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The Billion-Dollar Brand Blueprint: Lessons from the Trenches.

When you start building a brand, you might wonder what exactly is a brand? In this post, we will discuss about the essence of branding, and why it’s important for making people see your brand in a good way.

Ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 different answers. I’ve been in Branding for decades and have heard every possible answer to this question one could give. Get the answer right, and it could be a game-changing growth hack. Get it wrong, and it could cost you immeasurably. 

Here’s how we define “brand”…

Technically speaking a brand is a collection of words, images and experiences used to shape one’s perception of a company, product or service.

Our process for defining a company’s brand is by observing how its customers engage with it: What pain points do they exhibit? What rational needs are being met? What emotional feelings are they seeking, but are unable to articulate? We also scan the competitive landscape to see what others in the category and doing, what common languages are being used and what opportunities exist for distinction. And lastly, we look inward within the organization itself to uncover cultural cues, core values and personality traits to document the authentic “truths” about the company’s core essence.

Armed with this information, we distill this data, gathered from various sources, into a collection of Unique Selling Propositions (USPs), Company Mission, Vision and Values, Corporate Tone of Voice and many other attributes that define—with distinction, relevance and authenticity, the company’s brand in written form. That single document is the foundation from which all future decisions shield be made.

In the branding world, we call this a Promise of Distinction, and our goal is to establish trust within a specific target audience or tribe, and be as clear and specific with our overarching USP as possible.

Great companies understand that brand loyalty begins and ends with trust. Trust that the promises a company makes will be of value to the recipient, but more importantly, that those promises are lived up to in each and every touchpoint one has with that company. Fail to accomplish that, and you’ve not only lost a valuable customer, but you’ve compromised your reputation as a brand, doing far more harm than good.

Let’s take a brief look at some companies that have built world-class brands, and as a result have enviably loyal tribes of their own. Let’s start with a game of fill-in-the blanks…

1. Southwest Airlines is ________________.

2. Volvo is ________________.

3. Nike is ________________.

4. Apple is ________________.

5. McDonalds is ________________.

Odds are, you chose words like…

1. Southwest Airlines is Economical.

2. Volvo is Safe.

3. Nike is Empowering.

4. Apple is Innovative.

5. McDonalds is Fast.

These companies have invested billions of media dollars to reinforce these mental mnemonics in our minds, but as importantly, they possess the organizational discipline to ensure that every operational decision is “on brand”, bringing us back to the concept of promises. It’s one thing to make them, and another thing entirely—and much more difficult for that matter—in keeping them.

In the case of Southwest, it means that every decision they make as an organization—from the layout of the cabin, to the in-flight food they serve, to their uniforms, scripts and booking engine is in total alignment with their promise to be economical. That commitment to their Promise of Distinction is what makes them one of the most successful companies in the world.

The same holds true for the others on this list—they’ve all staked claims to owning not only words, but feelings in the minds of their audience, and are relentless about reinforcing their brand values in every minute detail along the customer journey. That’s the holy grail of branding and should be your goal from the get-go.

We’ll close with one more critically important ingredient in establishing trust with your audience—your domain name. 

When on the journey of converting strangers to loyal tribe members, first-impressions are invaluable. And nothing conveys credibility, trust and confidence like an exact-match ultra-premium domain. It’s why we subconsciously trust firms branded on them over their peers.  Just glance over the list of Fortune 1000’s, Crunchbase’s Unicorn Board and Forbes’ Top 100 Global Tech firms. Almost every single one has built their brand on their exact match .COM. That is not by coincidence.

Why? Credibility and cost efficiency.

For the past 30 years, we as consumers have been conditioned to subliminally trust companies branded on their exact match .COM because it naturally feels safe and trustworthy.

To further illustrate my point, which of these financial services firms would you most trust based on domain alone?

Of course it’s, because they’ve made the investment to tell the world that they, and only they have the worldwide ownership of the Chase brand, in spite of the fact that there are 5,700 companies in the world branded on some derivation of “Chase.” Doing so
shows an investment in one’s brand as well as their customer base.

Building great brands relies on an ability to distill the complexities of one’s service offering down to its core essence—one of distinction, relevance and authenticity, and then ensuring that every future operational decision is “on brand.” Create your Promise of Distinction, launch your brand on a credible and authoritative domain and then watch it flourish.

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