Debunking the Top Five Branding Myths


Portrait of Cynthia Stipeche and Leslie Rainwater besides the podcast title
Solving for B°
Debunking the Top Five Branding Myths

There is a lot of misinformation out there about branding a business or organization. In this episode of the Solving for B° Podcast, Director of User Experience, Cynthia Stipeche; Brand Strategist, Leslie Rainwater; and Brand Manager, Ashley Horne join Digital Content Strategist, Chris Wilks to address some of the common myths associated with branding. They'll also discuss why believing these myths can minimize your brand's impact and ultimately, your bottom line.

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*This transcript has been edited and formatted for readability.

The Impact of a Strong Brand

Chris:  Today we're going to try to bust some myths associated with branding a company or organization. But first, I think it's important to understand the impact a strong brand can have on a company or organization.

So, what are some of the benefits of having a strong brand? And what are some of the drawbacks of not having a strong brand?

Leslie: Having a strong brand really galvanizes all your audiences together to buy-in to who you are and what you do. It isn't just about appealing to customers, but engendering loyalty in them.

You also want that loyalty from your employees. You should give them something to be excited about, that they can stand behind and be proud of because they are actually the carriers of your brand.

Cynthia: It's good to have a common mission, a common voice, and a general understanding so employees are not going in different directions. Everyone should be marching to the same beat.

Chris: Part of it is defining a common goal so that if you stray away you can always find your way back. "This is our brand. This is our mission. This is who we are. This is our personality."

Ashley: From a communication standpoint, your brand is what tells your customer what kind of company you are. What you sell but also your ethos behind it. 

Chris: A brand both implicitly and explicitly states that. And now that we have the baseline set, I think we can jump into the meat of these myths we've compiled in the preparation for this episode. The myths we selected are the ones we hear at BrandExtract most often, so we will try to break those down a little bit.

Branding Myth #1: A Brand is a Logo

Chris: One of the most common myths we hear is, “We have a logo so, therefore we have a brand.” Is that accurate?

Leslie: Absolutely not!

The logo is the first depiction of who you are, but a brand is really a culmination of many things. It's not just your look and feel, but who you are, the people who work for you and the type of services that you offer.  To say the logo would capture all that...

Cynthia: …that's got to be one heck of a visual, right?

Being a designer, I know sometimes the order will come in like, "Just make us something that looks really cool." I'm always like "We can make it look amazing but what does it really say about your company?" It's never going to say enough if there isn't a story behind it.

Ashley: It's almost just a symbol that serves as a short-cut to the emotions behind how someone might view you and your business. So if there's nothing behind that, if it's a logo or symbol that means essentially nothing, it won't be memorable and won't stand the test of time.

Chris: That's one of the things I love about what we do here: we really get to the essence. We've had some talk about BrandExtract, what does our name mean and who we are. I like to use the phrasing, “We extract who you really are and we make it come out in your brand,” so it's a fitting name.

Branding Myth #2: I Define My Own Brand

Chris: Another myth we often hear is "I know my brand; I don't need anyone else to tell me what it is." Or something along the lines of "I define my own brand."

Is that something that we agree with? Is that a myth? Are we busting that myth?

Cynthia: We are busting that! We have seen numerous organizations and stories on the news where the CEO says, "This is who we are." But it takes more than that to fully understand what the whole direction of the brand is and who they are as a company.

A lot of that is looking back to the assessment process. Every time we kick off a project, we make it a point to understand who their target audience is, dive into that and listen to them.

Leslie: We have had talks in which we will find areas where they think they are doing a good job. Cases where they think they are one thing but when you talk to customers, they say they are something totally different, and employees might even say something entirely separate from either.

Having that much disparity can be very dangerous. And it isn't cost-efficient to go to market like that because you miss your brand. You miss who you truly are and you have to shore up some things to have the brand you want to go to market with.

Chris: A big reason why you can’t just say "Okay, I am going to define my own brand and whatever everybody else says is wrong," is that you neglect your audience. 

You can have a great brand, great rationales and a whole identity system that works, and internally everybody is on the same page, but it completely misses your target audience. That’s dangerous, as Leslie said, because it starts to affect your sales.

