February Program Notes: Secrets of a Branding Guru with Robert Friedman by Marina Cook

Robert Friedman, branding expert and founder of Fearless Brands, spoke to members of NCBPMA and ASJA about the importance of having a strong brand. In today’s world, we have so many messages and information coming at us at once so having a strong brand that will break through the clutter is critical.  Robert explained that branding is not marketing, nor your title nor your name.  Rather, it’s how your market understands you, consciously and unconsciously.

Defining who you are is the foundation for developing your brand. It connects your unique value to who needs and/or wants your services.  Robert explained that brand is the central organizing principle for conveying who you are (culture), your product, how you present it, and how you talk about it. He emphasized the importance of defining your brand vision (emotional, functionality, aesthetic qualities, like images and words), and brand architecture, the real connections your audience makes between the common idea and the meaningful experiences they get out of your product. It’s also critical, Robert said, to be quite clear about who your target market segment is, specifically, what is the demographic and psychographic of the market you’re trying to reach.

Robert then talked about the importance of having precise meaning for your brand and that you should be able to define it in one specific word or concept.  The example he gave here was Polo, and the word to describe the brand is aristocrat. The meaning needs to be clear and simple yet still maintain value.  Another example he gave was Martha Stewart, the word or archetype he used to describe her was “vestal virgin”.

Robert then gave some examples of good brands, like Apple, NIKE, Charles Schwab, and Tiffany. These brands are built on a single, meaningful idea that is relevant to specific market segment.

Apple was conceived for creative people, yet they really paid attention to the preferences of their customers. And they were innovative because they expanded their business to other items besides computers, as they now offer the ipod, iphone, and the ipad. They moved from niche to more general.

NIKE, and their motto, Just Do It! Is reminiscent of the hero/heroine who is victorious.  It’s literal and metaphorical (strong brands are both of these things).  NIKE is a powerful brand because it’s well established in the marketplace and in the minds and psyche of their customers.

Charles Schwab succeeded in differentiating themselves from other financial advisors, as they recognized what was important to their audience.  Their customers, they determined, really just want someone they can simply talk to about finances.  “Talk to Chuck”, is their motto and it’s quite approachable, since Chuck seems like a regular guy.

Tiffany is yet another example of a strong brand.  Some time ago, they patented the turquoise box with a white bow which is a powerful image for communicating romance, or “giving voice to your heart”. Furthermore, they can claim that their diamond engagement ring is “the ring of rings”. It’s truly their strategic advantage in the jewelry market place.  In all of these examples, this is proven: Customers who are loyal will pay premium prices if the brand is strong and powerful.

Robert explained how companies can redefine, hone, or shape their brand into a strong brand.  It’s key, Robert said, to talk to your customers to understand what they want or need.  You should strive to speak to their deepest needs and figure out how you can fulfill them.  Ask them in a straightforward manner why they purchased your product. If you decide to talk to your customers about these things, Robert said, it’s optimal to have a third party talk to your customers via an actual conversation. Robert also suggested answering the following questions, as it is a good exercise in defining your brand:

How do you want them to feel when they meet you? When they have started working with you? Your customer should understand your essence.

To further develop or strengthen your brand, Robert recommended creating an experience that your competitors don’t provide, for example, conveying your uniqueness, gift, offer (benefit), and promise.  He said it’s critical to know what your values are, for example, what is important to you that is not as important to your competition. Interest, service, excellence, however, are assumed. Clearly defining your mission and the fundamental difference you’re making in the world is also key.

Robert then went into how we can apply this to books and publishing.

Malcolm Gladwell is an author but also a brand.  He truly has an understanding of what interests his audience and he succeeds in making the average person understand difficult, yet interesting concepts. He knows that people will be interested in trends and talks about them in a way that has broad appeal.  Furthermore, the publishers of his books have done a good job of maintaining a consistent visual branding for his titles.  For example, the author name and title are in large type and the cover images are reminiscent of a computer screen.

Robert also gave an example of how he helped one of his clients, an author, determine that her brand essence is truth.  Her book is about the importance of accountability. Thus, Robert has helped her develop website that conveys this brand by translating this idea into simple, yet powerful images.

Finally, someone in the audience asked about Facebook and Twitter. Robert said that your brand can be carried over to Facebook and Twitter but he emphasized that it’s good to have unifying theme and a clear connection to your company. Make sure people can easily understand it and that it points to one thing.

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