Marketing 101: What is a Brand?

The basic marketing question, “What is a brand?” is rarely even adequately covered in marketing classes. But understanding your business’s brand is the most crucial concept for any marketing effort to be successful.

So, what is it, then?

Your brand is the essence, the soul, of your business. Your brand is what your business values. It’s what makes your business valuable and useful to customers, suppliers, employees– and yourself. Your brand is why your business exists.

See, it’s pretty important, eh?

The excellent movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, shows a beautiful example of branding. From the film’s introduction:

Sushi Branding“JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimages, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.”

Jiro Ono has spent his entire working life (since he was nine years old!) honing his brand. He goes so far as to ensure his suppliers put their heart and soul into their businesses, as well. His son, Yoshikazu, says, “Our tuna vendor only sells tuna. Our octopus vendor only sells octopus.” And their rice vendor refuses to sell Jiro’s special rice blend to anyone but Jiro, claiming no one else could possibly prepare it properly.

The soul, or brand, of every business in this film is ever-present. They put their heart and honor into being the very best and consciously defining what they do and who they are.

Perfection is not just a platitude for these businesses. If the tuna dealer can’t find any fish he considers perfect, there’s no tuna for sale that day. Jiro’s apprentices spend 45 minutes massaging the octopus to ensure it is tender enough to serve.

Watch the trailer: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Watch the trailer: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

When a business knows its brand, marketing decisions become much easier. Sukiyabashi Jiro would never consider switching suppliers to lower costs or starting mass sushi production, because it wouldn’t fit their purpose. They know who they are, so they also know who they aren’t.

To truly direct a business and its employees, a brand must be specific enough to escape being generic. It has to answer the question, “Why does this business exist?” Answers like, “To be the most trusted provider of…” aren’t meaningful or unique enough to give your brand life– on the whole, aren’t your competitors pretty trustworthy, too?

For defining a compelling and meaningful brand, small businesses have the advantage over big ones. The soul is a unified thing, and it’s hard for large businesses to unify behind one purpose and set of values. Small businesses have the vision of one person (or a small group of people) to give them a truly purposeful brand. Don’t you think it’s worth answering the question, “What is my business’s brand?”

Why the Facebook Timeline Makes Marketing Sense

Lately, I’ve heard many complaints about the new Facebook timeline for businesses. Change can certainly be unwelcome and inconvenient, but the new timeline design has actually improved Facebook marketing opportunities for businesses.

A Simply Measured study released at the end of March shows that brands received, on average, a 46% increase in engagement when updating to the timeline. Photo and video post engagement increased an impressive 65%. Engagement includes commenting on or sharing a post. Engaging with customers is what makes Facebook a powerful marketing tool, so these increases can be very valuable for businesses.

Customization is another great benefit to the Facebook timeline design– now businesses can uniquely portray their brand with a cover image, highlighted stories and important events in the business’s history. Before, all business Facebook pages looked pretty much the same, and it was difficult to communicate your brand rather than Facebook’s brand. Facebook now tries to put the emphasis on the business, not themselves.

Before the timeline, it was easy for a business’s Facebook page to become cluttered with posts, comments or complaints from customers. Now, there is much better organization for this content. Businesses can also send and receive private messages from Facebook users. For most businesses, this will help keep their Facebook marketing communication free from confusion– a customer who asks a question or makes a complaint can now receive a private answer.

To see some examples of how other businesses and brands are marketing with Facebook, I recommend checking out Facebook’s own page – “Introducing New Facebook Pages.” There’s also a brief overview of new features. If you still have questions, or need some help, send me an email – amanda@zooinajungle.com. I’m always glad to talk small business marketing!

Don’t Make These Marketing Design Mistakes!

Route 52 near Cincinnati is an interesting drive– it follows the Ohio River, takes you through some cute small towns and, surprisingly, presents drivers with a stark marketing lesson. That lesson is to think like a customer.

On my drive, I first  encountered a restaurant whose logo includes a whimsical mouse wearing a chef hat and handling your food:

If there is a mouse on the sign, isn’t it reasonable for customers to assume the restaurant has a lax rodent policy? Either way, a restaurant never benefits from an association with mice.

