I was asked by a date what three words my friends would use to describe me. I told him that they would say I’m sarcastic, loyal, and caring. Intrigued by this question, as an experiment I recently asked my best friend for three words that she would use to describe me. She said, “ambivalent, flirty, and hardworking”.
I wanted to share this experience not because I want the world to know my friend thinks I bat my eye lashes at anything that moves–but I want to focus on the discrepancy between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.
In marketing, we call this brand perception. The associations a consumer has with a company and its products. The discrepancy is that these associations may be different from what a company tries to communicate about itself. Although a company can undergo a formalized brand audit, sometimes a small little experiment like the one I had with my friend can indicate what a marketing team needs to work on.
A Simple Brand Audit
First, you need to do a simple brand audit to compare what you are trying to say about yourself as a business, and what people think you are trying to say.
What Are You Trying to Say
Take a look at your major communication places such as your website, content, or social media channels and glean what major words or associations you are trying to communicate. Company taglines are the best because they often signify what a company “wants” their brand to be. At Marketo our tagline is “Easy, Powerful, Complete”. Also, make sure you take a look at how you communicate your brand values through content pieces and your marketing blog. There are generally common word associations and a common tone.
What Do People Think
Start with your own organization. Hopefully your sales and marketing team have the correct associations, but for a less premeditated insight, ask those who are not external facing such as your engineering team. Just do a very informal survey and ask them what words come to mind when you say (Insert Company Name). You can do this through a survey tool like Survey Monkey or for a more in-depth look schedule meetings with a random selection of employees and write down their thoughts. Whenever the respondent pauses, draw a line. The initial words that come to mind are primary associations. Words below pause lines are secondary associations, as they required more thought.
Compile and Learn
Compile all the primary associations and do the same for secondary associations. Take a look at the types of words used to describe your company. Are they nouns or are they adjectives? Do they describe some type of feeling? Or do they describe a product or service?
Once you have some basic brand associations, it’s time to take a look at the results. what’s good and what’s bad?
No to Nouns
Nouns are generally in indication that your brand needs to work more on differentiating itself. Nouns are typically connected with commodities that can be associated with other companies as well. For example, if the word that the majority of people only refer to is ‘car’ when thinking of the brand Mercedes, then it means the company has not differentiated itself from other companies like Honda that also sells cars. The hope for every marketer is that a customer will come away with a feeling or experience when they purchase your product. Why? Because a customer’s impression or feeling towards a product is what will get them coming back again and again.
Add Me Some Adjectives
Adjectives as primary associations, if positive, are what your company can use to differentiate itself. Continuing with the Mercedes example “luxurious” or “sophisticated” would be great primary associations. Your hope as a marketer is that the primary associations customers have are the same as the ones you try to communicate in your messaging. If they are not however, don’t be disheartened, because you may find hidden brand messages that you wouldn’t have expected, yet have resonated with your core audience. But if you find people are associating the wrong messages, then as Ross Geller famously says in the show Friends, “Pivot! Pivot!”
I’ve Got Myself a Problem
What happens when the words associated with your brand are not the ones communicated by your team? Or worse they are negative associations? Luckily after a simple brand audit, you can make better-informed decisions and iterate using the information given. If you’re not fully confident in the sample or survey methodology of your simple brand audit then it may be worth the time and resources to do a formalized brand audit that takes biases into account. It could also be a simple matter of educating your team on messaging guidelines. But knowing you have a problem is half the battle.
As I wish you luck on your simple brand audit, wish me luck as well because ironically enough as I submit this blog post, I am going on a date with the same person who asked me the question about my brand. Who knows, perhaps another date-inspired blog post to follow?