Real-life Branding

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Yesterday, I happened to pass an elderly couple who’d been unlucky enough to have their car break down halfway up a hill. They had only one choice: to push the car uphill to get it of the peak hour traffic.

But, just behind the unfortunate couple’s car there were two vans, parked on the side of the road. One was a Coca-Cola van and the other belonged to a local plumber. Both van drivers decided to help push the car out of the flow of traffic. A lucky break for the elderly couple. And not a bad score for the brands these guys represented. Both of them were wearing company shirts.

An example of good branding!

Every aspect of your brand’s identity, including your employees’ behaviour, at work, on the way to or from, or out of business hours, has the potential to build or damage your brand. The question is how do you control and leverage this?

The balance is tricky and vulnerable to subjective perception. An action intended in good faith can so often backfire. A recent example was given to us by Australia’s largest bank, the National Australia Bank.

Following devastating bushfires in Canberra, Australia’s capital, the NAB, as it’s called, announced it would donate money to support the more-than 500 families who’d lost their homes overnight. Now, the NAB has earned the distinction, well-known in Australia, of being the most profitable bank in the world. It made several billion US$ dollars last year. The bank’s munificent contribution to the bushfire victims, whose damages add up to nearly a quarter of a billion US$, was US$50,000!

How do you think this gesture came across? Would you say it helped build the National Australia Bank brand? Or might it have done some damage? Perhaps the latter.

But another brand, Carl Zeiss, the world’s largest lens maker, made another type of offer to flood disaster victims in the eastern part of Germany. Carl Zeiss offered to replace any Zeiss equipment – yes, ANY – that had been damaged by the floods, even Mr Smith’s eighty-year-old binoculars. No questions asked.

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How would you say this influenced consumer perception of the brand?

Building brands is about so much more than controlling colors, fonts, the design of your website and the language of your press releases. It encompasses everything that touches the emotional tie between your brand and its customers. And all experience to date shows time and again that the most effective way to build brands is to combine traditional communication channels with alternative forms of communication. The latter is exemplified in the Carl Zeiss story.

Just imagine a company that includes, in its employee policy, a statement hat declares an expectation that every employee do at least one good thing for their fellow citizens every week while on duty. Would it cost a fortune? Probably not. But it would be likely to generate some fascinating brand stories.

The more personal stories that can be associated with your brand, the more alive your brand becomes. Brands are almost like people: they reflect opinions, have their individual and often distinctive appearances, possess a unique tone-of-voice and express a point of view on life. Personal ties with your brand are the foundation of loyal relationships between you and your customers. And isn’t that what effective branding is all about?
hc_author_1This article is authored by Martin Lindstrom, one of the world’s leading brand expert and author of several New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books, including Buyology (Doubleday, New York, 2008) and Brandwashed (Crown, New York, 2011).

To book Martin Lindstrom for your next business event or corporate training program, click here

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