Four Things Your Brand Must Be

At the heart of every brand rests a promise, a certain experience — good or bad — that people can count on. Some branding experts call it a “brand promise.” Others call it a “brand essence.” Or a “brand position.” You could even use the throwback term “Unique Selling Proposition.” Call it what you want. Your brand has one, whether you’ve defined one formally it or not.

If you think you have an idea about what your brand stands for, here’s a short quiz you can take to see how compelling it is.

1. Is your brand differentiated?

Is your brand position something unique to you, something that only you are known for, and none of your competitors?

Of all the components fueling a strong brand, differentiation is the most critical. Most brands fail this first test because they say their brand stands for something like “service” or “value.” If everyone else is saying the same thing, it doesn’t matter if you’re the best.

Tip: If you say “trust,” try again. Brands, by their very nature, embody “trust.” When you’re brand is known for something, that means consumers can trust you’ll deliver a predictable, reliable experience. Moreover, trust is the bedrock of every financial relationship, so forget about positioning yourself as the one who is “more trustworthy.” Trust is something you can only earn through your actions, over time.

2. Is your brand relevant?

Do consumers really care about what your brand stands for? How important is it to them? Does it benefit them? Why should they care?

“Value” and “service” may be very important to people, but they are themes so ubiquitously used by your competitors… nay, used by everyone — from plumbers to car dealers to supermarkets — that you cannot successfully differentiate around them.

Tip: You can have a highly-differentiated brand promise that you can credibly deliver on, and people still might not care. You have to strike a nerve. The best way to accomplish this is by (1) listening to a (2) narrowly-focused audience so that you can (3) understand their unique needs.

3. Is your brand credible?

Do you walk the talk? Can consumers really believe you can deliver what your brand promises? Are you capable?

Tip: If you’ve found a direction for your brand that is both differentiated and relevant, you’re on to something, even if you aren’t able to deliver…yet. The good news? You’ve solved the hardest riddle in branding: finding something people care about that your competitors aren’t doing. The bad news? The execution of a strategy meeting these criteria is no picnic. You’ll need all departments — operations, training, HR, IT, lending, compliance and marketing — to work together to build the infrastructure. The result is worth the effort. Don’t be discouraged.

4. Is your brand irreproducible?

Is your brand difficult — if not impossible — for competitors to copy? If one of your competitors started copying your strategy today, how long would it take them to catch up?

Tip: You’re looking to build something that either your competitors can’t credibly deliver, or something that would challenge them so much — logistically, financially, or otherwise — that they won’t even bother. Who wants to try to outmaneuver a brand like Apple, Google or Virgin?

Conclusion

If you answered “yes” to each of these questions, your brand is rock solid. It’s quite likely your brand is contributing significantly to your bottom line.

If you answered “no” to any one of these questions, you still have some work to do. If your brand isn’t differentiated, then you have to ask, “What can we do differently?” If your brand isn’t relevant, you need to go focus on an audience and find out what really drives them. If your brand isn’t credible, you need to either change your marketing messages or your service experience, because the two don’t align. And if your brand isn’t irreproducible, you need to push yourself further and faster than your competitors could ever imagine.

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