Does Your Brand Have Juice?

by Steve Hans

If you think that building a brand today is any less important than it was prior to social media, SEO, or word of mouth marketing, you might be mistaken.  The game has changed, and the tools are different, but the need to create a unique, powerful brand has never been more important.  Good branding is about breaking through and getting on people’s radar.  And, let’s face it, it has never been more difficult to make that happen as people are inundated with virtually unlimited product choice and marketing noise.

Companies need to go beyond the marketing principles of the past where brands were built on solid, but frequently uninspired foundations.  Giving a brand JUICE takes this a big step further.  Brands with JUICE are the ones that are provocative and relevant enough to generate meaningful customer interest and marketplace traction.

Here are a few key questions to help you understand whether or not your brand has JUICE.

1.  Are your customers spreading the word like “CULT FOLLOWERS”?

Here’s a new thought for you.  Don’t think about building your BRAND, think about building your CULT (hope this doesn’t sound evil or farfetched or conjure up images of the misguided cults of the 70’s and 80’s).  Because interestingly, most of the strategies and disciplines that go into building a great religion also go into building a great brand.  The beauty of building a brand cult is that, as your “followers” become loyal disciples, they spread your philosophy and recruit other members (with limited investment in marketing).  The most effective way to measure your brand cult’s strength is to understand how likely your customers are to recommend your product (or service) to a friend.

Who’s doing it right?

No one has built a more important brand religion than Apple.  Former CEO Steve Jobs (Apple’s high priest) preached an ideology that directly challenged the faith of even the most devoted PC worshiper.  Apple started as a cult dedicated to the needs of creative types, but with the introduction of the IPOD they grew into a mainstream global religion.  If you don’t think Apple is a cult, next time you visit an Apple store tell me if you don’t feel “cooler” and closer to the Company and Brand after your experience.

2.  Is your brand idea incredibly SIMPLE?

Albert Einstein once said “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” While Einstein probably had his sights set on higher pursuits than branding, his statement rings true when you think about the great product, marketing and branding ideas of this or any other century.  It’s incredibly telling that most successful brands and companies, which are frequently supported by highly complex products and technologies, offer customers some of the simplest, most intuitive user experiences.

Who’s doing it right?

It has been well documented, but worth repeating, that Google showed tremendous discipline by only featuring a single search box at a time when virtually every other successful internet brand was cramming every possible piece of information onto their homepage.  Every time Google performs a search, their algorithm distills infinite possibilities into a simple, intuitive solution.  Google has also distilled their corporate values into a few simple principles.  At the heart of their organization is one of their most defining values that has guided them from the beginning; the notion that they would “do no evil.”  For Google, “doing good” was synonymous with serving the consumer and not misdirecting or distracting them with irrelevant ads.  At a time when other companies were struggling to find the right balance between short-term revenue and long-term customer experience, Google’s position was clear…serve the consumer and everything else would fall into place.

3.  Do you have your STORY straight?

Behind every business, there’s a great story.  Your story needs to be interesting, easy to tell and true. It’s infinitely more effective for a product (or company) to tell a story than to simply provide a list of features and benefits.  We remember stories, but features and benefits fade away into the noise of everyday life.

Who’s doing it right?

When it comes to storytelling, few have done it better than Virgin.  Virgin is essentially the story of David versus Goliath.  It’s a story about Richard Branson (Virgin’s charismatic leader) playing the underdog role by fighting for the needs the underserved British airline passenger. When British Airways zigged, Branson zagged.  Virgin built an emotional connection with customers by championing their cause and providing a tangible combination of quality, innovation, value and fun.  Virgin was the first to offer business class seats for first class prices, on-board massages, and seatback entertainment.  They also taught cabin crews that friendliness was a priority.  The Virgin Brand has now been leveraged across 300 individual companies.

4.  Are you exceeding CUSTOMER expectations?

Simply meeting customer expectations is a thing of the past. Today, great brands aren’t just trying to satisfy their customers, they are trying to surprise and delight them. Great companies recognize that customers are their most important stakeholders and the lifeblood of their organizations.  Many companies “talk the talk” when it comes to being customer-centric, but very few actually “walk the walk.”

Who’s doing it right?

Whole Foods has taken customer service to an entirely new level.  Whole Foods takes great care of their employees (known as “team members”), and in turn, they expect “team members” to take exceptional care of their customers.  Team members take initiative and go out of their way to help customers through exceptional customer service. If you ask a “team member” if the Fuji Apples are tasty, they don’t just say “yes, there nice today”, they pull out a paring knife and let you sample one.  Ever had that happen in Safeway?

5.  Are you an INNOVATOR?

The words  “innovate or die” have never been more relevant than they are today.  Companies and Brands are in a constant struggle to maintain relevance.  In many categories, the internet has lowered the cost of entry and given infinite numbers of new companies the opportunity to compete. Companies that didn’t exist 5 or 10 years ago are now flourishing.  Companies like mySpace and Friendster have gone from Internet juggernauts to Internet has-beens in less than a decade.  While it may sound trite, great brands/companies go beyond simple customer satisfaction with continuous improvement and innovation.

Who’s doing it right?

Starbucks has done a fabulous of using social media not just by connecting with customers, but also by LISTENING to customers and using their ideas to create on-going stream of innovative new products.  To date, Starbucks has implemented over 150 consumer-generated ideas from the “MyStarbucksIdea” customer blog.  Lots of companies claim to be customer focused, but Starbucks goes beyond the rhetoric in a way that other companies might want to emulate.

How does your brand measure up against these key criteria?

Does your brand have JUICE?

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