There are still those who think that a sales success lies in the quality of the product or in the fact that it is better than the competition. And yes, it has something to do with it. But the success or failure of a soft drink, a car, a smart phone or a simple piece of candy depends above all on the place that your brand manages to occupy in people’s minds.

Marketing, as Al Ries and Jack Trout point out in their book
“The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”,
is not a battle of products, but of perceptions. Reality, much to our regret, is neither objective nor fair. There are no better or worse products, even if it seems anathema. The only thing that exists is a set of perceptions in the minds of current and potential customers. Certainly True reality is the perception we have about things. The rest is mere illusion.

Perception is not owned by the brand, but by customers and the general public. Even if we see their communication or even experience the brand physically, none of these things are the brand itself. They are simply expressions of the brand, whose objective is to influence the perception of it in the minds of each of the customers who experience it directly or indirectly. In other words, the brand manifests itself in the public’s mind, shaped by those experiences. The brand lives (and dies) in the public’s mind through their perception. And this, as many of you know, is not built on the basis of marketing or advertising, but must give way to branding.

In this sense, the art of branding is the art of shaping perceptions through the strategic tools that a brand has at its disposal.

Here are some of the most influential elements of brand strategy that contribute to building a certain perception:

    1. Brand Territory

Embedding your brand in the vital context of culture and society, through the symbolic territories that your brand generates in people’s minds, is the best way to create a positive perception that resonates with people based on their values and beliefs.

    1. Positioning strategy

Brand positioning defines why the brand is different and important from its competitors. In essence, the positioning strategy establishes exactly the meaning we want the audience to associate with the brand.

    1. Brand Personality

As human beings, we connect with others based on the characteristics and personality and behavioral traits that appeal to us or not. Brands that make a conscious effort to understand their audience have a distinct advantage when they use that understanding to shape brand communication through personality.

    1. Storytelling

Storytelling is about emotionally conveying why we are important, how we do what we do, and what we offer. Bringing stories to life humanizes business and actively collaborates in generating a positive perception.

Undoubtedly, these are not the only tools, but they are the ones that lay the foundations on which the others are articulated, such as visual identity, verbal identity or behaviors.

In this way, it is possible to categorically state that perceptions are critical in building a brand. And in today’s digital world, where customers have all the power to alter the perceptions of others, brands are obliged to pay significant attention to this reality.

The perception of a brand becomes the real image that people have of it

Hence, if a brand manages to get a powerful perception installed in the minds of its audience, then it will be interpreted as a universal truth. For this reason, Al Ries and Jack Trout believe that “among brands in the same product category, it’s what people think about them that will determine which one will win.”

Why did Honda have a large market share in automobiles and yet not achieve the same success in Japan? Because in the land of the rising sun, consumers associated the brand with motorcycles, not cars.

So important is the customer’s perception of the brand that there are contradictions such as the so-called “Pepsi Paradox”. In the soft drinks category, there is one brand that has stood out above the rest: Coca Cola. Its competitor, Pepsi, has always been behind it. If sales are any indication, consumers undoubtedly prefer Coca Cola, a brand that is embedded in the collective imagination of much of humanity. But the Pepsi Paradox shows that in a blind test there is a clear preference for Pepsi. On the other hand, if in the same test only one of the glasses is identified – where there could be Coca Cola or Pepsi – a greater inclination towards the former is observed. Further proof of the importance that brand perception has in the minds of consumers.

And how do you make a brand occupy a space in the customer’s mind?

The leader in a product or service category will always be perceived as better than the rest of its competitors. But as a leader there is only one, the other brands have to focus their efforts on correctly choosing differential and relevant attributes and communicating them, not only consistently but also coherently. So, every time the consumer sees the brand, then they associate it with a concept or an idea. This is the case of Volvo, which within the automotive industry has managed to appropriate “safety” as a differential attribute.

When a brand owns a meaning in the customer’s mind, that concept is no longer available to others. What matters is that the perceptions generated are more appropriable and attractive than those possessed by competitors. Finally, let’s not forget that brands are promises to keep. And, as we were taught as children, what is promised comes true. If not, sooner or later it will backfire.

 

Carlos Puig Falcó
CEO at Branward