Next, I drove past a gynecology clinic featuring a mermaid on their sign:

I’m certainly not an expert in this field, but I’m not sure mermaids would even require a gynecologist.

When designing a logo and other marketing materials, businesses must think like their customers. It doesn’t matter how cute, clever or “different” the logo might be if customers are off-put by the concept.

Here are some marketing design tips to help you think like a customer:

  • Understand your customer’s expectations. Would a customer think you are a better doctor with a mermaid on your sign?
  • Consider common associations in our culture. Will customers have a pleasant impression of your restaurant when they associate it with a mouse?
  • Be practical, then be creative. First answer the question, “What are we trying to say to customers?” Then, you will be able to create fun, interesting messages that resonate with customers.
  • Ask others for their opinions. An outside opinion can be valuable to gain insights you might have overlooked.

What are your customers thinking?

Do you know what your customers are thinking? Do you know what really matters to them? You should find out! It will make your marketing more effective and efficient.

Sometimes what your customers think and value might surprise you. I had a conversation with a contractor who learned by accident that his customers preferred slightly rusty service vans to pristine, freshly-painted ones. He had purchased a fleet of used vehicles, but unexpectedly needed to put them in the field before he could get them painted. Many of his customers (most of whom were selling their homes, so didn’t want to invest too much capital in the improvements) mentioned they preferred a less expensive contractor who didn’t spend thousands on the appearance of his vans. They believed “the savings were passed on to them,” so to speak. Now, the contractor doesn’t worry so much about keeping the paint jobs up-to-date.

A large part of marketing is learning what matters to your customer through research. How will you know what to say to them in marketing communications unless you know what they believe?

Getting started with research can be as simple as asking a few customers for their opinions, but to get the most value out of research, it’s best to engage a marketing firm. Customers are more likely to give their honest opinions to a third-party, and a marketing firm will have methodologies for getting customers to speak freely.

Oh, did I mention Zoo in a Jungle Marketing excels at qualitative market research? We do!

Marketing Tips: Naming a Business

When you start a new business or develop a new brand, one of the most important early steps is naming it. A good name tells customers who you are, what you do, and what you can do for them.

If the business name is too generic (think American Business Group or Unified Solutions), customers won’t know what they can buy from you. A generic name means your marketing has to work harder to tell your story, both creatively and monetarily.

Alternately, a too-specific name can limit your future potential. Apple’s iTunes Store was painfully out of date with a business model that evolved to sell so much more than music. The company had to go through the expense and consumer education efforts of rebranding the service as the App Store. Apple still hasn’t solved the naming problem of iTunes, the application a consumer counterintuitively must use to sync the data on her iPhone.

To name a business or brand, the goal is to craft a name that is descriptive without limiting the future- and has good domain name possibilities. Some of my favorites include Fast Company, the magazine for innovative businesses; POM Wonderful, the delicious pomegranate juice, and Chik-fil-a, the chicken sandwich fast-food chain.

Or take the example of the business forclosure.com, which filed for bankruptcy last year. Very descriptive of the path the business took, don’t you think?

New name, new look

Much can be debated about the merits of changing a well-known brand name. Sometimes a company or brand outgrows the intent of their original name, and marketers think a change will renew vitality and open the doors to new markets. Other marketers retort that customers know a name, so changing it risks losing all the value built into it over the years.

When most companies change, they have some kind of roll-out. When the dishwashing detergent Electrasol changed its name to Finish, it seemed to take two years to complete the transition. First, it was, “Electrasol! (soon to be Finish).” Then it became, “Finish! (formerly known as Electrasol).” After a few iterations of decreasing the font size of Electrasol, it finally faded from the packaging.

One company decided to skip all that transitional bother. Marcal toilet paper: new name, new look.

What happens to this company’s existing customers? Presumably, they will be mystified when they attempt to purchase their toilet paper.

At least we know they’ve been saving trees since 1950 (Before then, they were destroying them, perhaps).