Branding 101: Show, NOT Tell

By Stacey Piper

With the change of seasons in the mid-Atlantic, I’ve been noticing how temperature and the amount of daylight affect my mood. Then I am reminded of quotes from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, one of the founders of Stoicism, who said that it is my inner perception of these external, uncontrollable forces that is the real influence.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Marcus Aurelius

If only I could control my mind to embrace cold weather. All the leaves are turning brown and the sky is sometimes grey, but leaving for California is probably not the answer.

Perception Drives Behavior

It’s no secret that companies spend millions on testing and advertising to influence our buying habits and even connect them to the seasons. Starbucks held back the pumpkin spice latte—the company’s most popular seasonal beverage ever—until late August this year, the earliest release in its 11 years on the market. It’s become a flavorful declaration of autumn’s approach.

What’s different about having pumpkin spice in April versus October? I suppose it depends on the hemisphere you’re in, but essentially nothing but your perception. And what’s different about the latest Coke Zero Sugar versus Coke Zero? According to Coca-Cola, the ingredients are the same, but the makeover “optimizes existing Coca-Cola Zero Sugar flavors and existing ingredients,” albeit with a new design to look more like the classic and appeal to non-dieters turned off by “Diet” Coke. With supply chains out of whack and a 33 percent dip in earnings last year due to the pandemic, Coca-Cola is doing all it can to optimize its place in the soda market.

Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in thy power.

Marcus Aurelius

Positioning Is Ephemeral and Ongoing

Branding starts with a logo and tagline, but you can’t build it once and think they will continue to come. Your brand strategy needs to be fed and nurtured to evolve with changing times, the opinions of your clients, the competition, even the seasons. Too often companies invest in branding at the outset, then cut it from their budgets and rely on communications and marketing to keep advancing the same message. Or they rush to market without adequate testing, risking fiascos like the New Coke rollout of 1985, which was intended to combat Pepsi’s growing market penetration and instead required an expensive rebrand of Coca-Cola Classic to repair the company’s reputation. Even Facebook is not immune to the whims of consumers and is going through a massive rebrand to Meta, presumably to distance itself from this year’s negative press.

The world will ask you who you are, and if you don’t know, the world will tell you.

Carl Jung

Seeing Is Believing

The top B2B and B2G brands know that brand is not who you say you are, but what customers believe you are. In professional services firms, your brand promise is reinforced day-in and day-out with exceptional service delivery. GovCon brands must consider that it is not only past performance and price that matters in the bid response to an RFP, but your underlying brand reputation that will give credibility to the submitted proposal. Companies must refresh messaging and pivot brand strategy regularly in order to be salient in the industry. Add to this that companies scaling for growth must also expand beyond capability-centric messaging to customer-centric messaging.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekhov

If you worry that your company position has changed, your offering(s) or customer set has changed, or people who know you don’t understand the full scope of what you offer, you should consider investing in your brand positioning or repositioning.

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