Five Brand Rules to Tell Yourself Every Morning

By Joe LePla, Principal, Parker LePla

Are you browbeaten and bewildered by bosses or clients who insist on brand conformity that sucks the life from your every great idea or catchy phrase? This list is for you.

Weirdly, after being a student of PR and branding for 34 years, I’m still seeing the same mistakes that surprised me in my first days out of college.

The reason for this is simple. Companies think branding (and PR for that matter) is like a party where they are that cool kid that everyone wants to be around and hang on their every word. The truth is people don’t wake up caring about your company. What customers really want is to be listened to and communicated with in ways that demonstrate that you have taken their needs to heart. Instead of acting like the cool kid, your company needs to be that person who everyone turns to when they’ve just been dumped or have had too much booze and are trying to figure out how to get home.

These new rules of branding hinge on being able imagine yourself from your customer’s point of view. In my rulebook, being that trustworthy, go-to person is the best brand move you’ve got.

1. Make it real

Determine why customers value your company. Usually that comes down to one or two things. At data security software company Prime Factors, it’s because they are there with clients through every challenge every step of the way. Sure, they have great technology, but what people want to buy from them is a way to smooth out the learning curve and solve problems. What is your brand value as customers experience it?

2. Make it clear

Customers don’t want to wade through sentences that are denser than your overgrown backyard. If you write sentences like "Company X discovers, researches, designs and manufacturers pharmaceuticals" then you have three verbs too many. People won’t internalize all of that information so they skip over it. Try to limit sentences to one thought — two at the most.

3. Focus on one really valuable thing

Mayo Clinic does everything well. But what they do best of all is find answers—whether you are a patient with un-diagnosable symptoms or a referring physician who’s out of ideas. Determine your brand focus before starting your project and keep it at the center of your story.

4. Think about every contingency

Think about all of the potential impacts of your project or communication before taking it to the streets. Murphy’s Law says that is anything can go wrong it will. You need to manage expectations and close down potential avenues of criticism. NASA has learned from experience to stick to short-term objectives when talking about a mission and to couch its communications with caveats. One example: They described the Mars Curiosity landing as "seven minutes of terror over Mars." They astutely used this and other potential points of failure as a way to build even more drama and interest.

5. Add to the GHP (gross happiness product)

The other thing customers want from you is to fill an emotional need. In this crazy world, everyone wants to hear or see things that add meaning and a maybe even a little joy to their lives — such information will cause people to develop emotional rapport and trust with your company. How does your product or offering contribute to your customer’s happiness? Non-profit ChildFund which helps the most at-risk kids around the world, focuses on "the voice of the child" in its communications. These stories give people a direct emotional connection with the children they are helping.

One final thought: most of the real work in branding is around understanding value and telling it in a way that your customer’ need to hear it. When you figure this out, stick to your convictions and let your company become the kid that everyone wants to confide in.

Joe LePla is a principal at Parker LePla, brand experience consultancy in Seattle, Washington. He was an early innovator in developing integrated brand methodologies and has worked with over 300 companies since the early 1990s. Parker LePla helps its clients define and operationalize branding for marketing, sales, support and human resources. He is the coauthor of three books on integrated branding: "Integrated Brand," "Brand Driven" and "Create a Brand That Inspires."

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