You probably remember when, in response to allegations of poor quality, Lululemon’s (now former) CEO essentially told women their thighs were too fat for the company’s yoga pants. The comments were a pretty big no-no for a company whose manifesto includes thinking happy thoughts and liking yourself, and quickly resulted in plummeting profits.
When Lululemon’s first store opened in 2000, it might have gotten away with quality and PR snafus like that. But today, with yoga more popular than ever, the market is saturated with high-end yoga apparel brands. When customers can even buy their yoga pants from Target, companies like Lululemon, where pants can cost up to $98, need to prove there is something special about their product in order to keep people loyal—and that’s where a brand can be a company’s biggest asset.
But in today’s market, where consumers can look up online reviews for nearly any product and shop around until they find they quality and price point they feel comfortable with, what’s the best way to build a brand? And how do you know if your brand strategy is working? Branding expert Rob Frankel, author of The Revenge of Brand X: How to Build a Big Time Brand – On the Web or Anywhere Else, shares some ideas to consider.
Branding goes beyond identity and culture. Often, people think if they create a consistent identity and show customers how awesome their culture and their values are, that will drive sales. But companies that operate under this assumption likely aren’t getting the return on investment the agency they’ve worked with has promised, says Frankel. Because let’s face it: When was the last time you bought something because the company changed its logo?
“Branding is not about getting your prospects to choose you over your competition; it’s about getting your prospects to see you as the only solution to their problem,” says Frankel. “Once prospects and end users perceived you as ‘the only,’ they’ve got no place else to go. They stop shopping. Price is less of an issue, so the well-branded products and services can command higher, more profitable prices.”
A good brand creates evangelists. One of the most important value that branding can provide is getting customers to endorse your product on your behalf. And that’s accomplished through a thoughtful and deliberate brand strategy, says Frankel.
Take the PC vs. Macbook debate, for example. For years, when someone asked a PC user what kind of laptop to buy, they would ramble on about hard drives, RAM, and processing speed, without ever mentioning the brand of laptop to consider, says Frankel. But if you asked an Apple user the same question, they’d tell you to buy a Macbook, because Apple made a point to build brand loyalty.
“When people perceive you as ‘the only,’ it’s because we’ve given them reasons why they should perceive you that way,” he says. “That’s how and why they evangelize the brand to their peers.”
It starts with knowing yourself. Brands that succeed are ones that have a clear brand strategy. They know what they’re trying to accomplish and can charge a premium because they know what sets them apart. If you want to be perceived as the only solution to your customers problems, you need to know why yourself, says Frankel. “Once you know that, and can defend it, you go forward and create identity—your name and logo—based on that strategy.”