Bonding with target audience helps craft right brand

May 2 2012 - 11:45am

As entrepreneurs working to build a successful business, we often focus on finding the right employees, establishing the best strategy and aligning a product with the needs of customers. All of this is important, but we often fail to spend time and thought about crafting the right brand for our business.

As an active investor, I am alarmed when I learn company leadership has not taken the time to clearly define their corporate brand. When this occurs, I frequently invite an expert to help these companies develop their stories in a meaningful way that will be valuable to employees and consumers.

The word "brand" comes from an Old English term for "burning stick." Cowboys still apply a searing branding iron to a cattle's hide to establish ownership. The ancient Egyptians began branding 5,000 years ago as a livestock-theft deterrent and identification program.

For centuries, merchants and craftsmen used marks to identify their products and creations. Customers trusted the marks of quality producers.

The problem with the branding iron metaphor is that business owners, in general, view branding as only a mark. This leads many design and marketing professionals to confuse a brand with a company's logo, the mark that might appear on letterhead and other corporate documents.

Think of a logo as a marker along the consumer highway. It's a beacon on a hill that customers see and use as a guide to decision making. These markers are visual stimuli and components of the brand experience. Such elements are simply expressions of brand personality, artful devices to link consumers to the brand value proposition.

Branding expert Mark Hurst recommends that instead of talking about "branding" we should focus on "bonding."

An exceptional example of bonding is the success of Starbucks. Before Starbucks, there was no nationally-branded chain of coffee shops. Starbucks saw an opportunity to own the market and gradually became a ubiquitous corporate name.

Management understood that their beverages utilized the same beans found in all cups of coffee. Their genius was in conceiving the belief that enjoying coffee is about getting people together, that coffee consumption is about community, connectivity and convenience.

Starbucks built its brand around the enjoyment of the coffee experience, not the coffee itself. Their brand value proposition is stated this way: "Rewarding life's experiences."

Company leaders recognized they are in the business of delivering the satisfactory sensory experiences that surround coffee. Their branding strategy has been to provide a rich coffee brew while at the same time creating an enduring bond with coffee-loving citizens. As they have done so, loyal customers have returned for more of the same.

Take a look at Starbucks' visual images. Everything we see and feel ties back perfectly to this well-executed notion. Even its slogan is spot on: "Starbucks doesn't see itself as a company of people selling coffee; we are a coffee company that serves people." Without a doubt, Starbucks has become the master of this art form.

The lesson we learn from this approach to branding is noteworthy. As business owners, if we can understand our customers, if we can fill the voids in their lives and respond to their emotions and their desire to be seen as successful, then we can better know how to bond with them in a profound manner.

The key to a booming enterprise is for business leaders to clearly communicate to their target audience how their offering fulfills the desires of their hearts and minds.

With the bonding/branding elements in place, we can design a perfect logo, determine the best corporate colors, create terrific marketing programs and promotions and compose specific messages, all of which come together in a cohesive and unified manner.

I recommend entrepreneurs focus carefully on the nature and scope of the ultimate customer buying experience and then proceed to develop a world-class brand that tightly bonds your company with grateful customers.

How would you describe your own corporate brand? Does it communicate in a compelling way to answer your customers emotions and needs? I welcome your thoughts. You can reach me at or can connect with me at @AskAlanEHall.

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