Building a Brand Isn’t Enough to Succeed

Your brand is a big deal, but not the biggest

Your brand is important for your business regardless of your size.  Whether you are working on small business marketing or big brand marketing, your brand is your customer’s perception of your business.  If you are in business, you are building a brand whether you mean to or not.  Every interaction any person has with you, your company, your advertising, your customers or any other touch point impacts your brand.

Purposefully managing your brand is important for every business.  But is it enough to insure success?  No way.

In my blog post The One Thing That Matters in Business I discussed the simple foundation for all business:

Be different from competition in a way customers value.

By having a clear vision of this for your business, managing your brand becomes easy.  At every touch point your advertising, your employees, and everything you do will communicate what you stand for.  Over time, you will build a strong brand.

When is a brand not enough?

Building a brand is great until your customers’ needs change.  If customers no longer value what makes you special, it’s time for a change.  Sometimes you can see this coming, but sometimes it can happen literally overnight.  Changing customer needs impacts small businesses just as much as the big guys.

The age-old example of changing customer needs is the buggy whip.  If you were a buggy whip maker when consumers transitioned from using horses and carriages to get around, you needed to reinvent your business.  The best brand around can’t compete with changing customer needs.  The demise of buggy whip makers was first profiled in Marketing Myopia back in 1960.

The Future Changed Yesterday

A more recent example of this is Kodak.  Kodak spent decades building a powerful consumer brand that stands for family, sharing, film and printing.  As digital cameras gained prominence Kodak was slow to move.  People will surely always need film and printing, right?  Right.  It seems obvious in hindsight, but in the moment there is a lot of momentum to keep doing what you’ve been doing, especially if it has been working.

There’s also the real problem of a company’s core skills.  With the advent of cars, bearing makers fared much better than whip makers because there was a more direct way for them to transition to building a part that was actually used on a car.  It turns out that bicycle makers were better suited to become car makers than carriage makers because they worked with metal whereas carriage makers worked in wood.

This was a real problem for Kodak.  Their core strengths were in film and paper, and the market quickly shifted to digital cameras, and much less printing.  Electronics companies like Sony had competencies more aligned with digital photography.  Kodak ultimately went bankrupt.  Their stock price declined over 90% in the past decade.

Don’t Be Like Newspapers

The modern day example of shifting customer value is newspapers.  Consumers have shifted in droves from reading a physical paper to getting their news online.  When the big shift happened many of the big papers put their content online for free.  This was fine while people still paid for the paper copy, but when subscribership declined, their business model fell apart.  So, what to do?  Recently the financial times instituted a change where consumers who read the paper online more than nine times per month must pay to log in.  Most of the customers do.  This is a smart strategy.  The customers who value your product the most are willing to pay because you’re making their life better.

How is your business making customers’ lives better?  What threats could shift your customers away from your business?  Are you prepared to make changes to head off these threats?  What do you do differently from competition that your customers really value?  Good answers to these questions could make or break your long-term success.

As a marketing speaker I have the opportunity to meet thousands of business owners.  Many business owners, large and small misunderstand what a brand is and how important it can be to business success.  Focus everything you do and say against a simple message that customers care about, and you’ll make a big impact.

Gerry O'Brion - Keynote Marketing & Branding Speaker


Gerry spent his career growing big brands such as Procter & Gamble, Coors Light, Quiznos, and Red Robin. Now, he translates strategies from billion dollar brands into techniques that any company can use, regardless of their budget.

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