Hold onto your logos and mission statements, kids, because I’m about to turn your understanding of branding on its head! Forget what you’ve been told, what you think you know, or what you’ve been high-fiving your marketing team about. A brand is NOT what you say about yourself. Nope, it’s not in your taglines, color palettes, or perfectly curated Instagram feed. Your brand lives and dies in the whispers between friends, screenshots, and unfiltered conversations you’re not even privy to.
I learned this lesson sitting down with my hardware team after seeing my expensive Compaq shiny PocketPC have blemishes start to appear on the sides after a months of use. When Compaq’s sales started to flatten, I was on a mission because I knew we had a great product. Something was wrong. What were we missing? This was before social networks, but there was an active user community. I reached out to our retail channel and telco partners. The design specs that our team had worked on with HTC, our manufacturing partner at the time, did not correctly factor in salty acidic moisture on people’s fingers and hands. People were complaining among themselves on bulletin boards and other forums. Working with HTC, we got them to change the specs, and sales started growing exponentially as we quickly replaced all the older devices. HTC, to their credit, built a multi-million dollar hardening anechoic chamber to test devices going forward so this never happened again.
Think you control your narrative? Think again. You could scream about your brand’s “unique selling proposition” till you’re blue in the face, but what stiks is what Jane tells John when they’re grabbing coffee, and you’re not even in the room. “Hey, have you tried [Your Brand]? They have amazing [Your Product], and their customer service is out of this world!” Boom! That’s your brand. Or, the opposite: “Ugh, I ordered from [Your Brand], and it was a disaster. Never again.” Kapow! That’s your brand, too.
Let me break it down for you: What people say about you when you’re not around—that’s your brand, darling. Your customers are the composers of your brand’s symphony and trust me, it’s music to the ears of potential buyers. Or a cacophony that would make anyone run for the hills. The PR stunts, ads, and social media campaigns are all well and good. They start the conversation. But your customers? They finish it.
So, what’s the game plan? Stop obsessing about your side of the story and start focusing on the experiences that have people talking, tweeting, and sharing. You don’t define your brand; the stories people tell about you do.
I’ll leave you with this gem by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” You can try orchestrating the narrative all you want, but remember, the most authentic brand stories are told in your absence. And those stories? They’re the gospel of your brand. Amen.