Brand Real

How Smart Companies Live Their Brand Promise and Inspire Fierce Customer Loyalty

 Brand Real

Author: Laurence Vincent
Pub Date: March 2012
Print Edition: $18.95
Print ISBN: 9780814439265
Page Count: 272
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814416778

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The world does not need another brand. We’ve got plenty of them, and to

be honest, many are underwhelming. After twenty years in the branding

trade, I wrote this book because I’m as frustrated as the average

consumer by the way so many brands consistently disappoint. Not real

brands, mind you. Real brands are excellent at

fulfilling, and often exceeding, our expectations. They are so focused

on keeping promises that they define the very concept of “brand”—they

make tough strategic decisions about what to offer customers (and what

not to offer them), they attract and retain employees who care, and they

grow without straying from the sense of purpose they symbolize. It’s the

real brands

that inspire fierce loyalty.

It takes great discipline to create and manage a real

brand. But you’d never know that by the way a lot of managers talk about


A while back, I was interviewing a prospective client. During our

discussion I asked him questions that I refer to as the reality


  How indispensable is your brand to your


  What’s your rate of employee turnover?

  What does your brand do better than any

competitor, and why does it matter?

  How easy is it for competitors to replicate

your brand experience?

  How easy is it for customers to do business

with your brand?

  If your brand disappeared tomorrow, why would

anyone care?

On this particular occasion, his answer stunned me. He said, “I’m not

looking for a management consultant. I’m talking to you because I need a

nice new brand to make up for the problems you just asked me about.” And

there it was: the trouble with modern branding, right there out in the

open, staring back at me without any sense of irony. My prospective

client ran a company that was being commoditized. He ­couldn’t keep good

employees because “they all end up wanting too much money.” His company

was engaged in a constant race to keep up with competitors, so he relied

on “cost management” (i.e., cutting corners) and aggressive pricing

tactics as his means of differentiation. And doing business with his

company was a nightmare. He’d outsourced and subcontracted so many

pieces of it that a customer was apt to believe the company was

schizophrenic. Yet somehow he believed he could solve all of these real

problems by hiring someone from the outside to design a better logo,

tidy up the website, and clean up the advertising. That’s not branding.

That’s stagecraft.

Needless to say, we ­didn’t end up working together. He thought I was

arrogant and expensive, and I thought he was delusional. The experience

agitated me because that kind of thinking is widespread, and it poisons

the well for all brands. So I began writing a manifesto about what it

takes to be a real

brand. Real brands make and keep a promise,

and they deliver ­simple-­but-­powerful experiences. My manifesto began

as a guideline for the strategists who worked for me, but before I knew

it, my notes became the outline for this book. My goal: to show you what

it takes to make and keep a brand promise.

I’m fond of a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Don’t write because you

want to say something. Write because you have something to say.” I have

a lot to say about branding. I invest a little bit of myself every time

I work with a client to create or strengthen a brand, and I find it

rewarding when the effort results in a stronger relationship between the

client’s brand and the audience it serves. I suppose that’s why I take

it personally when I hear branding described as a graphic design

exercise—a cosmetic attempt to manipulate the truth. Brands should stand

for something or they ­shouldn’t stand at all. If you want to create a

real brand, you have to make a promise and be willing to bet the farm on

it. It ­doesn’t matter whether you’re a small business in Peoria or a

large corporation with offices in every corner of the globe.

Real brands make promises they

intend to keep. This is as true for a brand that stands for a product as

it is for a brand that stands for a person. Everything you may already

understand about a brand—names, logos, advertising, package design,

retail experiences, customer support, and so on—is ­really just an

extension of that promise in action.

We’ll start in Chapter 1 by debunking one of the most common assumptions

about branding: that names and logos can solve business challenges on

their own. In Chapter 2 we’ll explore the mind of your audience to

understand how they remember brands and recall them when it ­really


In Chapter 3 you’ll discover the common ways that a brand can make or

refine a promise. After more than one hundred years of brand evolution,

you’ll see that there are some useful patterns at your disposal.

Chapter 4 looks at one of the most bothersome branding challenges: how

to create a brand architecture that provides room for growth without

sacrificing the essence of the brand’s bond with customers. For rapidly

growing brands, architecture—the purposeful organization of brands and

subbrands within a portfolio—is often a nagging issue. You’ll find some

specific ways to make brand architecture a tool for growth instead of an

obstacle to progress.

In Chapter 5 we’ll examine how to position brands within a competitive

category. We’ll discuss establishment

brands and challenger

brands, and how they engage in an ongoing battle for

category leadership.

Chapter 6 will help you better understand the minds of consumers.

Specifically, you’ll see how consumers attach their identities to brands

and why it’s more important to be relevant than to be liked.

In Chapter 7 we’ll explore the power of brand narrative and how brands

rely on storytelling to communicate a promise and connect with

consumers’ identities.

Names and logos attract a lot of attention. In fact, they’re often

mistaken for the brand itself. But in Chapter 8 you’ll learn the truth

about the role that names and logos actually play in branding. And we’ll

see that a brand’s identity serves an important purpose that’s often


In Chapter 9 we’ll see just how much the brand experience affects

consumers’ future decision making. We’ll look into the thoughts,

feelings, and behaviors of branded experience to provide you with a

better perspective on how to prioritize your brand’s operating plans.

Finally, we’ll discuss the critical importance of aligning a brand

internally and the most effective ways to engage people on the inside so

they can deliver the brand promise to the people on the outside.   


brand, at its heart, is a promise to deliver. When the brand experience

­doesn’t live up to that promise, customers take their business elsewhere.

This book—intended for anyone on the inside of a brand—is a practical

guide for making a brand’s promise stand up when and where it matters

most: at every customer touch point.

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