The common thread in truths 3, 4 & 5 is this: Your customers have a lot of control over your brand, and creating a strong brand strategy requires a whole lot more than clever marketing people, talented art directors and a big marketing budget. Let’s see why…

Fundamental Marketing Truth #3: Your brand is not what you say you are. It is what your customers think you are.

Fact: Most marketing communication is either ignored or misunderstood by customers.

No matter how much you spend on marketing communications, and no matter how clear those communications are, there is a very high likelihood that they won’t communicate what you want them to communicate. Customers, in the midst of their busy lives, don’t notice most of the marketing messages sent to them. Moreover, these same customers are much happier making decisions for themselves than being influenced by marketing communications.

The Result? What your customers think is a much better indication of the current state of your brand than are the marketing messages your company communicates.

Practical application: If you want to know what your brand really is, don’t look at your website, brochure or logos. Ask your customers.

Fundamental Marketing Truth #4: You don’t brand your customers. They brand you.

Think of the brands or companies you love to do business with. They may include global companies, and they may include small businesses in your home-town.

What do you think of these companies? You probably have rich, interesting, positive beliefs about them. If a friend asked you about them, you would give an enthusiastic, personalized endorsement.

Who created your beliefs about these companies? Did they create your beliefs, brainwashing you with advertising and sales pitches? Of course not. They didn’t “brand” you, in the way a cowboy brands a helpless calf. You branded them.

The same thing happens with your customers. You don’t brand your customers. They brand you.

The Result? Your job is not to “create your brand.” It is to create a set of experiences that make it more likely that customers will brand you in the way you want them to. Every time a customer comes in contact with you they have the opportunity to brand you … and, you can be sure, they will take advantage of that opportunity.

Practical application: Don’t assume that branding is done once you come up with a tagline and a new logo. Recognize that customers are branding you. At every moment, make it easy for customers to brand you in the ways they want to brand you.

Fundamental Marketing Truth #5: Integrated marketing is something customers do.

“Integrated marketing” was a term that came into use about 50 years ago to describe marketing programs that don’t rely solely on advertising. By employing integrated marketing, marketers could supplement their advertising with a dash of direct marketing, a pinch of public relations and a spoonful of sales promotion and, voila!, they’d have a more effective marketing program. Today the concept is much the same, except that marketers have the option to blend in a bit of SEO, SEM and WOM.

Integrated marketing is seen by marketers as a convenient tool that they get to use to improve the effectiveness of their work. But they are misleading themselves. They may think that they are the ones doing the integrating, but, in fact, it is the customer who is actually doing the integrated marketing.

While the marketer is busy brewing up a concoction of marketing communications, the customer is choosing which of these communications to mix together in her mind with all of the other “non-marketing” interactions she is having with the company. These other communications include interactions with the company’s people, use of the company’s products and services, reading and paying the company’s invoices, navigating the company’s labyrinthine voicemail system, etc. The customer integrates these interactions into one, composite brand impression in her mind.

The Result? Marketing doesn’t just happen in your marketing department. Your customers can choose to assess you and evaluate you at every point of contact they have with you, even those you never think of as marketing. They will integrate all of these interactions into one composite impression, from which they will brand you.

Practical application: Don’t just give lip service to the maxim, “Everything is marketing.” Practice it! Create a marketing plan that is, in reality, a customer experience plan that describes how all interactions customers have with you blend to tell one, complete, compelling story.

In our next issue I’ll address the two remaining Fundamental Marketing Truths. In the meantime, focus on Truths 1-5, and use them to help improve your business.

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