Opinions Wed, 28 Jun 2017

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Zero for a billion dollar brand

When I had the chance to make a presentation to the top management of a renowned company in Ghana (with a branch in the UK), I reiterated my controversial statement that, owning a business is not a catalyst for owning a brand. I saw the CEO pause to take note on his device (to ask for more explanations, maybe), he raised his eyebrows, probably putting two and three together but not finding five, and wondering…. what is this guy talking about?

Indeed, any successful organisation is the result of a strong brand. However, the reverse cannot be true; big organisations do not produce strong brands. To put it in simple terms, various researches have proven that, continuous patronage of a product or service is triggered by the emotional and psychological attachment the buyer has towards the organisation or its product.

But, this attachment does not come as a result of the company having a beautiful office space, fleet of cars and even the best workers you’d find on the market. Organisations have to strategically and creatively find their way into the hearts and minds of their target group – and to influence how they think and feel about your organisation, brand affiliation is NOT automatic!

A brand is not what you say you are, it is what they say you are, and what they feel about you. It is for no other reason that Coca Cola spent billions of dollars to make a special bottle and have your name (Yaa, Kojo, Akosua etc) on it, they wanted to win your heart.

Often, unfortunately, start-ups, especially in this part of the world do not give the needed attention to the conscious effort of building a brand, they need the money to survive, and rightly so. But, if they should continue like this, and nothing is done about it, the businesses will live only for as long as the founder is alive and has strength. For me, a successful business is one that can travel generations.

I see start-ups spring up every day, and I see them die every day, too. It must be known that, the initial patronage of most products is mostly not based on well-thought-out decisions. Naturally, we are attracted to new things, and for this reason, it is the beginning of doomsday if a business owner assumes otherwise, especially in the initial stages of the company or products. Continuous patronage, rather, is based on a more rational thinking.

It is not a hidden fact that the brand growing process can be very herculean and capital intensive, but, you do not need money to grow a strong brand, at least as a start-up. Can you imagine how Apple, Coca Cola, Google etc. got here? Steve jobs started Apple from his garage, he knew little about building a brand, I guess. But his company today is valued at 170,276 $m (as at 2016), and Steve is gone.

He had the idea, he built his company, and he’s dead, but his company still lives on, that is the power of a brand; it gives you money even when you are in bed. The Apple brand is known basically for quality and class; the brand has been so much empowered that whoever is employed at any level of the organisation has to fit in or back out. It is only by this means that it continues to stay relevant even though the originator is gone.

This brings me to one of my branding theories; the quality element in the branding matrix. In this theory, I emphasise on the need for quality in the process of building brands. It is a fact that you cannot tell your clients what to think of you and how to feel about you, but you can influence them, to a very significant extent without having to advertise or employ PR strategies.

As is said, experience is the best teacher, the quality of your product or service is the most powerful tool to tilting the perceptions and affections of your target group in your favour. You may get away with selling an inferior product with a beautiful advertising campaign, but it is only a matter of time and your product doesn’t get a second look on the shelf. If you do not have the kind of budget to embark on a conscious brand building process, focus on producing quality.

You are not your brand. I know I have just gotten myself into trouble with you by now, but hold on, don’t fret just yet. Of course, I know about personal branding and all its principles. But that isn’t what am talking about, even if be the case, my statement still holds. Am talking about you subjecting yourself to the brand and its promise. How does a brand that says among its core values is creativity, have its owner or staff argue with a client because the client doesn’t seem to know what she wants, yet, doesn’t like any of the options made to her?

As a trained graphic designer, I am not ignorant about how some clients will make you want to yell your lungs out and just die. But, that is YOU, the brand doesn’t know your emotions, the brand only knows that it is creative, so, tuck your emotions in and serve the brand. Your personal character or feelings have no place in your brand, you are the interface to the brand, you are not the brand.

You must subject yourself to the brand no matter what it takes. This guides you in building a consistent brand experience for your clients; they can be sure what kind of experience they get from you any day, anywhere. Live your brand, don’t make your brand live you.

Emotions and perceptions are contagious, if you want to build a strong brand as a start-up, you may want to ride on this. Do you remember the many times you have wanted to buy something because someone spoke so well about it that you couldn’t wait to lay hands on them? How about an affectionate testimony given about a product by someone close to you that you fell in love with it and couldn’t wait to experience the affection?

The thing is, everyone you give a good report of yourself to naturally becomes your brand advocate; your product or service might not be top notch, but the experience makes them go on giving you some good recommendations. I have come to believe that, among other compelling factors that contribute to brand affiliation, referrals have such a phenomenal potency.

Thus, ensure you leave the right memory customer after customer; sell your most significant brand attributes to each of them. At a point, you’d segment your market space from the lot because you have a group of interrelated people who form your market base. When they are managed well, you win their loyalty and any time they consider a purchase, they are deaf and blind to any other brand but yours.

Finally, your appearance speaks a lot about you. Anytime you will have to meet ANYONE on behalf of your brand is an opportunity to add some bricks to your brand wall. The brand building process has everything to do with consistency, thus, your language, tone, accent, body posture, haircut, dressing etc. must have a significant percentage of consistency.

If you need to meet a client, and you spilled some ketchup from your burger into your shirt, call off the meeting (just don’t keep spilling ketchups in your shirt). If you have a cold, send someone else or reschedule the meeting… more than anything else, you are your brand ambassador, how you are perceived affects your brand. You need to have your brands’ attribute in your DNA to be able to live it.

In growing your brand, you need to move at the speed of LIFE; treat the brand building process as though your life depended on it, and you lose it at the slightest peep of a disruption. Focus, diligence and consistency are key. Among other things, when the points made in this article are religiously considered, you will build a billion-dollar company with a $0 budget.

Columnist: Kojo Botsio

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