challenge is answering, How does a company build a brilliant brand? Conceiving a grand brand idea is more instinctive and spontaneous than shaping that brand into a set of executable actions that require analytical, intellectual, emotional and creative thinking.

So where do we begin? With our brain. Our brains are hardwired to notice what’s different. The unusual, the unique and the out-of-the-ordinary get detected. This level of uniqueness registers in our brain, and with a little help from repetition, the uniqueness will stick around in our long term memory just long enough to create a recognizable image that gets associated as brand X. If we combine how our brains work with a set of action items that create a brand strategy that can successfully and realistically be executed, then we are well on our way to creating a brilliant brand, and more importantly, getting customers!

There are three critical steps to building a brilliant brand: strategy, execution and evangelism.

Step 1 – Brilliant Brand Strategy

One of the first steps in creating a brilliant brand is often one of the hardest: defining the brand mission. This is a strategic step that will make or break a brand. It involves much more than deciding “who we are” and “what we value” and it certainly demands much more than lofty phrases about brand identity, brand promise and keeping customers happy. We are not creating a mission statement for everyone to pin on their cubicle corkboard and memorize.

When you visualize epic heroes from great scenes of the past, do you visualize these heroes sitting around reading mission statements, or do you see them with swords in hand, pledging their allegiance as they get ready to embark on their mission? Being on a mission, instead of reading a mission statement, is where branding starts. When Luke Skywalker set off to face Darth Vader, he actively picked up his light saber instead of reading a statement that said he should. When Joan of Arc was on her mission to recover her homeland, she threw herself on the back of a horse and set off for battle, rather than reading a mission statement that simply declared she wanted her land back. What you can act on and deliver is your brand, not the statement you frame and post on a wall. Great examples of short brand missions that incite action for employees as well as customers include Nike: Just do it; Apple: Think different; Adidas: Impossible is nothing; Timberland: Make it better; and Adobe: Simplicity at work.

It’s the difference between asking an entrepreneur of a dress shop to define her mission statement and hearing a response of, “To be a premier dress shop offering top-tier textile products and services,” (yawn!) and asking that same entrepreneur to state her brand mission and hear her say, “Define each person’s divine.” Bull’s eye! She uncovered the actionable magic.

Richard Branson, billionaire and brand guru, has incorporated a set of five criteria into every business he has started and every joint venture he has entered. A product or service cannot even hope to bear the Virgin label unless it meets these conditions:

  • It must have high quality.
  • It must be innovative.
  • It must provide good value for the money.
  • It must be challenging to existing alternatives.
  • It must have a sense of fun.

With these core elements as the common thread, Mr. Branson has entered one business venture after another, and has built a widely recognized and respected brand with millions of loyal customers. Now it’s your turn. Pick up your sword, and think Camera, lights, action! The very first line delivered should be your actionable brilliant brand mission.

Step 2 – Brilliant Brand Execution

Everything communicates and communication is everything. In communicating the mission of the brand, no thing is too small to consider. Our eyes are capable of discerning thirty-three million visual bits of data per second and our brains are capable of comprehending over thirty-three thousand visuals concept per hour. What does this mean for branding? Visuals are critical for logos, icons, taglines, business cards, brochures, collateral, websites and retail & headquarter environments. Why? Because visuals trigger thoughts and thoughts are laden with emotions and historical perspectives that influence decision making. Yes, logo creation is complicated, if not downright explosive, and should be handled with care.

The infamous Google logo went through more than eight variations before settling on multiple primary colors. The founders of Google along with their logo designer, Ruth Kedar, considered a range of possible images to incorporate into the word itself including magnifying glasses, smiley faces and the infinity symbol before settling on a clean, easy on the eye, yet fun font, without added icons. They also chose primary colors, with one subtle difference. Their green “l” is a secondary color on the color wheel, not a primary green, and they purposely chose this one deviance from the structured primary wheel to subconsciously communicate the idea that Google doesn’t follow the rules.

