Before you read any further, you need to understand a fundamental business truth:
Consumers build brands, not companies.
Sure, companies put out messages, nudge conversations in specific directions, and so on, but it’s the consumers who experience brands, become emotionally connected to those brands, and make those brands their own that actually build brands.
Everything you do to market your brand depends on how consumers perceive it.
You can tell consumers again and again that your product is the best, but until they experience it, believe the brand promise, and develop perceptions of it, your brand has little chance for growth. It simply doesn’t matter what you think about your brand. What matters is what consumers think of your brand, particularly your target audience.
The Fox News brand offers a perfect example of brand perception. To Fox News brand loyalists, the Fox News brand is perceived as “fair and balanced.” To people who don’t like the Fox News brand, it’s perceived as quite the opposite. However, it doesn’t matter what the opposition thinks, because that is not the target audience Fox News wants to connect with. This is a brand that knows its target audience very well and continually delivers content and branded experiences that support brand perceptions. As long as its core audience believes the “fair and balanced” brand perception, Fox News wins.
In Part 1 of the What Is a Brand? series, I referenced Lady Gaga as a great example of brand perception built by consumers. It doesn’t matter how Lady Gaga acts, speaks, thinks, and looks in private. Showing up to an awards show in a dress made of meat fits the brand perception in consumers’ minds. As long as her actions, speech, thoughts and looks support consumers’ perceptions of her as a bit freaky, she wins.
Brand Perceptions Can Evolve over Time
Michele Levy of the John Hancock Financial Network blog offers a great analogy for brand perception. In a recent blog post, she wrote, “Consider your brand perception as a suit of clothing—it needs to feel good to be wearing it and it needs to make you look good. Ideally, it’s a little large…most brands are aspirational, something the firm needs to grow into a bit. But it can’t be so large that it looks silly on you!”
Your job is to execute marketing programs that perpetuate the brand perception both in existing customers’ minds and to new audiences. First, you need to determine how you want consumers to perceive your brand. This isn’t a guessing game. You need to do research to determine what consumers want and need, and then build a branding strategy that makes consumers perceive your brand as the one to meet those needs.
If your brand is already established, you should continually survey your existing customers to learn what their current perceptions of your brand are. You don’t pick a brand name and then forget it. Branding is an ongoing process of influencing, creating, and fulfilling consumer perceptions.
Brand perceptions go hand-in-hand with brand expectations, which is the topic for Part 4 of the What Is a Brand? series, so stay tuned! And if you missed previous posts in this series, you can follow the links to read them: