When it comes to brand building, marketing professionals have a difficult time agreeing on who or what controls the brand of a company. Some marketers lean towards the idea that the consumer controls the brand. What consumers say about the company is what makes the brand relevant. This describes the “perception is reality” take on branding. Other marketers feel the company controls the brand reflected in Henry Ford’s quote about automobiles. If Ford had listened to consumers, he would have made a faster horse, not a car. This reasoning tends to think company leadership in any marketing space outweighs consumer response or feedback. Without thought leadership within the company, there would be no brand to follow.
The truth, for business and the marketing professionals who help them, lies somewhere in between both extremes. Branding is controlled both by the company who has created it and the consumers who provide insight and feedback into what they feel the business brand is. The challenges a company faces in branding effectively reveal themselves when a company doesn’t believe in or understand the consequences of how to brand well in this dynamic.
An easy way to think about branding well is to consider Emmanuel Kant’s philosophy on reality and truth in the world. Kant believed there is no precise truth that a person can actually experience; rather, the person can only experience an individual “perspective” of truth. There is always a layer of uncertainty between any truth and perception of the truth. For example, if there is a brown chair, who is to say what actual color that brown is. Is it light, dark, robust, soft, clean, dirty? Because of this lack of precise and exact “truth,” everyone’s opinion matters with regard to the truth. There is no absolute that can be fully relied upon.
Moving back to the marketing world from the philosophical world, Kant’s concept essentially means a brand gap exists. The brand gap is the difference between the truth desired by a company for a brand, and the truth the consumers perceive.
Because this chasm exists between what a company desires their brand to be and what a consumer may perceive the brand to be, the necessity for clear marketing messages becomes paramount to success. Companies can’t take their brand for granted. Nor can they assume a consumer “gets” what they mean as a baseline. It’s an assumption that could easily hurt a company’s branding efforts.
In order to close the brand gap and provide better marketing, a company must understand that first, a gap exists. Secondly, once they do understand the gap is there, they must work on closing it. By creating deliberate and over-communicated specific points a company may think is intuitive or clear, they can help close the gap for consumers who may not see the same truth. Is the chair brown? It depends. Make sure if your company believes a chair is brown, it explains specifically what color, tone and feel that brown conveys. A company may think it’s overkill to be that deliberate with a brand, but it’s not. Only by committing to market a well-crafted message repeatedly, frequently and specifically can a company ensure a brand gap closes and a consumer understands the company truth for their product or service.