John Deitz
Optimal Enterprise
The Secret Behind a Commanding Brand
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Put aside all the hype you've ever head about branding. Years of studying the top brands, and working with companies to build and strengthen brands, has taught me one important truth about brand management. It's all about reputation.

Don't confuse brand with "image". You see, some marketers fool themselves into thinking that they can actually control the brands they manage. This line of thinking is dangerous; in fact, marketers can only control a minor aspect of the brand, and that's "image".

An image can be created over night. You can create new images to stimulate certain emotions, differentiate from competitors images, reposition, or simply grab attention. Images are usually manifested through advertising. In fact, advertising often succeeds in creating an image with no real business substance behind it (remember the early days of the Internet?). Image focuses on the visual (ads/TV/web) or audio (radio). Because people tend to base perceptions on one sense (sight, touch, hearing, smell, etc.) over another - and interpret what they see and hear differently - images can add complexity to brands over time. Worse, one or more poor images can cripple brand equity.

But a brand is not the image; a brand is about reputation. And here's what few marketers want to admit: the CONSUMER controls a brand's reputation. Reputations are a long-term strategy; they take time. They're a culmination of the whole enchilada: offerings, the marketing mix, corporate performance, partners and customer satisfaction. You can build a reputation without advertising. Add a logo to a good reputation, and you've got the makings of a great brand.

Case in point, remember when Coke came out with "new" Coke (in the battle against Pepsi). Consumers were outraged and the brand suffered. In effect, consumers forced Coke back to its to its "classic" roots and image, which were aligned with its long-time reputation.

In the end, marketing is a battle of reputations. Images can be complex, but a reputation is a simple and singular concept. The challenge for image builders is to carefully align the image with the reputation. Anything less breeds brand confusion.

So think about it. Why do you buy one brand over another? I bet it has to do with trust, consistency, great service and honesty. The image? It's just icing on the cake.

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