Much has been written about building a winning brand and about the importance of brand and branding in general. In my view successful branding is the culmination of a 2 – step process which is as follows:

1. Ask: What do we want to be remembered for?
2. Act always and consistently to create those memories in people’s minds.

So that every time they think of what you provide, they have only one name that they can recall and that is yours. Like all truly powerful ideas, it is very simple. The key is in execution; passionately, seamlessly and consistently.

In my view, if you are competing against anyone, i.e. if your customers or potential customers are even considering your competitors as potential fulfillers of their need, then you have failed. In the words of Sun Tzu, ‘The best general is the one who wins without fighting.’ And that is the hallmark of successful branding – that you leverage yourself out of the competition.

So how can you do that?

1. Asking: What do we want to be remembered for?

It is essential to ask this question and the answer lies in another question: What am I most passionate about? We can only be remembered for what we do best and we can only do best what we are most passionate about. So ask, ‘What am I most passionate about? What do I truly want from life? What am I willing to do anything to achieve? What do I get the most satisfaction from?’ Make up your own questions and answer them and you will arrive at that which you are most passionate about. If you always do what you are passionate about you will become known for it and people will remember you for it. So identify that passion.

2. Act always and consistently to create those memories in people’s minds.

If there’s one word which is critical in this statement it is the word ‘consistently’. It is regularity that creates dependability. People must become used to expecting the same standard of excellence when they come to you for whatever it is that you provide. Consistent Excellence. Flashes in the pan are good to create awareness but if the pan doesn’t flash every time, then credibility gets damaged very quickly.

When you do this – produce excellence and do it consistently and regularly then dependability ensues and brand is created. Brand is not built by you but by your clients who tell others and become your ambassadors to the world. One referral by a satisfied client is worth a million bucks of advertising. I am not against advertising and PR but want to emphasize that one must keep it in perspective and not imagine that it is some kind of magic wand that once waved will wipe out all the bad taste of indifferent product and service quality. It won’t. On the other hand the PR will come across as an exercise in deception and destroy credibility even more.

Many branding ‘experts’ talk almost exclusively about ‘customer perception’ and the ‘mind of the customer’ as if they can read minds. They talk about how to ‘influence the customer’ to think this way or that as if the customer is a puppet in your control who can be influenced independently of your actions and what you provide. Their ‘campaigns’ are almost exclusively about logo design, ad copy, tag lines and color combinations. They don’t talk about product quality, delivery efficiency, service excellence or follow up. The result is that ‘branding exercises’ are all about advertising and PR and not about creating sustainable quality. This is a very big mistake because the damage to the brand which results from the eventual and inevitable disappointment that the customer feels when the PR mask is off, is something that can’t be measured and seldom corrected.

So what must one do?

Focus on ‘Moments of Truth’ and ensure that these are defined, designed to create the impression you want the customer to take away and monitored to ensure that every single time, the customer has the exact same experience.

What is a ‘Moment of Truth’?

In the words of Jan Carlson, the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, who first used the term in this context, ‘A Moment of Truth is that moment when a customer or a potential customer, comes into contact with any aspect of your business and has an opportunity to form an opinion.’

I have underlined the key phrases in this definition to highlight their importance. Who is a ‘customer or a potential customer’? In my opinion it is anyone in the world. Anyone who meets you, speaks to you on the phone, logs onto your website, reads your brochure, billboard or any of your literature or contacts you in any way at all must go away with the most positive impression possible about who you are and what you do. This must happen even if the person decides that you are not the person he/she needs to fulfill their need at that time. They must still feel that you are the best thing that happened to them.

Moments of Truth are defining moments but are for the most part handled either mechanically (websites, answering machines and so on) or by the least paid, least trained employees (telephone operators, security guards, receptionists) with predictable results. I am not suggesting that the CEO must man the phone or stand at the gate (though having said it, is not a bad idea at all to do once in a while) but must know what anyone who calls his company or comes to meet anyone experiences. Most CEOs and managers when I get them to call their company anonymously are unpleasantly surprised at what happens. Most Moments of Truth in most organizations go unnoticed and uncommented upon except by customers, which is a very dangerous situation to be in.

The key to brand building is to ask, ‘What do we want our customers to feel when they think of us?’ Then talk to them and ask what they do feel and bridge the gap. This VOC (Voice of Customer) is the most valuable tool for brand building that you can imagine. It is a thermometer to gauge the warmth the customer feels towards your organization – the warmth of love and good feeling or the warmth of irritation and anger. Organizations that listen to customers regularly (by this I mean actually speak face-to-face not run anonymous surveys) have their finger on their pulse and are able to leverage that knowledge. They build relationships that result in customer loyalty and give them an insight into what their customers want. Apple’s iPod and iPad were the result of listening to customers and the resultant sale success is an indication of how well they know their market. Singapore Airlines advertising is supported by in-flight service that even other airlines talk about. BMW’s advertising is supported by unmatched engineering to produce a benchmark, not merely a car. Brand building therefore in my view is to listen to the customer, build a close relationship with him/her and deliver a quality of service that leaves them spellbound. Advertising and PR then is merely to inform them about new products and services.