• Bill Petrie

Your Brand Stinks

Four ways to make it stink less

Ok, maybe not YOUR brand, but there are a lot of brands in evey industry – including promotional products – that are truly terrible. Think about the last time you walked an industry trade show and saw brands that made you cringe and wince as if you are being stabbed with a white-hot poker; then think about the fact that these people also are in the business of selling marketing vehicles to deliver branding messages effectively. As Jerry Seinfeld might sarcastically say, “and you want to be my latex salesman.”

First things first: A logo is not a brand.

You might have the most awesome logo in history: eye-popping, a flawless font, and a snazzy icon. However, it would still only be a logo – it wouldn’t be a brand for the sole fact that a brand isn’t something you can see, hold, or even print on a promotional product. Going deeper, it’s not even something that you can own.

A brand is an emotion, and that emotion lives inside the mind of your audience – not in your logo.

To be specific, a logo is a meaningful – and tangible – personification of your brand, but that’s all. At its essence, a logo is merely the bucket that holds the emotions your audience feels about your brand: the good, the not-so-good, the brilliant, the bad, and the downright horrific. Every single emotion your target audience feels about your brand is poured into and held in that bucket - and on the outside of that bucket is a sticker with your logo on it.

Everything in the world is a brand: you, your company, your dog, the slightly-creepy dude who owns the video game store, the girl on roller skates who delivers delicious tater tots at Sonic, and the guy who cut you off in traffic on the way to Target last week (let’s call his brand, “jackass”). A brand happens whether you intentionally try to create one or not. You build brands in your mind every single day, even when the only kind of representation of a brand (the logo) is the back of a late-model minivan with a “Baby on Board” sign dangling lazily in the back window.

Your target audience processes a brand in the same way, which, for the most part, means your brand is not something you directly control. Indeed, you can manage your actions, reactions, partnerships, pricing, marketing, and how you position your business in the marketplace. Still, you won’t ever be able to control how your audience feels about your brand.

How is this possible? How can a brand that you’ve “built” be outside of your direct control? Let’s look at the promotional products industry as an example:

Starting a distributorship and trying to stand out, you cleverly call your business “Promo Situation.” You make all the necessary investments to get your business off the ground: association memberships, build a great website, buy computer equipment, and maybe even rent some office space if you’re feeling especially saucy. You even hire a talented graphic designer to create the perfect promo logo, you open your doors for business, and you have your first client: Bob.

Bob adores promotional products and has for his entire life. He understands the value of promotional marketing, which makes him the ideal client. He’s so excited about your company, Bob begins to tell anyone and everyone who will listen how marvelous the Promo Situation is and before you know it, you have a deluge of orders for promotional products. While that means business is undoubtedly booming, it also has a slightly negative – and unintended – impact on the overall client experience: your customers have to wait longer as it now takes three business days to put in a new purchase order. While they are waiting, expectations build as they begin to think, “this is a pretty long wait – this promo had better be worth it.”

Before you can grasp what is happening, customers start to purchase from your competition, deciding they simply don’t want to wait that long for promotional products. Even worse, the remaining ones find themselves underwhelmed by the promotional merchandise they finally do receive. Because it’s 2021, these clients take to social media and are posting, “The promo at Promo Situation is way overrated,” and “The wait wasn’t worth it.”

People who don’t even make promotional purchasing decisions and have never been to your website begin to have negative feelings about Promo Situation, and business declines sharply.

While all this happened, you didn’t change anything. You’re still the same Promo Situation, but your brand changed due to the perceptions of your audience – perceptions you can’t control…...or can you?

This is where effective marketing comes into play. As mentioned above, the message you choose to take to market is entirely under your control. By putting out the proper forms of targeted messaging, you can effectively drown out a lot of the negative perception of your brand:

  1. Bold – As Virgil once said, “fortune favors the bold.” Don’t play the uber-safe route in your branding and create some variation of what is trendy or popular – be authentically you. It’s much better to be the best version of yourself than a watered-down version of your competition.

  2. Personable – Seek ways to connect emotionally with your target audience. Don’t ever forget that people buy emotionally and justify those purchases logically.

  3. Precision – Focus on your target audience and not the overall mass of humanity that buys promotional products. Instead, shine the spotlight on those clients and prospects where you can truly deliver the most tangible value and exceptional experience. Not only will they thank you for it, but they will also become your brand evangelists.

  4. Promo – Use the excellent medium of promotional products to influence the expectations of your client base. Send out thoughtful, compelling, and mind-blowing promo to help you personalize your brand’s character and underscore your value proposition.

So, does your brand stink? It does if you either aren’t doing the above or not doing the right activities frequently enough. The fact is that someone, somewhere, hates your brand and the emotions they have tied to it. It’s up to you to change their mind by consistently putting out the proper forms of messaging so that the feelings attached to your brand are positive, not negative.

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