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The One Thing Likely To Make Your Brand Useless

Brands. Every entrepreneur wants one. Every established business has one. But it rarely lives up to its billing, and very few people know why.

While there are many reasons a company can fail to achieve its objectives, in the matter of branding, the primary reason for failure is lack of adequate and sustained connection with the target audience. This in turn usually arises from the company’s inability (or unwillingness) to speak (in) the “language” of prospects or customers.

Why brand, and why is it usually ineffective?

The power of a brand is also its Achilles’ heel. The fact that a really distinctive brand depicts the character and values of a person or business is great, but it sometimes does it so well that the most important people, i.e. the prospects and customers, end up not connecting with the brand, even when they need the company’s products or services.

Many business owners make the mistake of believing that branding is a celebration of their great vision and the rightness of their mission. Although a brand can reflect a vision and a mission, it must evolve from, lead to and focus on the needs and inclinations of the prospect or customer, if it is to be meaningful and useful for the business of making or increasing sales. Examples of companies do it right include Apple, Coca Cola and Nike.

Circles of influenceIn the previous paragraph, we implied that the effective brand only needs to reflect the vision and mission of the founders of a company, not necessarily embody them. Otherwise it risks being too inward-looking, focussing too much on the company rather than on its most important constituency, the clients.

The primary purpose of any brand should be to inspire, not to influence. If, however, all your brand does (or even if the main thing it does) is to inspire you, the owner, to greater heights, then your brand is not achieving its full potential. It must at the very least inspire your target audience to see or experience a version of themselves that is better or greater than what they currently normally know.

It’s not what your brand is saying, it’s to whom!

The key to inspiration is connection. The reason your brand usually inspires you is that you have and feel a connection with it and what it represents. Therefore, your target audience must feel a similar connection with your brand, otherwise they cannot or will not be inspired by it. And without inspiration, there will be little or no sustained emotion nor motivation for them to take the action(s) you would like them to take.

I really like what am seeing here and…

There is one more challenge: the connection has to be two-way. Your brand connects with your audience and your audience at the same time connects with your brand. When this two-way process completes, you no longer have an audience; instead you’ve managed to create a tribe! They will readily, even passionately, recommend and defend your products and services.

Your tribespeople will have a distinct sense of belonging to your “camp”, of having a uniform purpose with your company, and will do their best to protect the relationship they have with your business, so long as your brand remains authentic and relevant.

A good example of this phenomenon is the Linux computer operating system, the best recognised product of collaborative open-source computing. Linux afficionados won’t just opt for devices running on Linux, many would readily display and defend their allegiance to the computer operating system (e.g. against rival Microsoft Windows) as well as take the fight to anyone daring to attack “their system”. Their loyalty is truly tribal!

Random quote:

“Your idea’s perceived value will be judged not so much on the idea itself but on how well you can communicate it.”

— Nancy Duarte

For your tribe to form and sustain itself, you need to make it easy for your target audience to self-select into it. The best way of making this self-selection easy and quick is to

  1. Settle on your brand quickly and decisively. Prolonged deliberation or indecision can easily result in client confusion or even brand dilution.
  2. Expose your settled brand to the part of your market you want to target. The narrower this market segment is, the better. It is unlikely that your brand (just like your products or services) can appeal to all segments of the market, so the sooner you decide who you’re going after, the quicker they will be able to self-select into your tribe.
  3. Communicate your brand and value proposition effectively with your target audience by speaking with them in their dialect(s). Dialects can be looked at as the different sub-types of the “language” with which you communicate and connect with your target audience; and these dialects determine your audience’s buying behaviours. More on this fascinating subject in other articles and discussions.
  4. Deliver stupendous value (product/service and after-sales care) and explain your delivery (i.e. why you have chosen that mode of delivery) and the actual value you’re bringing, in the same dialect(s) of your target audience.

What is the “language” of your brand?

It should now be clear that there is much more to effective branding than just brainstorming with a PR or marketing company. Whatever you do, the following is de rigeur:

  1. Determine the dominant “language” with which your company “expresses” itself. This is usually but not always the dominant language (or personality code) of the founders or primary decision makers of the company. To get a glimpse of these codes, and indeed crack your own, go to
  2. Use your company’s code to create your brand image and message.
  3. Your brand’s code should in turn be consistent with your company’s code, or at least derive from the set of values and benefits your company brings to the customer.
  4. Determine your target customers’ code(s). At the very least, there should be congruence/affinity between your brand’s and customers’ code(s).
  5. Communicate your brand and value proposition directly to your customers in their dialects as determined by their code.
  6. At all stages of the sales cycle, nurture your relationship with your customers according to their code. This is the surest way of keeping them as members of your tribe of loyal customers.

So, the one thing likely to undermine your brand and perhaps even make it useless altogether is not speaking (in) the language (and indeed dialect) of your target audience. Get this right, and you will get a large loyal following of enthusiastic supporters who voluntarily become members of your tribe and your brand ambassadors. They are literally worth their weight in gold!

What are your branding experiences and/or challenges? Share them in the comments below.


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