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Posted: April 26, 2013

Power Branding

Steps To Taking Your Brand From Mild-Mannered To Superhero Levels

By Tom Marx, The Marx Group

Tom MarxWhen you see the words, POW, KAPOW, chances are you instantly experience a vivid memory of a favorite comic book or strip. Your interest picks up because you know you’re about to be entertained, and you’re predisposed to want to see what happens. That is power branding.

It’s no accident that superheroes evoke excitement and rake in the big bucks. The creation of a character unfolds along tried-and-true lines. First the character is sketched out and given a basic set of rules that will govern his or her actions. Some of these include wearing a cape, fighting crime, the ability to change shape, maintains certain core values, all within a well-defined personality, story line, and appearance. And, most importantly, the super hero never deviates from this persona. By applying the same principals to your branding, you too can make your brand heroic, with the same effect on your bottom line.

Everything but the Cape: Your Brand As Hero
If you think about winning brands, you realize that they, too, have the attributes of your comic book hero. Take one of the most successful brands in the world, Nike. It has an underlying ethic: empowerment and performance. The Nike story is simply, “Just Do It.” Its personality is confident and athletic. It even has a costume, the omnipresent swoosh.
Effective branding builds on a synergy between how a company presents itself, and the buying behavior of its customers. Nike knows its consumers may not be professional athletes but they’d like to think of themselves as winners. Once you also understand what your customers want or need, and meet those needs with powerful, consistent messaging, your products will fly off the shelf!
Developing a vital, ongoing and trusting relationship between your company and your customer doesn’t just happen; it takes effort. The good news is, you don’t need Nike’s war chest, just the five forces of branding. 

Five Ways to Add Superpowers to your Company
The first force of branding is your company’s position, which creates certain perceptions about your company. This holds true both inside the company, and among your target audience and their influencers. This is necessary to differentiate you from your competitors

Position isn’t just your attitude; it’s also in a very specific way upon a structure that defines your brand. After all, Superman didn’t just put on the duds and look cool. At the base he has core values that include truth, justice and the American way. Your business also has core values and everything you do as a business arises from them.

Next you have your brand pillars, which are most important attributes and principles that you want your brand to communicate. Are you faster than a speeding bullet (to deliver product)? Are you more powerful than a locomotive (in supporting your customers)? Able to fill tall orders in a single bound? You get the idea.
Your company’s mission statement, which is basically a summation of your company’s purpose, arises out of these attributes. It was Superman’s mission to save mankind. Yours doesn’t have to be quite as ambitious.

This brings us to your unique selling proposition. What makes you different from the rest? Do you have super marketing powers? How about x-ray vision into consumer demand? Or maybe your products are the least expensive, the easiest to use, or the most highly engineered in this galaxy.

Finally, you have to communicate all the attributes of your business. This is done via your key messages. Key messages are what you want your audience to hear and remember about your company and its products or services. No cartoon balloons required; just try to speak in your customers’ language.

The Second Force Of Branding Is Your Promise
The promise you make to your customers is key to the power of your branding has. Like any superhero worth his salt, you need for people to believe in you, your products and your commitment. Otherwise, you can talk at them all day and it won’t make any difference.

What is your promise to your customers? The most memorable ones are incorporated into the branding itself. Federal Express promises on-time delivery. And people believe it, which is why FedEx is the number one choice for overnight delivery. Geico Insurance on the other hand, can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance, in just 15 minutes. That promise has built a juggernaut in an otherwise me-too industry. Just remember that as important as your promises are, it’s even more important to keep them!

The Third Force Is Personality
Every company has a personality; a way they present themselves to the world. In the previous example, FedEx is serious and steadfast. Geico is fun and approachable. People can’t relate to companies, but they can relate to personal characteristics. Build a monolith and you will be greeted with yawns. Your personality is your company’s voice. Make sure it represents your company well.

The Fourth Force Is Your Story
There’s no better example of how a story engenders customer loyalty than those comic heroes we considered at the start. A story gives a company dimension and context. It sets the stage for what you want to say today. A cartoonist can drop a few frames onto a page and make an impact because everyone is already in on the story. Story is simply the only way to explain the success of a billboard with a picture of a green gecko and an 800 number for car insurance.

The Fifth Force Is Brand Elements
If your personality is your voice, your brand elements are your face. They present a complete, and hopefully consistent, picture of your brand wherever you go. Brand elements include your logo, icon and tagline, corporate colors and all those marketing tactics in your toolkit, from website to signs, as well as collateral, news releases, packaging and everything else that is face-forward to your audience.
Geico is a great example of deploying consistent brand elements. Geico as a company name is meaningless to us, but by creating the Gecko, complete with a personality and back story, the company makes it meaningful. And you’ll find that lizard everywhere you find Geico. Add a corporate “look and feel” and the company can run a variety of ads that are still instantly recognizable as Geico.

Improving The Equity of Your Brand
This is where we get away from the superheroes and reptiles and talk about your world. Although it’s something you can’t see, smell or touch, your company’s brand equity is one of its most valuable assets. Having a well-known brand can increase your sales, helping you generate more cash flow and profits. It can also bring more attention to your company’s flaws, which is why it is important to have a foundation of core values, and stick to them.

Brand equity is created every time you communicate with the world, whether through advertising, public relations, your website or educational channels. A consistent brand image is important; if you are in a service sector, such as aftermarket sales, it is critical to make sure that every employee is trained in your core values, messaging and personality. Brand equity is built on three legs. Awareness is built by successfully deploying the five forces of branding that we just discussed. Credibility comes from delivering on your promises. Authority and leadership are the extent to which your audience believes in you and turns to you for knowledge and expertise as a category leader.

Strong, positive brand equity pays off with tangible value in the form of, higher margins or a price premium, increased consideration by potential customers, enhanced opportunities for market expansion, segmentation and brand extensions, leverage with distribution channels, marketing and sales efficiencies, (especially in winning new customers), greater customer retention and loyalty, and faster acceptance of new products.

At the end of the day, making your brand profitable is not a super human task. If you can sell your products at a competitive price, not necessarily the lowest, and add value such as better locations, faster service, professional installation, etc., you’ve got what it takes to build customer loyalty and brand equity. Add that to the Five Forces, and you’re well on the way to a happy ending. May the Forces be with you!

About The Author
Tom Marx is president and CEO, of The Marx Group, a full-service business strategy and marketing communications firm. Marx is the chief strategist, head of client services, and creative director, and his knowledge of business-to-business and consumer marketing and advertising spans 25+ years.

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