Branding isn’t your company name. It’s not a tag line. It’s not a logo.
Branding is creating a perception. It gets new customers over the sales hurdle of education. It renews loyalty with existing customers. It creates envy among the competition.
When marketers ask, “How do we want to brand this product?” what they’re really asking is how they want their audience to think about that product once it comes to market.
A brand is a promise. It’s an expectation of an experience.
The company and tag line and logo and brand colors only exist to call that experience to mind; they do not create it.
Brands can meet that expectation, exceed that expectation … or in the worst cases, fall short of that expectation. In crisis, brands can lose credibility in a heartbeat; but how brands react to crisis often means more in the long run than the crisis itself.
Volvo’s name is synonymous with safety, which makes it the quintessential consumer example.
Cisco’s “Human Network” stands out among business-to-business brands. “Cisco makes products that make it possible for people to be connected, no matter how far apart they may be, geographically,” according to Forbes.
The Red Cross is a bellwether among nonprofits, with a brand that literally means help is on the way in times of crisis.
The very essence of brands doesn’t lie within your brand colors or site design, even though those are important.
The essence of a brand lies within its meaning. And words have meaning. Words matter.
Volvo’s meaning wasn’t derived from its logo, or even its product design, but by the constant stream of product reviews that published the data on crash tests year-in and year-out.
The brand was built, over time, by third-party validation communicated through third-party content. What other people said about Volvo created the meaning of that brand. The advertising Volvo did just reinforced that meaning.
The Rise of User-Generated Content
Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, is now famous for having said, “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.”
As marketers, we try to convince customers and prospects to generate content about our brands. In other words, to talk about us. To create a Volvo-like experience where the meaning of our brand comes from how others perceive us.
How do we inspire people to generate content? To talk about us on Facebook and Twitter, to increase our audience?
Increasingly, we inspire our customers with brand experiences and by publishing our own content.
The uninitiated customer is no more inclined to mention a brand than talk to the shy person tucked quietly in the corner at a cocktail party. If we want our customers to engage us, or our products and services, we have to contribute to the conversation.
Content is Currency
Content, as Brian Solis says, is currency, bartered in exchange for someone’s attention.
That currency becomes more valuable every time it’s shared by someone other than ourselves.
Those shares might be validation. There might be debate. There might be disagreement. There might even be a trough of disillusionment.
It’s our job to create content worth sharing. How it’s shared isn’t up to us.
Our job is to figure out what types of content are most valuable to your audience — and most likely to be shared. And then to gather the resources to produce the best content you possibly can.
‘No Comment’ is a Missed Opportunity
Every smart crisis communications professional knows that “no comment” creates a vacuum where everyone — except the person or organization in crisis — will be able to shape the conversation.
This applies in content marketing, too. We can commit to an active role, by publishing content worth talking about … or we can abstain and miss the opportunity.
Note: A variation of this post first appeared as a guest post on Copyblogger.
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Photo credit: Flickr, Franck Michel, Sparkling Times Square (CC BY 2.0)