What Makes a Brand?

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I used to own a Lexus. A white GS400 that I bought used – or “pre-owned” as they call it. I loved that car. It was fast, quiet, and the premium Nakamichi audio system was incredible, which for a former musician is essential. A Lexus is supposed to come with all the trimmings of owning a premium brand: top notch, responsive sales reps, white glove service and repair, free loaner cars, the works. Funny thing was, for all the accolades Lexus dealers get, I was regularly disappointed by mine. The sales reps were often unavailable (in fact, this unavailability made it easy for me not to buy another Lexus), the service reps were sullen, and the cashier was downright grumpy. In short, the disappointing service made it easy for me to switch brands, even though I loved my car, because every 3,000 miles when I had to bring it in for an oil change, I loved it just a bit less.

So when the time came to get a new set of wheels, I ended up with an Acura TL. It’s a very nice car, well built, handles well, but it’s not a Lexus. That said, I liked it when I test drove it, and my sales rep was the perfect mix of helpful and friendly, consultant and confidant. I felt like we had a connection. When time came for my first oil change, I wasn’t looking forward to it, trusting it would be a notch or two below the Lexus service. I took in my car at 7:30 that morning, and as I walked up to the service entrance a mechanic opened the door for me, smiled, and wished me good morning. Huh! That was a surprise. Then the gentleman at the service desk invited me over, greeted me warmly, and apologized for keeping me waiting (even though I had only been standing there for 30 seconds). Every new person I dealt with was more pleasant than the last. When I left, another mechanic who was just walking in held the door for me, looked me in the eyes, and wished me a good day. And each time I bring my car in for service, I love that car just a little more. (In case you’re wondering, this wonderful service experience can be had at Piazza Acura in Ardmore, PA.)

Obviously, both Lexus and Acura spend more money on marketing than any small company could ever dream of. The point is that your company’s brand is much greater than just your marketing. Marketing doesn’t create your brand. Your brand is created by the total experience your customers have with your company. Sure, it often starts with a marketing impression: an ad, a web site, a postcard in the mail. Those pieces start to create an impression of your brand with your customer.

Your brand is really built by the experience your customers have with your product. Is it easy to use, or frustrating? By how your phone is answered. Is it a person or a machine? A person acting like a machine? A friendly, warm human being? By how your staff interacts with customers face to face. Are they genuinely interested in helping your customers?

In short, your brand depends on so much more than just great marketing. Every thing you do – little and big – builds your brand. Your product experience, your store layout, your people and their interactions with your customers, that’s what builds your brand. Your marketing is just a small part of that.

Have you taken a fresh look at the total customer experience your company delivers? If your customer’s experience falls short of the promises your marketing materials make, you’re tearing down your brand, not building it. No business can afford that.

Tony van Veen is the President of Disc Makers. He is a recovering drummer, former owner of an independent record label, and is currently so busy making and selling discs and downloads for artists and filmmakers that his music jones has to remain firmly suppressed for the time being.

7 thoughts on “What Makes a Brand?

  1. I really related to the car analogy because I used to be a Saturn owner. The dealership, or as Kevin put it, the “VAR,” became the extension of the brand and provided excellent customer service. I may not have had the fastest, most luxurious car on the road, but I had one of the safest. Further, I purchased a product that’s ‘VAR’ could be relied on to always provide me with consistent, excellent customer service with quality work and complete satisfaction every time I had to take my Saturn car to a dealership. That Saturn experience taught me how important, no, how “imperative,” it is to have a strong relationship between those who create, make, and distribute a product. That is how a brand is strengthened. Everyone involved with the brand needs to be committed to personal excellence and stand behind their work. Their joy in being of service and contributing their best will reflect in the brand which will strengthen brand loyalty and increase the customer base.

  2. Customer service compliments a “Brand” but they are really 2 different things. A properly implemented branding of a business brings the customer to the business… customer service keeps them.

    Great article, the first response is insightful as well.

    Michael Robert Sawyer, Owner, Trade Printing

    Trade Printing
    1761 Kelly Street
    San Mateo, CA

    Phone: 650-286-0970

  3. I too have had excellent experiences with Discmakers, but the car dealer/manufacturer analogy is is awful. Dealerships are not the “brand” they are a “VAR” – value added reseller. Yes, a dealer can contribute to the reputation of a “brand” & they must meet certain criteria set forth by the manufacturer, but the car manufacturer and the dealer each have their own goals independent of one another.
    We have all probably been inside a McDonald’s bathroom that was spotless, and another than was horrifically filthy. One of the two you will never enter again. Neither McDs or a car maker can be there every day to ensure they are well represented.
    I have a great deal of experience with many car dealers, representing all makes, and I can attest with an unchallengeable certainty that the majority of them are swindlers and thieves, who will use every interaction to extract every cent they can from you – I used to be involved in their training, I know.
    It is just that the REALLY good ones do it with a smile. (next time you take your car in, leave $10 in quarters easily visible or accessible in your car – exactly $10 – and see how much is there when you get the car back).
    Also, in case you didn’t know, the Service Managers are commissioned sales people, and many make it a sport to “find” things that “need to be fixed”.
    But better than that, change your own oil. It is easy, gives the satisfaction of money saved & a job accomplished, and shows your kids they too can do things for themselves. And it will probably take less time than driving to the dealer and back.

  4. I don’t usually leave comments, but I do read the comments that are provided. I am leaving this comment because the customer service I received with an order placed with DiscMakers was so above and beyond the ordinary that it was remarkable. The employee definitely shared Tony Van Veen’s philosophy of great customer service. The discmaker employee was Arthur Stoppe and I will definitely do business with them again because of that shared philosophy.

  5. Perfect. My brother and I are “suppressed musicians” as well – and indie film makers too. We’re all about building the brand at SELLING TECHNOLOGIES where we create unique programs for the insurance industry.

    Tony’s commentary is great.

    I have two ACURAs!

  6. What you are experiencing is the exchange of empathy. A good business person or entity will receive a customer with an empathic viewpoint and will deliver results in a way that reflects how he/she wants to be treated in the same context. This is why astute musicians are great at customer service – they deliver musical performance as a presentation to the audience knowing that if THEY were on the other end the music would need to be good in order to have an enjoyable concert. The same thinking applies when “performing” as a brand (that’s band with an “r” as in registered trademark). Discmakers “band brand” knows the stress that goes into making music, that these experiences are far deeper than the grooves or 1’s and 0’s that make the sound. So they handle the widget with the same care that the musicians use to develop the content. And that is not just good brand impressioning, turns out, it actually makes a better product. Conceptual continuity throughout the development process is key to excellence in performance arts.

    Good performances, be they oil changes or concerts, are all about making the band play well together and engaging the audience in mutually welcoming perceptions. Brand without empathy is like food without flavor. it might feed your body, but it does nothing to encourage a deeper sense of satisfaction.

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