The word “branding” originates from the practice by which ranchers burnt identifying marks into the hides of their cattle with a hot iron to identify their herd. In the marketing world, there are still quite a few companies that seem to be complacent in translating the act of marking your cattle to plastering their name and logo on everything possible in the name of “branding.”

Your brand is probably the single-most powerful tool you have to create loyal paying customers. Problem is, most businesses have lost sight of what a brand or the act of branding really is. It is not your logo or package design. It is not quantified by how often your commercial airs on TV and during which show or sporting event. A celebrity endorsement might help ignite sales, but a strong brand will keep them on fire. At most, you might consider all this “brand awareness.”

What is a Brand?

The most appropriate definition of a brand I have found comes from popular brand advocate and author Marty Neumier, “A brand is the gut feeling that people have when they think about a product, service or organization.” Ultimately, every time a person interacts with you is an act of branding. An important thing to point out is that a brand is a highly emotional, psychological and experiential element of marketing that is almost solely defined by your customers. “It’s NOT what YOU say it is. It’s what THEY say it is!” Marty adds.

What “they” said in years past didn’t seem all that significant. As long as the voices of unhappy customers rarely got loud enough to get noticed by the media or consumer watch groups, companies seemed content with distancing themselves from customer engagement. The social web has drastically changed this scenario. Now the voices of a handful of consumers scattered about the world can be amplified by the hundreds or thousands of people who watched a video they created and uploaded to Youtube. A single tweet or blog post can spark a flurry of conversations between unhappy customers looking to warn others of the cruddy experience they had with a recent purchase. Social media undeniably magnifies the voice of the consumer and connects them to those with shared experiences. These experiences could include anything before, during and after a purchase. These experiences are all touch points that shape a customer’s mental association with you, therefore they are all branding opportunities.

Now, you have two choices. You can either claim that the social web has simply provided a soap box for customers who would happily complain even if they were provided the moon and the stars on a silver platter. Or, you could step up and create a brand that makes customers forget that you have any competitors. One that they will gladly tell their friends and family about. In fact, they will go out of their way to tout your products and services. Even at the risk of sounding like someone getting paid a commission for every lead they send you. Price means little. Trust, responsiveness, peace of mind … the experience reigns supreme.

Creating Brand Loyalty

This brings us to the discussion of brand loyalty. I define brand loyalty as anything that drives customers to spend money with your business more than once and/or advocates on your behalf. Brand loyalists are not easily swayed by a competitors product or the by a lower price. A brand loyalist will gladly tell the dozens, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of their social connections about you via Facebook, Twitter, etc. Some will even confess their devotion to you and your brand in ways that would surprise you.

Here is my recipe for creating brand loyalty in two simple steps:

Step 1: Tell your customers what you promise to do for them if they spend their valuable money and attention on you.

Step 2: Keep those promises for the life of that relationship with your customer … at all costs.

Step 1 has been the flavor of the day for quite some time. Every commercial, print ad, and salesman has been making promises to customers on behalf of your brand. It is step 2 where a majority of brands fall flat. A promise is only good if kept. Remember, the social customer will put you in your place when you don’t keep your promise. They will also raise you above your competitors and sing your praise when you do.

Recently, clothing designer Marc Ecko put the call out to his customers. He offered a lifetime 20% discount on all Ecko products for anyone who was willing to get an Ecko logo tattoo permanently inked on their body. Now if that wasn’t a test of brand loyalty then I don’t know what is. Needless to say, it seems that quite a large number of die hard Ecko brand loyalists reverted back to the origin of branding by marking themselves permanently with the popular Ecko logo.

Mark Ecko Branded for Life

True brand loyalty is not created by the company that acts like a rancher who marks his herd to claim ownership of them, but when passionate customers publicly identify themselves as part of your brand. Although not all customers will permanently tattoo themselves to prove their loyalty, you should still strive to make it cross their mind by creating a kick-ass brand.

So the question is, what are you doing at your organization to create brand loyalists?

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About Adam Helweh

Adam Helweh

Adam is CEO of Secret Sushi Creative Inc, a strategic design, digital and social media marketing agency. He specializes in the convergence of design and technology to provide businesses with more intelligent and interactive ways to connect with customers and grow. His clients have included Edelman, Broadcom, Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Bunchball and others. He's also the co-host of the "SoLoMo Show", a weekly digital marketing podcast, and he has shared the stage with professionals from companies including Facebook, Virgin Airlines, Paypal, Dell and 24 Hour Fitness.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://profiles.google.com/678partners Parissa Behnia

    Interesting re Ecko tattoo.  I wonder if Ecko can deliver excellent experience beyond the 20% off such that the tattoo isn’t a reminder of bad experience or disappointment.  If anyone were to ever ask about the tattoo, it could turn into a “Well I used to love Ecko but…”

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Yes Parissa, true. There are plenty of Apple fanatics out there that would do this on their own accord and without the promise of any discount. Aren’t most tattoos really a snapshot of something seemingly meaningful that could be unimportant later in life? Time will tell how many folks feel that a butterfly on their lower back was a special way to remember their youth when they hit their 50’s. Thanks for the comment.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, well I guess I never really thought that physically branding a logo was a possibility. Although only certain companies could offer this, companies with the correct demographics.. right?

    Renee
    http://mymediainfo.com/

  • http://twitter.com/SocialEconomyIQ Brandon Shockley

    In

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    Great
    post once again
    Adam
    .

    You always are on the edge of thinking outside the box and very
    clever.

    Thanks! 
     

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  • http://theinternetsqueeze.com Joe Manausa, MBA

    Well said Adam. I’m telling my people that “branding is bunk!” It’s all about engagement. We are in a “what have you done for me lately” world, and it takes high quality customer experience (engagement) to keep growing. Brand is passive, engagement is active.

    • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

      Hi Joe. I don’t agree that “branding is bunk”. What I had hope to get across is that “branding” is not anything if it isn’t an integral part of engaging and providing a great customer experience anytime they interact with anything associated with your business. Branding is more walking than talking. 

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