Close your eyes – no, not for a nap but to imagine for a moment your initial thoughts on Mercedes-Benz. Now, your initial thoughts on Chevy. Now, your initial thoughts on Jeep. All three should immediately bring to mind an identification image.
This identification, whether real or perceived, is what you think of their cars. No disrespect to any automobile company in this example, but does Mercedes-Benz equate to luxury? Does Chevy equate to value? Does Jeep equate to ruggedness? It is this image, in a split second of time, in your mind that defines each brand.
Brand identity has been the single most important factor for increasing sales and ensuring growth since the dawn of capitalism. If your product, or service and your people are the heart of your company, your brand is its soul.
A soul personified is, as the great Jesuit explorer and philosopher Pere Jacques Marquette once stated, “The essence of one’s existence, invisible, like an enigma existing within us.” When this soul is revealed to someone, that is who you are as an individual, it is your brand.
The same can be said with your company. It is what you stand for, it is what you are in the eyes of your customers, your soul and your brand. By definition, that brand identification is a unique design, a sign or symbol, words or a combination of these, employed in creating this image. It identifies the product or service and differentiates it from its competitors. Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality and satisfaction in one’s mind. It is what the product or service stands for, the benefit and the value proposition to your customer. Simply put, it is what you are.
And people respond to this. Seventy-three percent of US respondents named price and value as the leading factor that determined brand loyalty. Sixty-six percent said “features, design and quality of product or service,” were runner up. People come for the marketing but they stay for a brand that remains true to itself.
The great brands of years gone by can teach us some lessons. Take Pan Am, circa 1927, the airline brand of choice for world travel excellence, Howard Johnson’s restaurants circa 1925, travelers’ brand choice of food in the cross country highway to interstate age, Coca-Cola circa 1886, the worldwide most popular soft drink brand, and Kleenex circa 1924, the most popular brand name for tissue paper in the world. Pan Am did not live up to its brand promise of convenient and safe. The refusal of Pan Am to use and partner with regional carriers and the Lockerbie disastrous accident forced the airline to fail.
The refusal of Howard Johnson’s to locate near or at exits of the new interstate highway system, the lack of speed in food preparation compared to the changing fast food consumer lifestyle, as well as the detrimental switch to paper products from china plates, cloth napkins and silverware all moved it away from being perceived as fast, elegant food for the price and convenience.
Unlike Pan Am and Howard Johnson’s, Coca-Cola, on the other hand, adapted its soda mixture and distribution of the brand promise to the times. First in cans from bottles, first to maintain longterm contracts with vending machine companies, and first to arrange major agreements with fast food chains to offer its products. These firsts and many more helped move the company’s products to the forefront of convenience while not sacrificing that famous taste. Selling 1.8 billion bottles per day, Coca-Cola delivers its brand promise of consistent taste and convenience. Now it has reached a value of 80.31 billion dollars in 2016.
Then lastly, there’s Kleenex. The brand has been so successful that it can be used as an example of a genericized brand — a brand that did so well, despite the fact that it failed to create differentiation in product appeal, that it is used interchangeably. “Pass me the Kleenex box” means to most people, “Pass me the nose tissue, no matter what brand it is.” If there is such a thing, Kleenex is almost too successful of a brand.
Common through these four examples are themes of being consistent in your messaging and promises, being flexible and open to change, being able to listen and react to the marketplace.” In short, stagnancy kills the soul. Eighty percent of consumers said they rank “authenticity of content” as the most influential factor in their decision to become a follower of a brand. It’s important to live and communicate your brand in your business every day and to do everything possible to protect and move your brand forward.
Above all, remember at all costs, do not sell your soul, I mean to say do not sell your brand, for it can be the most valuable asset you have.
JOHN T. PETERSON became the Director of the Marine Division at Elan d.o.o. in Begunje, Slovenia in 2016. Prior to joining Elan, Peterson worked at Hunter Marine Corporation for 22 years. He joined the company as Vice President of Sales & Marketing and subsequently was promoted to President. Peterson is a past president of Sail America, a national industry association comprised of 350+ members, and is a current member of the Knights of Columbus through Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Gainesville. He is a graduate of Marquette University and possesses an MBA from Golden Gate University in addition to an Advanced Certificate in Marketing Excellence from University of Wisconsin-Madison. After living in Gainesville for over two decades, he and his wife Anita relocated to Ljubljana, Slovenia last year. They have five children and two grandchildren.