Execution also means communicating your brand through public relations. Public relations should be considered an overarching term to include emails, press releases, brochures, events, and advertising, to name the basics. Each public relations element should carefully craft and deliver a consistent message, look and feel. AND…be prepared to repeat yourself ad-nauseum. Most readers of magazines do not take action on an ad the first time they see it. Repetition in branding is a frequently missing factor. If you compare branding to professional boxing it makes complete sense. A boxer does not typically get in the ring, hit the opponent one time, and have that opponent crumble to his feet. (Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson may be allowed to differ on this point.) More often than not, a boxer has to hit the same target several times before that target is out cold. Additionally, a professional boxer does not get in the ring with twenty opponents and hit each opponent one time hoping for a domino effect. Just as in boxing, with brilliant branding, you need to focus on your target and hit repeatedly. Be prepared, both financially and strategically, to hit your target customer over and over again, until said target crumbles at your feet, begging for your product or service.

Step 3 – Brilliant Brand Evangelism

There is an exciting new concept in the world of branding known as customer evangelists. Evangelists talk. They espouse about a topic and they never stop. Why? Because they are passionate about whatever they evangelize. So passionate, that their excitement, love, adoration and beliefs cannot be stopped from being shared. This is an awesome state to induce in your customers when building a brilliant brand. And your very first customer is your employee.

Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, always believes that his employees are his partners in creating the Starbucks brand. Brand evangelism begins with those wearing the aprons. Starbucks was reported to have spent 87.7 million on consumer advertising in 2005. A fraction, according to Schultz, of what Starbucks spent on their people development. One example of investing in their people is the thirteen week management training course every manager must participate in without exception. Does it really take thirteen weeks to learn how to make a pot of coffee? No, but it does take time to learn all the nuances of the Starbucks brand.

Even if you don’t have 87.7 million dollars to spend on your employees, you can still apply the concept of your employees as your first customer evangelists. What do your employees think and feel about your corporate culture? Have you invested in their personal development? Is their environment a fun place to work? Are they expanding their capabilities and skills? Do they know, feel, understand and celebrate the company’s goals and values? Are they executing every day, the brand mission, and not just regurgitating the mission statement?

Most leaders and owners worry about their over-trained employees taking their skill-sets elsewhere. If a company creates a culture that allows people to be promoted and to advance in their careers, they won’t need to leave. If those career opportunities aren’t in place, a leader can either create those opportunities or realize that they may actually benefit from this generation’s shorter job attention span. Train your employees, give them the best work environment, treat them well, and if they do decide to leave, you might just reap the rewards from another company that invested the same way you did.

A brilliant brand will function as an engine for customer growth, and employees are your first customers! People rave about people. We fall in love with great service, and we get spoiled very quickly. We want it all the time. Experiences that make us feel terrific are ones we want to repeat, and remember, repetition is huge for brilliant branding!

Building a brilliant brand will not happen over night. Most talent contests take weeks to reach a winner. Too often those winners erroneously think that the blue ribbon pinned upon their chest will launch them as a mega-branded product. Wrong. Realistically, they should consider the contest as just one, successful PR event that launched their brand campaign. Building a brilliant brand requires a strategic mission, an executable action plan and relentless focus and determination for creating customer evangelism, both for employees and customers. How will you know when your brand is brilliantly successful? Your employees and customers will tell you, and trust me, you won’t want to shut them up.

Reflection Questions for Your Brilliant Brand Strategy

  1. How do we differentiate ourselves from our competitors in delivering a high-quality product or service?
  2. What price point communicates good value for the money?
  3. What new innovations and/or values can we deliver?
  4. How can our brand create a richer context of living?
  5. What about our product or service is fun?

Reflection Questions for Your Brilliant Brand Execution

  1. What look, feeling and attitude do we want to create in the mind of our customer?
  2. What fonts, colors, symbols, themes and schemes actively communicate our look, feel and attitude?
  3. How can we make our customers feel more free, more powerful, and more proactive?
  4. What new skills, capabilities, values, sensibilities and attitudes do our customers need?
  5. How can our brand become a platform for continuous customer growth?

Reflection Questions for Creating Your Brilliant Brand Evangelists

  1. Through our unique combination of product and/or service attributes, how does our brand create the greatest advance in our employees’ personal, social, economic, spiritual, intellectual or creative growth?
  2. Through our unique combination of product and/or service attributes, how does our brand create the greatest advance in our customers’ personal, social, economic, spiritual, intellectual or creative growth?
  3. What can we do to generate spontaneous celebration of our brand?
  4. What will we do to get people talking about our product or service absent any advertising?
  5. How can we provide the best, most innovative and fun service or product possible?


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