As an an entrepreneur now for almost 16 years, one of the most important elements of my work has been building brands that resonate, not just with local customers and staff, but with global audiences too.

People can often think a brand is just a name for a product or service, but it is so much more than that. It is the perception of a brand that actually matters most. I particularly liked an article by Jerry McLaughlin, which stated:

Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.  It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic).  Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it.  It’s fixed.  But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.

In today’s world, people work hard to stand out from the crowd and we see many examples of innovative solutions with product names which don’t seem to relate to anything of which the product does or offers.

Take, for example, Google. A name that is now, not only globally recognised, but has even been added to the dictionary.

 But most people would not know where the word Google came from. And the question is, does it matter?

Google vs. Googol

The verb google and the noun googol are commonly confused because they have similar pronunciations. Google is the word that is more common to us now, and so it is sometimes mistakenly used as a noun to refer to the number 10100. That number is a googol, so named by Milton Sirotta, the nephew of the American mathematician Edward Kasner, who was working with large numbers like 10100Google, on the other hand, is the name of a search engine as well as a verb that refers to searching the Internet using the Google search engine.

The search engine’s name was inspired by the number: the founders of Google chose the name to reflect their mission “to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web.”

We can see here that the name “Google” and its relation to the word “Googol” may not really have been the secret to the growth of their company to such an extent, but their mission statement is more probable to what may have made the difference. They continued to better and better their product and service offering, by simply listening to what their customers (and staff) wanted. They are known for being great employers.

And it is this which is most often overlooked when people are trying to build brand recognition.

Brainstorming names, logos, slogans, colour schemes, and taglines can be an arduous ordeal at the best of times, but defining a mission statement, should not be. Business owners and managers should know what it is their customers want – and need. They should aim to strive for the best possible experiences for their customers and their mission statement should reflect this – promoted inwardly through staff engagement and rewards; and outwardly through the form of their logos and advertising.

There are far too many examples of when branding goes wrong – and often, this is down to a simple lack of research of local and global knowledge, some which can be seen in an article here by Mike Fromowitz.

He shares one example of Coca-Cola entering the China market, naming their product something that when pronounced, sounded like, “Coca-Cola”. The only problem was that the characters used meant “Bite the Wax Tadpole”. When they learned of their blunder, they later changed to a set of characters that meant “Happiness in the Mouth”.

Another major branding blunder occurred when Puffs tissues tried to introduce its product, they were quick to learn that “Puff” in German is a colloquial term for a whorehouse.

Both of these could have been completely prevented, if only their marketing teams had investigated these terms in the localities they were selling to.

Research, research, research is what is required to build and execute a brand that will resonate, not just with local customers, but with anyone, anywhere. In an online world with global reach it is imperative that a brand can not be interpreted by anyone in a negative light. From not understanding what happens to letters or words when translated into other languages; to not realising that a slogan can mean something entirely different, can have disastrous results for a company, and these are seen in the examples shown in the above article.

Some companies have even been downright boycotted because of their ignorance in relation to local cultures and terminology.

Some companies may feel a “re-brand exercise” will fix these problems.

I feel that re-branding is only a short term solution – changing a whole workplace culture and way of thinking is what could make the real difference.

A brand is so much more than words or images alone.

Anyone can create a new “word” or “slogan” with an aim to stand out from the market, but if they do not have a unique selling point or business proposition then this won’t be of much use to them or or their customers. A companies brand includes you, your team and most importantly, your offering, values and vision. Think about what you say and do outside of your business. Do your actions meet your messaging?

Trust is everything. Whether you want to believe it or not – people do, buy, from people.

Take for example two butchers in a local village – not new services, nor innovative in today’s world with what they provide. Both may say they provide the cheapest, most efficient and best quality products to their customers – but one butcher may not actually follow through on this.

This is when word of mouth comes in to play.

And this is a key component for brand and customer growth. 

Customers will always talk to one another – both offline and online. And the same goes to staff – they are also customers, as are their family and friends.

And…like it or not…they do talk.

My concluding advice is to really think about what it is that you do – and your vision for going forward.

  • Write it down – it doesn’t matter how long the mission statement is initially – this can be edited. But do write it all down.
  • Aim to create a culture and environment in your workplace where everyone is “bought into” what you deliver. What do you want your staff to tell your local community? What do you want to be shared on social media informing a global community?
  • Think about what your customers really want in terms of value for money, quality of service and efficiency. If you have a new product which no-one has heard of or used yet – simply think about the problem it solves – and state this clearly on your marketing materials. Sometimes a “sexy logo” is not what is needed in these instances – consider Ronseal’s strategy in this aspect – “It does exactly what it says on the tin”.
  • When thinking of your logo, slogans and taglines ask yourself are they inline with what you want the want the world to perceive your company or product as. Think of the colours you use, the text in your statements, the images used. (Do not do what Gerber did!)
  • Think about the global interpretations of your brand – a word or term that is used commonly in one country for one thing – can be used in a completely different context elsewhere.
  • Do be confident when choosing a new name, but don’t be arrogant (I could have used the word cocky here but I know that this word has different meanings across the world!)
  • Do not ever think that you will not sell your product in that country and so it doesn’t matter – remember people travel and relocate from far and wide on our planet and the last thing you need is someone seeing your brand in their new hometown- possibly insulting them or their culture. (Remember, your company may be small now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t go global at some stage – think ten steps ahead!) Also, once you have a website – this can be seen anywhere, by anyone – including investors and potential business partners!
  • Remember, initial advertising may draw new customers quickly, but if you don’t deliver on what your brand says it will, then you may be setting yourself up for failure. Don’t say you do something you don’t – or con people by twisting words.
  • I would also add that it is, in my opinion, important that you think of how your company resonates with cultural, equality, environment or other global agendas. More and more companies today are scrutinised by consumers and business partners on these issues. An example of this going really wrong is demonstrated in the Nestlé scandal in Ethiopia.

