A brand has two dimensions: image and perception.
Image is the internal understanding of a brand. It’s how you see yourself or company. It’s how you understand your brand, how you want to be perceived or what you want to be known for.
Perception is the external understanding of your brand. It’s how others perceive you or your company. It’s your reputation. What you are (actually) known for.
Image and perception can never be perfectly aligned, because people have no direct access to who we are (image). Instead, they stitch together different impressions at various touchpoints to create a coherent story about us (perception).
When image and perception are aligned, the brand is coherent and strong. But achieving that alignment is difficult because we don’t own the perception of our brands. We can merely shape it, influence it and manage it.
In fact, your job in building a brand is to close the inherent gap that exists between image and perception.
To influence people’s perception of you or your company, you have to know who you are--as an individual or company-- and be intentional with how you want to be perceived.
It all starts with defining the essence of your brand-- being clear about who we are.
Our brand essence represents the sum of beliefs and values that shape how we see the world and ultimately influence how we interact with it, including how we do business. Here we have to be clear about WHY we are in business.
If the answer is some variation of To make money, dig deeper and ask yourself why you want to make more money. Why did you choose this specific way to do it?
If the answer is instead along the lines of To help people, keep probing until you’re clear about how you hope to enhance the human experience of those you seek to serve. What contribution do you want to make in the world?
Don’t be satisfied with your first answer. Really embark on a journey of self-inquiry to uncover what really drives your intentions and actions. In this part of brand building, you should be able to define your purpose statement (WHY), your mission statement (HOW), your core values (HOW) and your vision statement.
Next you have to define your position in the market: Your positioning statement.
In a sea of options, it’s important to realize that customers chose in comparison with other products or services available. The clearer you are, explaining and showing what sets you apart from your competition, what makes you unique, the better your chances of attracting your ideal customer.
To find your position, start with defining your ideal customer. Create a persona for that ideal customer, which include demographic information such as (name, gender, race, age, income, location...etc), as well as psychographic information such (needs and desires, challenges, pain points, aspirations, fears, worldview and interests).
Next, you have to find what Brand Guru Marty Neumeier calls your onliness statement. You need to research all the substitutes and alternatives to your products or services, in order to find out what you are uniquely capable to deliver, based on your strengths or an opportunity that the market missed.
Create a statement that would include, your category, the problem you are solving, for whom and your unique value.
The next part is about defining how you will show up and communicate as a brand.
Your brand identity includes all the visual representations of your brand as well as how you communicate. It’s a powerful way to tell your brand story and communicate your brand personality. Brand identity is what most people refer to when they say they are building a brand: name, logos, colors, typefaces, fonts, naming and slogan.
The look and feel of your brand is so important that it’s often sufficient for people to decide whether they can trust you, or whether you offer high end products or services, for example. Think about the power that it holds.
One of the best ways to define your brand identity is by choosing an archetype. Archetypes are symbolic representations within a specific culture. Since archetypes serve as cultural references, they come pre-loaded with meaning, and that’s why they are so powerful. Nike’s archetype for example is the Hero. Chick-Fil-A’s is the Servant. Once you understand how a hero and servant behave, it becomes easier to understand Just Do It and all that Nike stands for, or My Pleasure and the legendary status of Chick-Fil-A’s customer service.
Last, you have to decide where you will find your customers and how you will interact with them: Brand Experience.
Without experiences at various touchpoints, your brand doesn’t really exist. Until it lives in time and space, it’s merely a bundle of ideas. In order for your brand to exist, you have to bring to life by designing experiences at various touchpoints. Crafting brand experiences is about operationalizing your brand essence and materializing elements of your brand.
A brand like Amazon, for example, whose mission is To be the most customer-centric company in the world, brings their brand to life by being obsessive about customer service. The level of convenience Amazon offers customers is unmatched because they constantly ask themselves how far they can take that brand mission and promise.
Here you will have to decide on key messages you will use, to communicate important things about your brand. You can create a tagline. And write your elevator pitch, which is a brief statement that enables you to communicate in a few seconds what problem you are trying to solve, for whom, while also including some of the results you’ve delivered.
You also have to decide where and how you will interact with customers, before, during and after the sale. Your website, social media, store and offices, for example, are all touchpoints. The packaging for your products, as well as your invoices are also touchpoints. Being intentional about the experience you want people to have at every touchpoint, as well as making sure it is consistent with all the other elements of the brand, is a very important part of brand building.
Separately, none of these elements would be enough to build a strong and coherent brand— one with the kind of equity that earns you attention, trust and loyalty. You have to put them all together into an intricate and coherent system because everything you say and do is a cumulative expression of your brand.
For better or for worse, perception is reality. And since we don’t own brand perception, our job is to shape and influence that reality by being clear and intentional with our brand image.