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Secrets to Better Branding

How customers respond to your brand can make or break your business.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Ivan Pavlov won a Nobel Prize for his research into branding in 1904. Remember the story? Day after day, Pavlov would ring a bell as he rubbed meat paste onto the tongue of a dog. The dog soon began to associate the taste of the meat with the sound of the bell until salivation became the dog's conditioned response. In psychological terms, this is known as "implanting an associative ." In other words, it's "branding" in all its glory.

There are three keys to implanting an associative memory into the minds of your customers:

  1. Consistency: Pavlov never offered food without ringing the bell, and he never rang the bell without offering food.
  2. Frequency: Pavlov did it day after day after day.
  3. Anchoring: When implanting an associative memory, the new and unknown element (the bell) has to be associated with a memory that is already anchored in the mind (the taste of meat). Frequency and consistency create "branding" only when your message is tied to an established emotional anchor. Pavlov's branding campaign was anchored to the dog's love for the taste of meat. If the dog did not love meat, the frequent and consistent ringing of the bell would have produced no response other than to irritate the dog.

The buying public is your dog. If you desire a specific response from it, you must tie your identity to an emotional anchor that is already known to elicit the desired response. If you make such an association with consistency and frequency, branding will occur.

In essence, if is "getting your name out," then branding is "attaching something to your name." A is the sum of all the mental associations, good and bad, that are triggered by a name. What does your name stand for in the mind of the public? What associations are triggered by your name? Getting your name out isn't worth much when there's no mental image attached to your name.

Unaided recall and top-of-mind awareness are excellent ways to measure name recognition, but they don't tell you anything about the strength of your brand. York, Lennox, Rheem, RUUD, Carrier, Bryant, Trane, Armstrong, Friedrich and Fedders are leading brands of air conditioners; you've probably heard of some of them. But do you have significant feelings about any of these companies? Although their corporate executives would never believe it, and their advertising agencies would vehemently deny it, these companies' branding initiatives have failed. But each one thinks it has a brand.

Branding is much more than name recognition, a color scheme, a logo and a slogan. Brand essence is the complex mental image summoned by a name, even when that name is heard silently in the mind. Unlike a mere visual image, a mental image is a complex composite of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, opinion and mood. Brand essence is everything a brand stands for in the heart of the customer. What does your brand stand for in the heart of your customer?

Don't mistake company size for brand strength. Wal-Mart and Dell are big, profitable companies, but neither is a particularly strong brand. Low prices and quick delivery measure only operational excellence; they tell us nothing about the heart of the company or the devotion of its customers. Conversely, Starbucks and Apple are smaller companies but bigger brands.

The best branding campaign ripples outward from a company's core culture and nonnegotiable standards. This brand essence is then transmitted through every contact point with the customer: advertising, merchandising, d�cor, staffing and policies. The degree to which your corporate values resonate in the heart of your customer is the measurement of the strength of your brand.

Your brand must be anchored to core values buried deep in the heart of your customer. To what values is your brand linked?

The powerful Harley-Davidson brand wasn't built on the motorcycle itself, but on the values of nonconformity and the freedom of the open road. Owning a Harley is a statement of rebelliousness and self-determination. It is a magical talisman that grants you entrance to the Island of Pirates. Has there ever been a boy who didn't dream of being a pirate?

Would you like to know what your brand stands for in the heart of your customer? Are you sure? The truth can be painful.

There's only one way to accurately measure the essence and strength of a brand. If you'd like to know how to do it, download "How to Measure the Strength of a Brand" in the Freebies section at

Roy Williams is the founder and president of The Wizard of Ads, a company serving the advertising and marketing needs of business owners around the globe. Williams is also the author of The Wizard of Ads and Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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