For many entrepreneurs and executives, “branding” is their entity’s logo, website and business cards.
Their “marketing” is advertising or other ways in which they impress upon potential customers the quality of the products, services or ideas they provide.
However, branding is much more than an entity’s identifying features. It is the company’s identity—what it says it does, what it actually does and how it is perceived by leadership, staff, vendors and customers.
Branding is what Shaquille O’Neal has done since entering the National Basketball Association. He’s been in marketing and advertising campaigns promoting basketball, pizza, iced tea and burgers—but his brand isn’t any of those things.
“You know, when you speak about the Shaq brand, I want to be known as the ambassador of fun,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” in 2016.
Sometimes, a brand is the marketing. The franchise company 1-800-GOT-JUNK has a name that tells you everything you need to know: who they are, what they do and how to contact them (their website and phone number are their company name).
Once the brand has been established—a difficult task in and of itself!—it must be proven through execution. O’Neal’s brand of fun sells products, so he keeps signing deals. 1-800-GOT-JUNK franchises’ high HomeAdvisor ratings indicate that many of them are doing what they promise: removing your junk in a professional fashion.
The national brands cited so far are broad and deep; each one appeals to tens of millions of Americans. But niche brands can work, too. Many restaurants are specifically tailored to immigrants from certain regions, such as Kabob Palace Family Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, which serves Afghani immigrants. BMW and Jaguar aim for upper-income customers. And one of my business partner’s other companies, Cape Cod Gutter Monkeys, applies its award-winning radio ads to its regional niche.
The best brands are consistent, attractive and recognizable without even bringing up their product or service. Think of the McDonald’s arches or how GEICO’s gecko goes on military battleships. When O’Neal appears on TV, people are ready to buy whatever it is he’s selling.
Whether you’re O’Neal, an accountant or a pet store owner, you have a value statement and a brand that are part and parcel of your professional identity. Perhaps you’re local or have the best price in town. Maybe you’re the only person providing a certain service, product or pet to your target markets.
The pet industry has a unique opportunity when it comes to creating instant brand connection with customers and potential customers because you are selling animals. What dog lover or cat aficionado doesn’t want to see “America’s happiest pet” on TV or on social media? Whereas the financial industry and politicians have to work hard to create those emotional connections, all you have to do is showcase the animals you sell every day.
Your value statement is likewise simple and powerful. With so many allegedly and actual bad actors on the fringe of the industry, set yourself apart with great reviews next to a pet owner whose child you made happy on Christmas. That image says far more than a thousand words, and it can be used in any number of social, advertisement and on-site platforms.
Whatever your brand is, make it shine. It should be part of customer interactions, your marketing and how you treat your employees. It must become part of the company’s story each day. Otherwise, your brand and value statements are just words that mean nothing—and soon enough, your company will be worth little or nothing, as customers, employees, vendors and investors flee to more reliable competitors.