Ashley: Your brand is not something you can just put out in a press release and send it out to the world and your job is done. It's certainly something that is cultivated.

You can go ahead and tell your brand story all day long but you must look at how your customers receive that message and how they understand it. Your brand needs to be unique, but also authentic.

Cynthia: Older brands that have been around for up to 100 years have been able to do it because they listen to their target audience, and change from decade to decade. The way you communicated with someone 50 years ago is different from today.

Think of a long-term brand like General Mills or Kraft, for example. The way their target audiences communicate and receive information is completely different. It’s important to keep in mind that things change.

Chris: I would like to talk about one other myth that is part of this myth. I guess it's a sub-myth – if you will. Sometimes you may define your brand, but you don't create your brand. Your brand exists. You have to own and manage it, but your brand is going to exist out there regardless. I think it's important to understand and realize that.

A lot of times, brands go unattended because people assume that if they just stay in their little corner no one is going to hear about them and that’s okay for them because sales are good.  In reality, that brand is living and breathing, and things are going to happen that affect it.

Cynthia: Right, like anything else, it requires maintenance. Even inanimate things require maintenance and you just can't simply abandon it. That might work now, but it’s not going to work forever.

Branding Myth #3: Brands Don't Need Work

Chris: The next myth that I'd like to discuss is the idea that once you’ve got a great brand, your work is done.

Some signals of that occurring could be thinking, "Sales are fantastic right now. Why do we need to pay attention to our brand?" or "Our marketing plan has worked for the past three years straight." Or even, "We are an established brand, we are too big to fail."

Why are these wrong?

Leslie: This goes back to what we started the discussion with: you have to understand what a brand is. Even if all of the components we talked about earlier come together to be your brand, your work is never done because you're out there in the market.

The work then is, what are we doing to purposely manage it? And that goes back to what we were just talking about. It isn't ever finished because your brand is always out in the market so it always needs tending and you must be very purposeful about that.

Ashley: People are finding new ways to engage with brands all the time. There is a competitive nature of wanting to be at the forefront of someone's mind when thinking about buying a pair of shoes, for example; what shoe brand comes to mind?

There are other newer brands in the marketplace that are constantly vying for that front of mind position. You can't just rest on your laurels and say "We have a great brand following, we are doing good." That's almost making an assumption that the marketplace won't change. You'd be doing yourself a great disservice to just close the book on that one.

Chris: I think many a cautionary tale in branding starts with "We were the biggest brand on the block..." Examples galore out there. Yahoo was the leading search engine at one point.

Right now Adidas is gaining a lot of ground on Nike and five, ten years ago I could have never imagined that I would be paying attention to them. Nike was the 800-pound gorilla and owned that space. But there are plenty of other examples of brands that didn't adjust well or quick enough to the changes in the marketplace.

Cynthia: Think about Netflix; its arrival.

Chris: Destroying Blockbuster.

Cynthia: Exactly! They probably had the opportunity, at one point or another, to make a change and adjust, but they were like "We know what our customers want, we know what we're all about." So, they didn't make the shift for technology and the delivery method of movies. That's a topic for discussion on technology and marketplace conditions, but it also ties into who they were, their thinking style, and knowing how and when to adjust your brand to the changes that will inevitably occur.

Ashley: And how we perceive the Blockbuster brand today, as opposed to say 15 years ago, is very different. They didn't change but their brand perception did change.

Chris: For our younger listeners out there, Blockbuster was a movie rental store back when we weren't able to get them online or through Netflix.

Leslie: They were actually videotapes.

Chris: VHS tapes.

Leslie: Not DVDs.

Cynthia: Kind of like going to the library. Oh, wait a second, that's different too now.

Leslie: What library? 

Branding Myth #4: Branding Isn't Necessary

Chris: The next myth we’re going to discuss is the idea that companies don’t need branding. Why is that false?

Leslie: It won't work. It’s just as simple as that. It won't.

Ashley: To some degree, it has to do with how people, customers, humans perceive value. If you don't have a strong brand behind you then you could have the best product in the world, but you lack trust. You're not reputable. And while you may have the best product in the market, you have to frame it up. You don't have inherent value in products in the sense that you might think.

