Three habits of highly effective brands

Any brand can be a great brand.

It’s actually easier to be an effective brand than a mediocre brand. Why bumble about in the weeds, pissing away brand equity and eroding appeal, when you can rule the world? Why struggle to sell a product or service when you can have people lining up around the block? Why not be a great brand? 

All you have to do is instill three simple habits.

Habit One: Lead the way

Effective brands don’t follow.

By definition, effective brands lead the way. It’s better to be first than to be better.

A leading brand gets to set the rules, call the shots and define the market they lead to their advantage.

But beware that being first comes with some inherent dangers. Chief among them is the arrogance of success. And it’s that arrogance that inevitably leads to failure.

Despite how sure you are of your successes, it’s more likely to be a combination of luck and location with a little timing thrown in. Be in the right place at the right time.

No one can successfully predict the future. What you expect to happen probably won’t. Bank on the unpredictable and the unexpected. Be ready to change the rules to stay ahead.

Culture changes, standards progress, opportunities arise. Categories constantly divide. One category will divide and become two or more categories.

If you can’t be the first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in. Never let competitors set the category for you.

First to market is great for press and short-lived accolades. But it’s expensive, dangerous and time-consuming.

It’s best to be first in people’s mind when they think of your brand’s category.

Habit Two: Elevate language

It’s no longer a battle of products or services.

It’s not even a battle of algorithms or platforms or technological advantage.

Software and the internet have flattened everything in its path. Except for one thing. Language.

In the battle for perception, language is now your only point of difference. The way your brand speaks and the words you chose create all the value.

Writing is what sets your brand apart. And what is writing exactly? (Here’s a hint: It’s not bullet points and poorly thought out pronouns. It’s not just banging a few letters together. Or punning on.)

It’s designing and developing stories and narratives in such a way they connect and connote with people in unexpected, surprising, revelatory and rewarding ways. It’s how you spark synapses to release the chemicals necessary for emotional connection and bonding. It’s how memories are made, strengthened and recalled.

Tone, tempo, perspective, cadence, alliteration, assonance, archetypes, beats, arcs, conflict, denouement and more all come into play to swirl the senses and inspire.

When you’re writing a brand, you’re writing the future. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

+ Candor is good. Admit a negative upfront and make it a positive. (Don’t lie. Or pretend to be what you’re not.)

+ Direct, honest language is the best way forward. Keep the hard sell and hyperventilating to a minimum. Enliven your brand truth.

+ Be careful of what you attribute to your brand. Attributing more than one distinctive quality will diminish your brand and any subsequent message. You can’t be all things to all people. Be one thing.

+ If a competitor has already taken what you consider your brand’s greatest attribute, pick another. (Don’t pick a fight and try and outspend them for greater relevancy. It’ll cost too much and it’s doomed to fail.)

+ Every attribute has an opposite effective attribute. Choose an attribute that is innately human and appealing, an attribute that can stand the test of time.

+ If you’re up against an established incumbent, speak the opposite language. Express exactly what they’re not.

Habit Three: Own a word

Own a word in people’s minds.

That one word needs to become the imprimatur for your brand. Not a complicated or convoluted word. Less syllables are better. Simple is best.

Volvo owns the word safety.

Nike owns the word athlete.

Rolex owns the word luxury.

Google owns the word search.

Apple owns the word innovation.

What single word does your brand own? (No, not two or three words. Not a sentence. Not a statement.)

Owning just one word means you have to sacrifice more than a few words and offerings. You have to throw some words under the bus. Or take them round to the woodshed and put an end to them.

Such singular focus ensures your brand is what sticks in people’s minds when they think of that word. Two brands cannot own the same word in people’s minds. (If a competitor already owns the word you want in people’s minds, choose another word.)

Owning one word is what gives your brand exclusivity and a sustainable market advantage.

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