What does branding really mean? Is it your logo, colors or the language you use? Is it the ad campaign you are currently running or the slogan you’ve utilized for years?

According to Rob Frankel, branding expert with Frankel & Anderson, Inc., branding is more than just your company name or logo. It’s the reason why people evangelize you. Your brand is a gut feeling, a distinct understanding of a product, service or company that exists in the mind of the consumer. A brand is the relationship between the product or service and the user. Understanding the brand in the context of the user’s life facilitates defining the essence of the brand. Frankel points out that branding is not about getting your prospects to choose you over the competition—it’s about getting your prospects to see you as the only solution to their problem.

The world has certainly changed. Instead of being a society of mass production we are a society of mass customization. Purchasing choices have multiplied and consumers are faced with many more options for the same product or service than a generation ago. Purchases are made now based on more symbolic and, sometimes, subconscious reasons, rather than by comparing features and benefits. Some consumers ask themselves, “What kind of people buy and use this product? Do I want to be associated with this group?” Apple, McDonalds®, the St. Louis Cardinals, even Pepsi are great examples of successful brands that evoke passion. A brand is about how consumers feel about themselves when they use a product or service.

Others evaluate their willingness to make a purchase based on the degree of trust they have with a company. Trust is the most direct route to a buying decision – and the foundation of successful branding. Ted Leonhardt with Leonhardt Group puts it succinctly: “A brand is the emotional shortcut between a company and its customers.”

So, a disciplined focus on the target audience is an essential element of successful brand management. How does your brand touch a basic, human need such as popularity, security, comfort, convenience, attractiveness or status? The most successful brands begin the marketing process with genuine consumer insight gained via robust customer research. Strong brands are successful because of a disciplined focus on a core customer. For many organizations, this segment represents no more than 15–20 percent of the customer base. But this segment, the core customer, represents a significant percentage of total business revenue.

Another component that needs to be part of the strategy is operations. The role of branding has shifted from a marketing function to a central organizing principle. The goal is to make sure all consumers have a consistent, positive experience. Branding is about building an organization’s capacity to deliver on its brand promises across all aspects of the organization, from the receptionist to the mailroom to the CEO. That’s what Ray Kroc accomplished when he started a little chain of hamburger restaurants called McDonald’s®.
It is also a philosophy that the Disney® Corporation keeps front and center. Paul Pressler, former president of Walt Disney Attractions, put it this way: “A great brand stays close to its customers. Strong brands keep close study of every aspect of the customer experience to ensure it is always a positive one.” And the corporation knows the value of delivering on that promise. Disney estimates the lifetime value in residual sales of a person having an outstanding first time visit to one of its properties to be $50,000. Going back to that one consumer, time and again, branding and reinforcing the Disney experience has obviously produced amazing results.