Cynthia: It's just not going to sell itself.

This reminds me of great artists who are amazingly talented individuals but they can’t sell their work to save their lives. And they're usually like, "But this is amazing work. Somebody will surely buy it."

The thing is, you need a reputation, a story. You need to tell people what your work is about. You could sit in an art gallery forever, but without these, your work will end up in a basement.

Ashley: A really good example of that is a social experiment that was done by the Washington Post a few years ago.

They took one of the best violinists in the world, Joshua Belle, and put him in a Washington, D.C. subway station to play for like three or four hours. He played Bach on three and a half million dollar Stradivarius and almost nobody stopped to even listen.

He walked away with maybe $20 in tips. But two days before, he had an entire theater – in the same city – sold out for about $100 a ticket. So, if you don't frame it up and you don’t communicate value in that way, you're just noise in the subway.

Chris: That's a really good point. Products and services sometimes come in and immediately make a splash that carries them for a little bit. But they have to sustain that growth if they want long-term success as a company.

Branding Myth #5: Marketing is the Only Department that is Responsible for Branding

Chris:  So the last myth that we’re going to bust today is the idea that the marketing or communications team is responsible for branding and other departments shouldn’t concern themselves with it.

Why is that false, dangerous and misguided?

Cynthia: You can't begin with marketing. It's a reverse process in which you have to know your story, voice, message, passion, etc. before you start developing your marketing and advertising campaigns because everything stems from that.

Leslie: And we're all storytellers. All of us are part of the brand. We deliver on the promises of the brand. We deliver the services and products and the way they show up to market speak for the brand.

Marketing is essentially the vehicle to help us get out there and amplify what we're doing, but they are not the keepers of the brand. They may be the ones that are the keepers of the brand guidelines that don't let you do weird things with the logo. But that's identity, not brand.

Cynthia: And without that strong, established brand, how are you ever going to know if you're hitting the mark? What's the message? What's going out? How are you telling the story? You could create just a whole random slew of campaigns, but that's never going to solve the problem.

Chris: A really good brand usually embodies an organization.

We did an episode on Southwest Airlines and Leslie talked about their hiring practices. They look for a certain type of individual so that they can stay true to their brand and values.

An example of the other side of that is Uber. They are going through some shifts and things have not gone well for them because their CEO –  the person who should be the walking embodiment of the brand –  was recorded saying some things he shouldn’t have, and it started unraveling from there.

So, brand should be in your operations, it should be in your interactions in sales meetings with people, it should be a personality and it should be in everything that your company does.

Cynthia: It's in the DNA of the company.

Measuring Brand Success

Chris: That was our last myth. But before we go, I would like to talk a little bit about measuring a great brand and making sure you're hitting the mark with it.  Are there any particular metrics or signs that let you know you’re on the right track? Is that measurable?

Cynthia: One sign is engagement with the brand.  An example that pops in my head is Oreo. They took a very old brand of a cookie without a personality and turned it into a cookie with a great personality that can actually communicate with this modern audience. And engagement for Oreo just went through the roof when they adjusted their brand.

So, to me, that's a sign that you're doing something right: you're out there on social media and the news but in a positive way.

Chris: Oreo was an old brand that became new. I think the truly great brands reinvent themselves every so often.

Oreo was the first, that I can remember, to really understand and take advantage of Twitter: the real-time conversation and being involved in big events.

You wouldn't think that since they have been around for so many years, but they adjusted. As we talked about earlier, you have to adjust to the market conditions.

Cynthia: They're also very timely, on top of things. If something happened, there was a response. For example, during the Super Bowl when there was a blackout. They were speaking to that audience and they made that adjustment.

So, does the brand matter? Yes. Did it take care of itself? No, they made the adjustment and it was a huge success. 

Chris: Yeah. They were proactive and it obviously served them well.

But, I think that's about it. Thanks, I appreciate you guys stepping in and taking the time to meet with us today. Thanks to everybody out there who's tuning in. We'll catch you next time.