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Your Product Is Your Brand

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Your product is your brand. Its value to customers should be at the very core of how, when, and what you communicate to the world. Apple, Coca-Cola, BMW, Disney, and Intel have powerful brands because they are leaders in their respective industries, not the other way around.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get creative about it.

Faced with a dilemma of how to gain awareness as “The Computer Inside” with lower-priced competitors chomping at the bit for market share, Intel took a page from consumer marketing. More specifically, ingredient branding like NutraSweet on Diet Coke cans, Teflon stickers on pots and pans, and Gore-Tex labels on clothing.

That’s how they came up with the groundbreaking Intel Inside branding and co-op advertising program which paid PC makers to use the now-familiar Intel Inside swirl in ads and on computers. The year after the campaign launched, Intel became the world’s biggest semiconductor company, a position it hasn’t relinquished since. 

Today, Intel is one of the most recognized and powerful brands in the world. And while that’s a great story about the power of branding as a strategic-marketing tool, the truth is Intel would not enjoy the reputation and market share it has today if not for the fact that it designs and manufactures industry-leading microprocessors.  

Contrary to popular belief, branding is not about names, logos, or advertising. It’s about reputation. It’s the sum total of customer perception through experience with your company, its products, and its services. But make no mistake: It’s mostly about their experience with your products and services.

Many predicted the Internet age would kill branding. While ecommerce and social media did sort of level the playing field, I would argue that brand reputation is more important than ever. Consumers are so overloaded with information and overwhelmed with competitive offerings, they have little time or patience to deal with crappy products and customer service anymore.

Luckily, they don’t have to. They can opt for trusted brands instead.

Bob Pittman, now CEO of iHeartMedia, has run everything from MTV and Nickelodeon to Century 21 and Six Flags. When he was president and COO of AOL back in its heyday, he said, "Coca-Cola does not win the taste test. Microsoft does not have the best operating system. Brands win." That’s still true. Big brands have never been more powerful than they are today.

Still, there is not a company on the face of the Earth that can maintain a powerful brand image with lousy or even mediocre products and service. Just look at Sony, BlackBerry, Radio Shack, and Yahoo. Their reputations are a shadow of what they once were.    

Look at it this way. Your word is your promise. So is your brand. It’s a promise you make to every customer that, when they use your products and engage with your company, they can expect a certain level of performance, a certain type of experience, a certain customer service attitude, a certain level of quality.

It’s your job to make sure you – not your competitors or the media – define and control that promise. It’s even more important to ensure that your brand promise is consistent with the value proposition customers can expect to experience with your products. If you overpromise and underdeliver, they’ll be disappointed.   

In an era of communication overload where the emphasis is on frequency and volume, it’s more important than ever to control the message and the delivery. The trick is to boil complex concepts down to their simplest form and communicate your product’s value in a way that’s meaningful to customers.

Until you come up with a kick-ass product or service, you really don’t have much to talk about. 



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