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Make It Known

If you've got a great product, a great brand will follow--if you're sending the right message.

When I talk about branding, my assumptions are that you have a great product but not infinite resources. (If, instead you have infinite resources and not a great product, there's still hope--but you don't need to read this month's column any further.) Here are eight steps to successfully branding your product.

  1. Seize the high ground. Establish your brand on positive attributes like "making meaning," "doing good," "changing the world" and "making people happy"--not on doing in your competition. Think about it: When was the last time you bought a product to hurt a company's competition? That's not why consumers spend their dollars. If you want to beat your competition, establish an uplifting brand, but don't try to establish a brand based on your own desire to beat your competition.
  2. Create one message. It's hard enough to create and communicate one branding message. However, many companies try to establish more than one because they are afraid of being niched and want the entire market. "Our computer is for Fortune 500 companies. And, oh yes, it's also for consumers to use at home." Face it, Volvo can't equal safety and sexiness; Toyota can't equal economical and "Lexuriousness." You can pick one message, see if it works and then try another if it doesn't. But you can't try several at once.
  3. Speak English. It doesn't necessarily have to be English, but speak in nonjargonese. If your positioning statement uses any acro-nyms, the odds are that 1) most people won't understand your branding, and 2) your branding won't last very long. For example, "Best JPEG decoder" assumes that people understand what "JPEG" and "decoder" mean. And 10 years from now, who knows if JPEG will matter anymore? Not to be an ageist, but a good test is to ask your parents if they understand what your positioning means.
  4. Apply the "opposite test." How many times have you read a product description like this: "Our software is scalable, fast and easy to use"? Companies use adjectives like these as if no other company can claim these attributes. See if your competition uses adjectives that are antonyms of the adjectives you use to describe your product. If not, your description is useless. For example, I've never seen a company describe its product as limited, slow and difficult to use.
  5. Cascade the message. Let's say you craft the perfect branding message. Now cascade your message up and down your organization. At many companies, it's assumed that once it has sent out the press release or run the ad, the entire world understands the message. It's unlikely that even everyone in the company does. Make sure every employee, especially those on the front lines, understands the branding and its message.
  6. Focus on PR, not advertising. Many companies waste millions of dollars trying to establish brands through advertising. When it comes to branding, too much money is worse than too little, because when you have a lot of money, you spend a lot of money on stupid things, like Super Bowl commercials. Brands are built on what people are saying about you, not what you're saying about yourself. People say good things about you when 1) you have a great product, and 2) you get people to spread the word about it.
  7. Strive for humanness. Great brands achieve humanness. They speak to you as an individual, not as part of a market. And then they're rewarded with your loyalty. It's "My iPod," "My Harley," "My bottle of Coke."
  8. Flow with the go. As much as I love marketing, at the end of the day, it's your customers who ultimately determine what your brand means. To a great degree, you take your best shot and then see what sticks. Or, more accurately, you see what customers make stick for you.

For decades, Apple Inc. has tried to make the Macintosh brand stand for power. For decades, consumers have believed the Macintosh brand stands for easy to use. Ultimately, you flow with what's going and you're thankful that it's flowing at all.

Guy Kawasaki's mantra is "Empower people." He is co-founder of Alltop.com, a managing director at Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books--most recently The Art of the Start. Visit smallbusiness.alltop.com.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop, a managing director at VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books--most recently The Art of the Start. Visit his company's site, alltop.com.

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This article was originally published in the September 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Make It Known.

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