• Issue #57

What your brand love language says about you… and what it has to do with value

A billboard next to a road at dusk. Two hearts overlap on it.

There are a lot of different definitions of branding out there. Here are some common ones:

  • a product or service that has a unique and immediately recognizable identity that distinguishes itself from others in its industry.
  • the process of creating a distinct identity for a business in the minds of your target audience and the general population.
  • your customers’ emotional and psychological connection with your company, product, or service.

Personally, I don’t disagree with any of them. A distinct and recognizable identity and the connection your customers feel towards you – I can get on board with those sentiments.

But there are problems, right?

  1. Your collaborators in building brand recognition might carry a different definition than you.
  2. A far more helpful way of understanding what brands are is by understanding what they do.

Let’s start with the second one and circle back to the first.

Brands represent shortcuts. A brand cuts right to the chase about the value the product or service offers the purchaser without that value being overtly stated.

When you think of the brand YETI, what attributes come to mind? Probably something like durable tumblers and coolers that hold their temperatures effectively for people who enjoy outdoor activities (or something like that).

When you think of brands like Gucci, Burberry, or Louis Vuitton, you might think of expensive luxury items that signal the purchaser cares about chic style.

YETI can run advertisements without saying, “This tumbler is for someone who likes to pour a giant cup of coffee and have it stay warm for most of the day while they do outdoor activities.”

Gucci can place nearly wordless advertisements in magazines. Gucci doesn’t need to say, “Do you want to make your friends jealous?” For their market, this value is communicated through their brand.

That’s why if you were to ask me:

  • Is branding all about visual identifiers like wordmarks and colors?
  • Is branding all about occupying a unique place in the minds of your customers?
  • Is branding all about the connections your customers feel towards you?

I would say yes, and somehow, I’d still feel like those definitions are missing something. Because it’s about communicating value.

What is your value?

Value can be tricky, especially in higher education. Here’s why. When you’re buying something like a handbag or a tumbler, you have the memories of previous handbags and tumblers to work from. And you have a likely future ahead of you purchasing new handbags and tumblers. Handbags and tumblers don’t last forever. So, Burberry and YETI know from market research how they are doing. They can tell when they are gaining and losing market share. They can even quantify the estimated value of their brand. Their brands are literally treated as assets.

This helps them position their products. Positioning is the method of establishing and communicating value. A brand position is having the features and capabilities that a customer is looking for at the price they can pay. When they buy your product or service, it’s because they think they are getting the best value from the benefits you provide in exchange for what it costs compared to your competitors. Brand positioning helps to clarify the features and capabilities that are the most important to your customers.

The trick with higher education is that repeat purchases or moves from one brand to another are rare. Choosing where you will receive your education is a high-stakes decision. Most people only get one bachelor’s degree. Transferring is possible, but it comes with sets of costs (having to retake classes that aren’t accepted, facing different requirements, etc.) that make it a financially painful option. So getting comparative data on who is fulfilling their brand promises better is nearly impossible.

This makes brand positioning really difficult. If you don’t know how you do against your competitors in certain dimensions of performance, it’s harder to know who needs you and why. It’s also harder to get that proof of value. Your opinion of your value doesn’t count. Only the opinions of your customers do. But their opinions are so rarely comparative! ARGH!

This is where how you define what branding means comes into play

If you are someone who sees brands as a series of visual design and content rules, i.e., fonts, colors, wordmarks, and campaigns, then you will focus on consistency.

If you see brands as distinct identities, your approach to brand conversations will focus on how much you stand out, a.k.a. differentiation.

If you see brands as your customers’ emotional and psychological connection to you, then you will focus on storytelling.

None of these are wrong. In fact, each one of them is right. But, each one is only a piece of branding. It’s like that parable with the blindfolded men and the elephant. One man feels the tusk, another feels the ears, and a third man feels the trunk. And they all come away with a different idea of what an elephant is, each both right and wrong. I feel like I need to write about branding love languages or something.

Where do we go from here?

There are two problems here. There’s the problem of agreement about what brands represent. And there’s the challenge of including what brands are meant to do in an institutional understanding.

As hard as it is, when you’re launching a serious branding effort, you need to consider:

  1. how you will position yourself (and what you are basing that positioning strategy on),
  2. how you can present reliable data to convey your value, and
  3. how you will measure your brand’s performance.

If you do this, the consistency, the differentiation, and the storytelling will fall into place.

Bravery Media has research methods to help you develop your position and assess how well you are doing at conveying your brand identity. Reach out to discuss a project like this.