A couple of weeks ago I posted Branding Is The Key to Differentiation which was very well received. However, it was simply a primer on “branding”. My plan was to follow-up with a primer about creating a “brand”, explain the differences between brand and branding. and show you how to also differentiate yourself with your brand. However, before I could do so, a reader, Tim Negris, product/marketing executive and developer, beat me to the punch. He sent me a comment that was so well written using an excellent example, that I requested his permission to share it with you unedited as the follow-up to my post on branding. I can’t imagine how I could improve on it, so, here it is:
Even if a business, big or small, has great branding – effective name, slogan, color scheme, etc. – they still might not have a great brand. In the language of marketing, branding is syntax (structure) and brand is semantics (meaning). A company’s “meaning” is its place in the marketplace and the customer’s business or life.
Ideally, a company should have a strong brand that is supported by strong branding, but many wildly successful companies have goofy names, ugly colors, and tortuous slogans, but they have great brands. That is, they do a great job of communicating their meaning – best quality, trend setter, most innovative, longest history, most locations, caring people, etc. In music, it is called a “hook”.
Small business start-ups especially need to think not just about who they are, what they look like, and what they do, but also what they want to mean to their customers, what is their hook. If they have a strong brand, the branding will often follow easily.
When the 7-11 convenience store chain was just starting out, they were competing with suburban supermarkets and urban corner stores, both of which were typically open for approximately the same hours as most people worked, 9-5. The 7-11 “hook” was the customer convenience of longer hours, 7am to 11pm, and that drove their branding. The name said it all. They didn’t need a slogan, the logo was the name, and the logo and colors were clear on a small lighted sign – a necessity before daylight and after dark.
When the other stores realized the power of convenience over selection, quality and other brand promises and started keeping longer hours, 7-11 went one better and commenced round the clock operation in most locations. Note, they did not change their name to 24-7; they didn’t need to because they already owned the convenience brand and everybody would quickly learn that they never closed. Then the other stores went to always open. The corner store was largely dead by then and the supermarkets asserted the “low price and selection at any time” brands. 7-11 countered this by actually promoting their smaller physical size in redefining convenience as “fast in and out”. This was especially effective once the supermarkets had to start competing with big box retailers by getting even bigger.
7-11′s success spawned myriad directly competitive imitators who echoed every one of 7-11′s brand promises, plus offered gasoline, which 7-11 was not yet selling. But, 7-11′s massive global reach and superior logistics enabled them to easily add gasoline to their product mix, to lower their prices and to offer fresh snacks and sandwich meals. The latter also allowed them to differentiate themselves once again, compete with fast food take-out places and strengthen their brand by broadening the meaning of convenience to include faster, cheaper breakfast and lunch.
7-11 started out with strong branding. Their name/logo was easy to say, remember, and see on a small lighted sign, and their red and green color scheme carried the strong subliminal message of “stop and go”. But, they became and remain successful through a strong brand, by staying current with the meaning of consumer convenience – always there, everywhere, low prices, known quality, fast, and thorough coverage of common urgent needs (gas, drinks, snacks, aspirin, tampons, etc.)
The lesson this should teach the start-up is to know and communicate what you want to mean to your customers. What it should teach established companies of all sizes is to learn and know how to change and extend your meaning to anticipate your customers’ changing needs and to stay ahead of the competition.
Good branding – valuable. Great brand – priceless.
If you would like to contact Tim Negris, you can do so through LinkedIn or tnegris @ gmail.com. The only thing I would add to Tim’s thoughts is that what he has written also applies to the product brand and your personal brand.
Posted by: Mike Clough