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Branding Your Business

Lessons from Marketing Guru Seth Godin About Building a Brand


Seth Godin is one of the world’s most influential marketing bloggers. A best-selling author, speaker and prognosticator, Seth has an uncanny ability to interpret the latest technology trends and cultural shifts in a way that reminds business owners how to navigate the latest changes while staying true to their vision and treating customers with respect. Seth’s not just interested in how businesses make a buck; he’s interested in the ways that ideas spread – the ways people create tribes of common interests and shared passions, the ways people choose to evangelize for their favorite products or causes, the ways people create mutually beneficial networks.

When trying to build a brand for your business, you would do well to read Seth’s blog. Branding is a big area of interest for him – not in terms of how to design a logo or where to advertise, but in terms of how to treat your customers and how to create a unique competitive advantage that resonates, delights and builds lasting value.

Here are a few of the biggest lessons in brand strategy from Seth:

Lesson #1: Your Logo is Not Your Brand

Seth defines a brand as:
“the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” 

Seth also says:

“Spend 10,000 times as much time and money on your brand as you spend on your logo. Your logo is a referent, a symbol, a reminder of your brand. But your brand is a story, a set of emotions and expectations and a stand-in for how we think and feel about what you do.”

Having a well-designed logo won’t help you if your brand’s story is incoherent or untrustworthy. People want to buy from brands that they really believe in – that have a proven track record of delivering a special, delightful experience. It takes much more work – and is worth much more – to build a great brand than just to design a great logo.

Lesson #2: People Don’t “Love” Brands – They Love Themselves

Many business owners assume that building a brand is all about identifying some competitive advantages and telling a story about what your company does and what you stand for. But a brand is not just a story about your company – it’s a story that makes people feel a certain way about themselves. When people decide to buy from you, what is the story that they tell themselves about their decision? How does buying from you (instead of from a competitor) make people feel? Do they feel smart, pampered, efficient, savvy, loved?

There’s no single “right” answer, but your brand needs to have an emotional connection with customers that makes them feel better – not about you, but about themselves.

As Seth writes:

“Yes, every brand has a story—that’s how it goes from being a logo and a name to a brand. The story includes expectations and history and promises and social cues and emotions. The story makes us say we “love Google” or “love Harley”… but what do we really love? 

We love ourselves.

We love the memory we have of how that brand made us feel once. We love that it reminds us of our mom, or growing up, or our first kiss. We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.”

Lesson #3: Your Brand Needs Ambassadors

One of the biggest mistakes that big companies make is that they gradually turn customer service into a “cost” instead of an opportunity. Instead of viewing customer interactions as a way to strengthen customer relationships, make more sales in the long run and build the brand, many big companies try to make customer service as cheap and efficient as possible – but at the cost of priceless trust and customer love. Instead of delighting customers with awesome service, they funnel their customers into overworked call centers where customer service reps are incentivized to get customers off the phone as quickly as possible.

Instead of overworked, poorly paid customer service reps, Seth recommends that brands use the strategy of “brand ambassadors.” Similar to how the U.S. State Department posts Ambassadors in every foreign country who are authorized to represent the U.S. and make proactive decisions to improve relations with other countries, your brand – no matter how small your business is – needs to have the same approach. Give your employees the power to really listen and apologize and share customers’ stories when things go wrong. And make sure you’re hiring people (and rewarding them) in a way that makes them a trustworthy, reliable face of your company.

Lesson #4: Your Brand Needs to Stand For Something

Is the name of your business specific enough? As Seth describes, too many small businesses have nondescript names like “Jewelry Central,” “Computer World” or “House of Socks.” A bland name does nothing to help your company stand out, and it’s useless for telling your story.

In the same way, many small businesses make the mistake of not standing for anything. They say that they believe in clichéd terms like “service” and “quality,” but these words have been overused to the point that they mean nothing. As Seth explains, you need to think really hard about what your company really stands for – what really makes you different – compared to other companies in your field. What do you do differently? What are you not prepared to compromise on, even if it loses you some customers?

Lesson #5: Competing on Trust is Better Than Competing on Price

Ultimately, building a brand is about building trust. If people trust you, they will keep buying from you and will pay a premium for the privilege of doing so. Too many small businesses try to compete on price, or try to cut corners to save money on delivering service – but this is a self-defeating strategy in the long run.

As Seth says:

“When you have a choice in what to buy, you will first and foremost (and second and third in fact) base your choice on a simple question, ‘who do I trust to keep the promise that the marketers are making?’ The fact is, people will soon forget if they overpaid for something. They will probably never (ever!) forget if you violated their trust.”

And a bonus lesson:

Lesson #6: Build a Lasting Brand with Magic and Generosity

In the end, the strongest brands offer a unique combination of “magic” (amazing products, remarkable service, something unforgettable that people are willing to spread the word about) and “generosity” (selling something for less than it’s worth, or giving the customer something extra for free). Seth calls this the formula for a “brand crush,” where people are so delighted and pleasantly surprised by your brand, that they will tell the world about it. Whether it’s a delicious restaurant or a well-curated little retail shop that has exceptional selection or an online business where people can find exactly what they need in the niche market that matters to them, there are many ways for small businesses to offer magic and generosity in a way that big companies cannot hope to match.

Kabbage Takeaway

Building a great brand isn’t about having the biggest budget – it’s about having the best story and the biggest heart to give your customers a wonderful experience and keep your promises. Brands are built on trust and respect. Keep showing your customers a sense of magic in a spirit of generosity, and they’ll keep buying from you.

Do you have any brand lessons you’d like to share with us? Post them in the comment section below.


Kabbage Team

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