On this note, and for whatever reason, if you choose to not be concerned with any of these global issues, my advice is this –  do not attempt to fool people into thinking you are, for the sake of fitting in. Do not say you are doing something when you are not, just to gain traction (see: Volkswagon Emissions Scandal).

This tactic is seen more often than we realise, especially in aggressive competitive marketing – and all too often it backfires.

Take for example, a new innovative “Dry-Cleaners”. They have a “green” logo name and they state on their website that they are “environmentally friendly”. They say they do not use conventional chemicals when cleaning clothes, but instead use water and soaps.

While these statements may be true – the question posed is “are they really and truly environmentally friendly?”

Are their packaging and hangers biodegradable (disposable plastic suit covers and wire hangers)? If they say they’re not using conventional dry-cleaning chemicals could they be using up to 50% more water than the other cleaners? Are the soaps in their machines being removed and treated by specialist environmental firms such as in conventional cleaners – and if not, what water source do their soaps wash into?

This new company decide to deploy their marketing strategy by publicly attacking the methods of conventional dry-cleaners in their online campaigns stating that the chemicals used traditionally are carcinogenics and harm customers if they wear dry-cleaned clothes. The facts may show that while some chemicals used in dry-cleaners are carcinogenic, the same could be said for petrol/gasoline, which are used daily by billions across the world in vehicles. Chemicals on clothes dry-cleaned work from the same theory. Statements made by this new company, may be seen as false fear mongering.

An excellent article can be seen here in the New York Times related to a similar case.

Additionally this new “dry-cleaner” is stating that they use water to clean clothes. This poses another problem as their new process is not factually classed as dry-cleaning as per global standardised definitions: dry-cleaning is the process of cleaning clothes without water. These new “dry-cleaners” actually use a new process called “wet cleaning” (i.e. washing dry-cleanable clothes in water) – and by claiming they are a “dry-cleaners” in the first instance, by default, could be seen as deceiving their own customers – and also be deemed as false advertising.

But this company chose to capitalise on a solution that was already recognised, and brand theirs as the same – rather than go the bother of informing their customers of an innovative new product and service offering (something which could be really exciting and disruptive- if done well – and of which could change the minds of dry-cleaners who do use toxic chemicals and get them to change their practice too – which of course is good for the environment!)

While the marketing efforts made by the new “dry-cleaners” may seem smart, it could also prove to be a disastrous campaign if both competitors and consumers challenged these statements. A whole brand could be damaged and this company could feel the strain under the pressure. And simple research and talking to customers could have helped them start a new revolutionary movement towards “wet-cleaning” as opposed to cheating the customer into thinking they are getting the same service.

Why create enemies when you could create allies? Why play dirty, when you could play smart?

One message to take from this example – if you are going to make a statement, especially an aggressive competitive one – back it up and prove it.

Be ready to do what Toyota did, when Trump challenged them on their new set up in Mexico.

Now, in relation to global movements as mentioned earlier, I also often wonder if companies really understand what “empowerment” is. Especially in relation to equality. Yes, you may feel this is a step too far in the world of business, but it really, really isn’t.

For my own healthcare product, I knew that the statistics consistently showed that women were the main carers in the home. I could have capitalised on this “gender segment” for sales, and state this product was to empower women.

But why would I say something that doesn’t try to change the status quo?

By saying it was just for women, I could be indirectly stifling the equality agenda – and I could be stigmatising male carers in the home. Thankfully with new stats continually showing that more men are participating in the care of their loved ones, I knew that I could empower those 60% of women that do provide care through my product, but I could also promote something which advocated that both genders could do so with no differentiation – and aim for a 50/50 approach.

So, I chose to promote family centered care by design, and this, I feel, helped promote the equality agenda – not stifle it.

But you may wonder does my strategy impact negatively on my sales even though all business mentors would say I have to pick one “customer segment” for the best outcomes?

The answer is no, not at all.

I simply have different messaging strategies – all of which can run at the same time due to the power of social media and high levels of domain knowledge. It just takes a little more innovation – and a lot of research, research and more research.

You, your company and your service offering will be the brand that will grow customers. Your mission statement will be the foundation for which this is built. Your values and vision will help build this foundation. And your logos and advertising will reflect a combination of all of the above.

Be proactive, not reactive. Aim to never have to re-brand your company.

Think about the articles you write, the content you share, the image you portray. Both in public and private domains.

Is this reflective of what you actually do?

Consumers do not like to be taken for a ride.

And in today’s world, if they think they have been – they can tell the world in less than 140 characters.

And take your character down with them.