Brands are created either by accident or deliberately, and—at times—both.
Here's a good example. Say a start-up company designs a sleeker, more durable type of surfboard because the owner is an avid participant in the sport and was tired of replacing ones that wore out too quickly. His customer base starts out as friends and family who share the same frustration. Word of mouth spreads quickly within that niche community and the product is a big hit.
This is a classic case of a successful brand that happens by accident because the company and offering resonate with the consumer naturally. In this instance, it is also likely that the organization's executive management share a similar philosophy and culture with that of its audience. However, things can unravel quickly if this same surfboard company decides to target other demographics or diversify its portfolio, such as coming up with a boogie board or swim fins line that goes after the casual beachgoer who isn't as interested in durability and performance as much as they are in the fun such products provide. The same corporate identity and customer experience offered to the dedicated surfer may not be as well received by this new customer base. When this happens, the brand can no longer be successful by pure luck, but needs to be the result of careful, calculated, strategic planning.
That doesn't mean that deliberate brands can't still be authentic to the company's philosophy and culture. However, it will require management to step outside of their comfort zone to better understand their audience in a more detailed and specific way while also embrace a willingness to evolve their own style in the process. Doing this right may mean getting someone from outside the industry to help facilitate this process.
Regardless, a viable and strong company brand starts with executives taking a hard look at themselves and answering three basic questions:
What does the company stand for? Brand and leadership strength are often synonymous, and generally personify the human characteristics of management and employees. So if someone exudes creativity, agility and collaboration, most likely their corporate image will too.
What does the consumer want? Proctor and Gamble is a great example of doing this well, by catering different products to solve the specific needs of certain individuals. You might not know Pantene and Pringles come from the same company. Each brand is so thoughtful. Whether one sells only jeans or 100 different products, adapting to the needs of the consumer is imperative.
How do operations support the brand experience? Many companies believe that a brand is all about logo design or a name; but that's not even half of it. It's the entire experience one gets when they encounter the business that embodies a corporate identity. This includes any form of communication that an organization uses to engage the outside world; from Twitter feeds and advertising campaigns to the person who rings them up at the cash register or answers their technical support question over the phone. Businesses that understand this and measure its entire operations on how each segment supports the brand will find more lucrative, loyal and supportive customers and partners.
Companies that recognize that a successful brand is really a marriage between them and their customers will stand a greater chance of succeeding. Their long term viability depends on it.
Reid Carr is president of Red Door Interactive, an Internet Presence Management firm with offices in San Diego and Denver that helps organizations profit from their Web initiatives. Clients include Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, PETCO, Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, and Cricket Communications. Connect with him at http://twitter.com/icowboy