Have you ever had a friend you met online but you were disappointed with what they turned out to be in real life? Or what about a place you’ve heard interesting stories about but didn’t meet up to your expectations when you finally got the opportunity to visit? Our experiences with people, places or things influence how we respond in scenarios that remind us of them. This is the same way we can almost tell if someone is shy, proud or friendly by mere looking at them or even listening to them speak. It is normal to hear someone say I don’t know him, but I don’t just trust him. This happens when we are reminded of someone or something we had a not-so-good experience with. The irony is, most times, you might not be able to make the connection as to why. The semblance might not even be in the entirety of the subject. It might be in something as simple as their smile, smell or gestures. And that’s how the brain works. While you may not remember the exact details of past experiences, you never forget the feeling you got from them. And just a little element can trigger that feeling all over again. Most of this happens in our subconscious.

That’s how brands begin to evolve.

A brand is the total emotional experience that customers have with your company, product or service. It starts from when they meet you and it continues afterwards. It is the total experience because your brand is embedded in the mind of every person who has ever come in contact with your staff and your product or service. That, my friends, is exactly how it is. And if that experience doesn’t match the way your company describes its brand or thinks about its brand, then guess what – you’re lose!

Even you can be a brand.

Ask people to tell you what they honestly think about you and you will be amazed to note how their experience with you has shaped their feelings. When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling about you, you can be said to be a brand. In other words, a brand is not what YOU say it is. It is what OTHERS say it is.

The current rise of start-ups and SMEs is unprecedented. But guess what, according to Fortune magazine, 9 out of 10 startups will fail. While there are different reasons why startups fail, an underlying factor is that many of them spend more time working in their business rather than on it. This boils down to the issue of poor branding.

Look at it this way, while building a catering service that bakes amazing wedding cakes for example, you can as well build a brand that captures wedding memories in every bite. Or if you have a company that makes expensive shoes, then you can build a brand that strokes the big ego of your customers.

So is a brand a promise? The answer is No.

A brand is not your promise of value or slogan, because like promises, they too can be broken. And your customers know this. They have seen it happen all too often with numerous alternatives out there. A brand is not a group of words you sign off with after each correspondence, engrave on the walls of your company or print boldly on the t-shirts of your employees who simply do not reflect what it stands for. This is what I call the “hard sell error”.

Whether you chose to or not, as you build your business, your customers will ultimately build emotions based on what their experiences are – good or evil. This is an equal reaction to an action. Do you remember that song by Ludacris that goes when I move you move, just like that? Well I like to rephrase by saying “When I build you build, just like that”. And that is how the brand story goes. But the good news is you can influence your brand. You can control it.

The problem with many startups and SMEs is that they treat their brands as a collection of isolated activities instead of seeing their brand as a holistic experience for the customers, one built into all the important places the customer defines as reflections of your brand and what that brand stands for. As a brand consultant I see it happen all the time. Often clients will call our company to say things like “I just started the business and all I need for now is a website, logo or a business card” or “ I run a not-for-profit organization fighting for attention – maybe even survival – among the other thousands of charities out there. We need to have our own identity”. What they don’t know is, most times, what they really need is to work on their brand.

I love the way Maya Angelou puts it when she said “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

So what are doing about your brand?

ABOUT US: Zimylink Brand Managers is a brand management firm. We’re a team with in-depth expertise in developing and deploying effective brand solutions for big and small brands. As part of our approach of bringing ideas to life, we publish our thoughts and theories on branding and also solicit the contributions and opinions of other industry experts. This is to help emphasise the impact of branding on the development of small and medium sized businesses towards building a sustainable economy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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