The Limits Of Branding

Branding can do a lot, but it can’t do everything. Organization after organization regularly dedicates thousands of words on describing what branding is, why you need it, and what it can do for you. The short version is probably something like, “it’s everything your company says, does, and is!” This is true, but when a branding company in Orange County explains it that way, it might not be helpful in painting the full picture. If you’ve already had that discussion, perhaps an equally helpful way to approach branding comes from the other side of the table—what are the limitations to what good branding can do?

Branding can’t force hands

It’s been shown that effective, consistent branding messages can exert a surprising amount of influence over an individual’s decision making process. With brands like Coca Cola, Nike, and BMW, decades of consistent effort have accumulated to make a truly persuasive brand presence that really does sway people’s decisions. At the end of the day, that sway has its limits. Your customer’s experience, overall, will end up being the number one thing that defines their conception of your brand. You can guide them to a degree, but that won’t do everything for you. Your brand exists in the head of your customers, and their decisions are based on traditional branding efforts, as well as all the other pieces of the puzzle, like pricing, durability, and personal preference. It also exists in the market, where a lot of messages compete for the consumer’s attention. It’s the easiest thing in the world to convince someone to buy a poorly made car with marketing; you may even be able to convince them to buy another from you after the first one breaks down. But you’ll be hard pressed to convince them to buy another.

Branding doesn’t say sorry

It’s universally true that the best part of a good brand is a good business. As such, for global brands as well as local brands, when things go awry, it’s the business that has to make amends; in other words, the level of service that your business provides is the final and ultimate proof of the integrity of your brand. Two recent examples to consider are Volkswagen and Wells Fargo. In the wake of VW’s emissions fiasco, which was huge and blatantly wrong, the company dug deep, stopped manufacture of TDI cars, paid massive settlements, fired the top brass who were in charge, and committed to electrifying its full line of cars by 2030. It was an action-led plan of addressing the issues, and overall, it worked to stave off truly negative consequences, and sales are still relatively strong.

Compare to Wells Fargo, who, was also caught doing aggressively fraudulent stuff for a prolonged period of time. To be fair, there were some actions on their part: some people lost their jobs (mostly with cushy severance packages) and some fines and settlements were paid. The company led off with a marketing plan, around the catch phrase, “Reestablished 2018.” Billboards were put up, and mailers sent out, in the attempt to convince people that, “We’re different now—trust us.” It’s still early on in the bank’s reaction, but experts who track sentiment are saying that it isn’t helping enough, and some areas of the mega-bank’s business are getting hurt by competition. Time will tell how long the pain lasts, but my guess is that it will take more than billboard promises to change the public’s sentiment.

To sum up, there’s nothing like a strong brand to help people know your business. Still, when it comes to going beyond the catch phrases, logos, and billboards that your branding company in Orange County delivers for you, it’s up to the actions you take as a business to win and retain customers, especially when things don’t go as planned. In short, it may just be that the only thing really limiting your brand is the degree to which you live up to it.

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