June 10, 2011

Branding should not focus on customers

What is this heresy? Isn’t our Prime Directive to serve customers? Well, of course. Yes. Yes, but –

The lever to grow a powerful brand rests with its impact on prospects. You can take care of your customers, and grow incrementally. Maybe a nice 5%. But if you want to double and redouble in size, your brand has to understand, and address, and resonate with people who are not customers.

Almost every company is geared to value and serve customers, talk to them, play golf with them. Fine. Customer satisfaction keeps you in business. Few people on the team, however, know or interact with prospects. The CMO may (or often may not) know why prospects are different from customers, demographically or psychographically, and what perceptions prospects have that keep them from buying. If the CMO is a little vague, so much more so the CEO, who came up through finance or operations. She thinks marketing is a bit suspicious, not easily quantified, and therefore voodoo. The easy and usually wrong assumption is that prospects are the same as customers, who just haven’t gotten the word yet. Make them aware, the wishful thinking goes, and the job’s done.

CEOs who undertake a do-it-yourself rebranding, or address branding issues for a startup, often bring the wrong assumptions to the job. That’s why we wind up with so many meaningless three-initial company names, vague taglines, and logos with swooshes.

Yes, once the branding is on the right path and everyone on the team has signed on, the CEO will be the the brand-champion-in-chief. But many steps in the process (research to truly understand the needs of prospects, naming issues, brand narrative, logo design, tagline execution, internal and external communication, and many others) should be focused outward.