Jimmy Marks shares his thoughts on branding.
I was very fortunate to be instructed by a man named Paul T. Burke in my last year of schooling. Who is Paul Burke, you wonder? Google him and you'll find links to the actor Paul Burke, who appeared on "Dynasty" and "Magnum, P.I." way back when. But that's not the Paul Burke I'm talking about, as it turns out. No, the Paul Burke I'm talking about is a marketing legend. In the 1970s, Paul Burke and a number of branding people were tasked by the McDonald's corporation to come up with a box of child-sized promotional affects that could be sold to youngsters at a price parents were willing to pay. His designs were some of the earliest seen in the market.
To put it simply: Paul T. Burke put the "happy" in "Happy Meal".
Now, this isn't to say he was alone in doing so - quite the contrary. The Happy Meal was the brainchild of many and has been a key part in McDonald's lasting success. But Paul Burke, who has been the Brand Manager for dozens of not-for-profit charities and organizations and has even worked in the Executive Office of the United States, says his kids are the most proud of his part in the making of the Happy Meal. Burke's job wasn't to make the hamburgers taste better or make the toys more fun. His job was making sure that "Happy Meal" and "Repeat Customer" were one-in-the-same in the minds of both the public and the company. He's the man who taught me, thick-headed as I am, that good branding makes all the difference.
Branding, for those who don't know, is attaching a symbol to your business that the customer can have in mind when it's time for he or she to make a purchase or use a service. The better your service is, the better your "brand value" is - likewise, when your service suffers, your brand loses credibility. But a brand can't gain credibility at all if it's not being used effectively. When your e-mails, letterheads, web pages and media outreach services don't bear your brand, there's nothing for the customer to keep in mind.
There are, literally, MILLIONS of articles and resources to choose from when you're trying to better your branding. To make things a little easier on you, my dear, dear reader, I'll offer these three principles.
1) Consistency is King - Be consistent with your branding. Don't have four different logos for your company or change your tag line every single day. All that does is confuse your customer. Be thorough, make sure your products can be tied back to your business, and don't be afraid to make your logo plainly visible. For a great example of how this works, go read this article by my good buddy Elliott Kashner at creditunions.com: Flaming Computers, Orange Balls, and Savings Accounts.
2) What do you want to say? - Take a good hard look at your branding efforts. Have you made the right impact with your audience? Do people know what you do professionally, or is there some doubt? Don't be afraid to take a survey or to simply ask people who might want to know and, if the results aren't satisfactory, think about making a change. But be cautious - as Professor Burke warned me, "changing a brand successfully is difficult if there's a negative connotation associated with the previous brand. Freshening up an outdated brand can be great, but it's hard to take the tarnish off of a brand that's been tainted."
3) Be original - Sure, you're going to want to keep an eye on the competition. Just make sure you're not taking their idea. Many a business has gotten in trouble for taking another business' idea, whether they intended it (see the website Pirated Sites for a look at some of the most shameless rip-off work on the Web today) or not (see this article by the awesome people at The Financial Brand - an EXCELLENT site to help you get the scoop on current branding practices).
Got a question about current branding practices? I'll do what I can to point you to the right answer when you leave us a message in the Comment Section.
Note: all brands referenced are property of their respective copyright holders. Jimmy Marks is nobody's property. Nobody wants him.