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Martin Wales

Customer Catcherâ„¢

BY MARTIN WALES


[June 5, 2000]

Brand Your Company, Not Your Product

You are marketing your telephony products or services well, and you're generating sales. That's great. But how much are you concentrating on building a strong brand name for your company? Branding is often forgotten, or at least given low priority, in technology marketing. Often, branding is something we associate with consumer products, like electronics or toothpaste. Well, don't you want to be a multi-billion dollar empire like Sony or Procter & Gamble?

Making An Example Of Lucent
Let's bring it closer to home. Lucent and Cisco brand themselves really well and they're doing O.K., too. Their names by themselves mean little. They are short and memorable and do not name a product or service. This contrasts the common practice of naming products after a company's name. Others do the reverse, and name their company after their first or most popular product. This is the marketing equivalent of painting yourself into a corner: What do you do when your technology is surpassed or a new standard is adopted?

This leads me to the biggest benefit of branding. If your focus is on selling product, you'll have to come with new reasons to sell me on your next product -- especially if it's in a different product group. However, if you sell your company's quality, reliability, and expertise to me instead (a continuous process of educating and reminding me), then you can sell me many different products more easily over time.

Let's pretend Lucent Technologies had called itself "Lucent Messaging," or branded itself as the leading provider of voice cards. It would require huge expenditures to market additional products as they are added, such as fiber optics or carrier-class networking equipment. Since Lucent chose to brand their company, not their product, we instead have a perception of Lucent Technologies as an overall communications company; and we are not surprised or confused when they purchase an optical networking developer. We understand that that purchase is just another step in their effort of providing quality communications solutions. (I promise I'm not on Lucent's payroll -- it's just an easy example to use.)

Begin Your Company's Branding Now
In fairness, many of us are not huge corporations. We often have to start out with a primary focus on our product, especially if we only have one. That should not stop you from having a plan to build your brand name immediately, as you expand your product line into other areas.

Ask yourself: What does our company represent or stand for? What is the "company way" of doing things? What do we believe with respect to how our product innovations improve life for us all? Branding must present your product or service as the only possible solution to your customers' problem. Notice it is the emphasis solving their challenges -- not your company -- that makes the difference.

Brand development is best discussed before writing your business plan, but that doesn't mean you can't start building it today, even if you've been in business for years. Your brand is critical. If you get it wrong, everything your company does after may be less effective. The products or services you chose to develop or companies you acquire may not fit your brand strategy and may confuse your customers and prospects.

Your brand should create emotions that allow your prospects to buy with confidence, backed up by the rationale of the features of your product or service. Because of this, many confuse branding with advertising. Advertising is a means to communicate what you've already designed as your brand strategy. Once the brand is created, it's advertising job to raise brand awareness.

That said, creating your own brand is not simple or easy. You know your products and services better than anyone else does, but brands are about your customers, not products and services. It is best to hire an expert who knows your customers and has no political or emotional attachment to, or investment in, your technology.

Happy Branding!
In the end, the true test of your brand's strength is if people are willing to pay more for it. They recognize the value of your commitment to whatever your company vision or mission might be. In our industry, that mission is frequently about excellence or innovation -- but you can do better. Remember that brand should be about your customers, and the deeper benefits they will experience from your technology solution.

Branding is insurance. You'll benefit the most from proper branding when the industry or the economy slows (or the NASDAQ plummets). Customers with brand loyalty will remain focused on their relationship with you. Where they have little or no loyalty, they will base all purchases on price. An additional benefit comes if you sell your business -- excellent branding will bring you a higher valuation because it's viewed as an asset that retains your customer base.

This article just touches on the elusive concept of branding. I'll be discussing branding in future columns, and your case studies, comments, and questions are more than welcome. Hint: One good way to build brand recognition is to get yourself in the press more frequently.

Remember, selling products one at a time is expensive, tedious, and less profitable. Selling your company and its brand over time means you can sell me your entire product line. Happy branding!

Martin Wales is the eFounder and Chief Catcher at Customer Catcher.com. He welcomes your e-mail at martin@customercatcher.com. He is a technology-marketing specialist, speaker, and facilitator focused on maximum results with minimal risk using your existing resources.

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