Branding: What does your name mean?

Branding is a verb

As marketing professionals, we are inundated by questions that have to do with the “brand.”  What is this brand thing and why should we care?  Why is it that everything we do or don’t do (also an action!) impacts it?  What does it look like?  Is it really my job?

Your name is your brand

A long time ago, I was told “Your name is all you have.  It’s who you are.”  I was a teenager and was more interested in sports, science and eating, not necessarily in that order, than I was trying to grasp what my uncle was trying to teach me.  With a last name that no one could pronounce, I certainly didn’t understand the profoundness of the statements.  As I got older, I was able to grow into an understanding and have an appreciation for what he tried to get through to me.  When a self-made millionaire with chains of high-end clothing, uniforms and tuxedo stores says something about business or customer service, it seems logical that one would want to listen to what he had to say.  After all, his name is on the building!

A brand is a conundrum

I’m sure some of you are a bit tired of the walk down memory lane; however, it was for a specific reason.  A brand is a multitude of things that is created by action.  The concept of a brand is very simple; however, it is a businessperson’s conundrum.  Branding is not for the mild at heart.  It is an amalgamation of strategy (company, product), corporate actions, product performance, customer service, corporate communications, marketing communications, vendor engagements, pricing, WOM (Word of Mouth) perceptions, logo, and others packaged into a single emotional impression.

If you know that your brand is all of these things, would you let the market brand you or would you take actions to brand yourself?  If it is this obvious, why do companies go astray?  For a company that lives and dies based on quarterly performance, why on earth would a company jeopardize all of its efforts with an incongruous action?  Simple.  There is a disconnect between what the company stands for in the mind of the customer/market and what an individual within the company believes for themselves.  The most recent example of this disconnect that comes to mind is The Home Depot.

Disconnects happen

There is a corporate policy in place that was stringently adhered to mandating that there would be no monies spent on special interest groups, support for political causes or something that could be construed as an endorsement.  This meant that religious organizations, for example, weren’t given money as donations for their activities specific to promoting their theology.  While I was a GM at The Home Depot, I was asked by a religious group for a box of paint stirring sticks for a project.  When I asked about the project, they stated that they were making crosses to signify the number of abortions performed in the area.  I appreciated that they thought about The Home Depot; however, having our logo on the sticks could be construed that the entire company supported abortion.  A decision like that resided at our corporate level.  The Home Depot is in the business of providing home improvement products for the do-it-yourselfer and the small contractor.  I had a moral obligation to be a good citizen in the community, but the obligation to send a message for the company was not.

Recently, The Home Depot created a huge disconnect in the minds of their customer base with its brand.  There is no question that gay rights transcends the moral/political boundaries.  Is getting involved from a corporate stand-point the best interest of their brand?  Apparently, someone in the company thought so.  The Home Depot has allowed it’s mascot to be used at gay-pride parades, permitted apron buttons to be displayed by associates and invested money into promoting gay rights, while, at the same time, firing members of the armed-forces for displaying an American flag button on their aprons.  Personal, political and theological preferences have no business in business unless it is your reason for being in business.  What does The Home Depot brand mean now to its existing customers and prospective customers?  Was it a net gain?  They violated their own rules with these actions.

There is no question that Lowe’s and other home improvement centers have created a better shopping experience with better lighting, modern colors and more customer service people while The Home Depot is removing “aprons” off the floor as they implement their version of Six Sigma.  Not only was ANY political stance wrong for a company, it severely damaged the impression of what they were all about.  Now, they have the American Family organizations and religious organizations boycotting The Home Depot.  If you were a company that made products and The Home Depot generated the lion’s share of your revenue, what have they done to your revenue and YOUR brand?

Be ready…your customer’s are

While most companies seem to avoid making the same mistakes as The Home Depot, they do things equally as bad.  Would you announce a product if all of your announcement kit wasn’t ready?  Everyone knows that you only have one chance to launch a product for the first time.  What is the message you have just sent to the market?  Would you consider a product that was poorly announced?  Would you then question the completeness of the offering?  Would you also question the quality of support?  The answers are: No; I don’t believe or care about the product enough do get everything together; No; Yes; and Yes.  This, unfortunately, is a shared mindset of many software companies because of how Agile product development works.

How honest is your brand?

One final note.  If this subject is approached from a personal perspective, the tenets are quite similar for business.  There are countless posts on LinkedIn and in blogs with extremely poor grammar, abysmal syntax and ill-conceived view-points.  What does this say about their brands?  If they are claiming to be experts in a field and they are seemingly unable to complete a cohesive thought, would you trust them with your career or your project or your company?  I am currently doing two book reviews by “experts” in Social Media.  One would think that being part of the media that they would use the vernacular of the trade or at least leave the conversational text message style to their cell phone and be observant of the appropriate voice for the medium.  I’m glad I didn’t pay for the books.  I doubt I would be buying any books from that publisher in the future.  It’s a shame that all of the work that went into the book was lost because the author didn’t care enough about how their product would be perceived to do it right.

So…what does your name mean?