A brand is more than a name and a story.
It is more than a product or service.
Brands have a much higher status. A brand becomes a brand when its customers are as responsible for the story as the founders, the marketing department and the creative agency. When a love forms, everyone becomes vested in sharing it.
That’s when you know you really have a brand.
Getting there is no easy task. It takes time, consistency, creativity and a willingness to be bold. But the rewards are great.
Here are just a few of the things brands enjoy that non-brands don’t:
1. Extreme loyalty
Loyalty doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t come boxed up in one marketing campaign or a few social media interactions.
Apple, Lululemon, Starbucks, Whole Foods. These are all brands that enjoy extreme loyalty and enthusiasm from their customers that at times can seem unreasonable.
A couple years ago, Lululemon’s brand became challenged by a quality issue. Customers started complaining that the expensive athletic pants they were buying were see-through and falling apart. The company pulled merchandise off the shelves, reeled in production and had to publicly answer a lot of questions from investors and media.
That was then. Today, Lululemon continues to sell $100 yoga pants that, judging by the customer feedback on their website, still suffer from quality issues. To my point – the brand enthusiasts and loyalists continue to line up in stores and online to buy more clothing – flawed or not.
This happens because the company long ago created a story that connects with its customers: “To empower people to reach their full potential through the right tools and resources, and encouraging a culture of leadership, goal setting and personal responsibility.”
Lululemon is a brand. Its customers know what it stands for. They buy into the experience of this clothing and the lifestyle it conveys.
When a brand screws up, its customers are much more open to apologies. Many remain loyal no matter what. This is much harder to pull off when you don’t have brand status.
2. A license to be bold
Brands also can take risks because they know their audience really well. Consider this example from Chipotle:
Chipotle – a fast food restaurant chain – five years ago created a video called “Back to the Start” that takes aim at the food industry, which they are part of. Risky. But it seems to have paid off.
The company took a grand stand against the industrialization of food, which helped build its following of loyal customers.
You probably know Chipotle last year found itself in the middle of an E. coli outbreak linked to its food. The company obviously suffered a fallout from that. But believe it or not – it did not kill them. I walk by Chipotle all the time and see plenty of people in line for burritos.
People still seem to love this place, despite its serious faults. My only explanation is that the brand and what it stands for has built up such loyalty that some customers will never be deterred.
3. An emotional connection
You know you have a brand when your customers (or the public in general) feel something when they encounter your company.
Creating an emotional connection in real estate and especially real estate tech is tricky. It’s too easy to follow the obvious hearth and home or “more listings more leads more business” angle and come off sounding the same as everyone else.
But it’s not only doable, it’s 100% worth doing. Having an emotional connection with your customers is a vital ingredient to a brand. More insight on this in my recent post here.
4. Committed customers
Tesla customers this spring signed up eagerly to wait up to three years for their new Model 3. Three years!
A few years back, men and women who wanted “the world’s greatest sweatshirt” had to wait several months to get theirs from the small San Francisco startup, American Giant. Again, they gladly waited in line.
Brands can make their customers wait. And they will. But why?
People want things that are well made and the best in their class, which explains part of these two companies’ success. But these two brands have also tapped into a larger story. For Tesla, it’s the larger story of leading the charge into the future and changing the world. By driving a Tesla, you get to be part of Elon Musk’s grand vision.
American Giant was able to hook into the story of American-made clothing that focuses more on the quality of the product than marketing and sales.
These are both compelling stories that are attractive to a lot of people.
5. Category ownership
How often do you use the term “cotton swab” instead of “Q-tip”? Probably never. Yet the brand Q-tips has managed to own its category so much that every competitor is also referred to casually by the Q-tips brand name.
This is common with dominant brands – they tend to create an immediate association for people. Say Internet search, and people would respond with “you mean, Google?” Say tissue, and many would think Kleenex. Say American motorcycle, and most people would imagine a Harley Davidson.
Brands get this sort of ingrained association – whether good or bad – because they have taken ownership of their respective categories.
The takeaway here is that brands tend to evoke feeling and create lasting relationships with their customers. The benefits of that are not always measurable, but they are significant and why investing in your brand matters a lot.
Do you have a brand? Your customers will know. If you’re not sure where to start, reach out and start asking them questions.