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What every business ought to know about building a brand

An interview with a brand pro

What’s the secret to building a great brand? How do you know if you have a branding problem? How do you convince a skeptical executive that your business needs a brand strategy? Check out my interview with Brand Guru Pecanne Eby for answers and advice you can put to use today.

Brand Strategist

Pecanne Eby | Brand Strategist & Speaker

I love my job. (Don’t you just love days when you can say that?)

Today I love my job because I’ve had a chance to interview Pecanne Eby − a gifted brand consultant and a sought-after speaker − on the topic of branding.

Pecanne (pronounced pē-can) is a treasure chest of branding and marketing insight.

She runs her own brand consulting firm out of Denver, has served as a chief marketing officer, has led an in-house advertising agency, and has taught marketing classes as an adjunct professor at George Washington University.

Oh, and yes, in her spare time, she earned her MBA from Old Dominion University.

I get worn out just thinking about all she’s done!

I sat down with Pecanne to collect her brand advice on a range of topics, including:

  • Why it’s important to have a brand strategy
  • How to identify a branding problem
  • The secret to building a brand that customers love

Please scroll down to find the brand tips and topics that interest you.

Branding is a business strategy

Ann Kendall: For many of us, when we hear the word “branding,” we immediately think of one of two things. We think of our visual identity  such as our logo and colors. Or, we think of the megabrands  such as Apple, Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.

How do you define branding, and why does a business need it?

Pecanne Eby: What I say to my clients is that branding is a business strategy for any organization that doesn’t want to be thought of as a commodity. It helps you separate what you’re doing from the rest of the field.

When you do it right, you can differentiate your business and command a price premium.

Branding isn’t just an exercise in choosing fonts and colors, and making things look good − though, of course, that helps. There’s also an unseen element to your brand. It’s a sentiment. It’s what people think, feel and say about your business. It’s your reputation.


Ann: What’s the difference between branding and marketing, and why does it matter?

Pecanne: Marketing is an activity, whereas branding is about building an asset.

Branding is a process. Like any asset in your business, your reputation always needs to be managed and protected. It’s valuable. It can be harmed by negative word-of-mouth or by competitors who disparage your business.

It helps to look at branding from an accounting point of view. The large, multi-national companies − Coca-Cola, Disney, Microsoft − all have ‘intangible assets’ listed on their balance sheets, representing the value of their brands.

Let’s say one of those companies decides to sell a piece of its business to someone else. The buyer is not only buying the tangible assets − such as the equipment and the customers, but they’re also buying the intangible asset − the image and reputation of the company.

Branding isn’t an activity in which you check the box, and it’s done. The value of your brand can be enhanced or eroded at any time.


Cola-Cola - An enduring brand

Why a brand strategy matters

Ann: So, why is it important to have a brand strategy?

Pecanne: Some companies may say, ‘Well, as long as we develop a great logo, we’re done,’ but really, that’s just the beginning.

You have to work on the feeling that your brand gives off, and you do that through having a thoughtful brand strategy. Yes, your brand strategy should drive your visual identity and copywriting, but it should also address the unseen element that you’re trying to create.

  • What do you want your brand to stand for in the minds of your audience?
  • What you want to symbolize and have your reputation become?
  • What do you want people to say about your business?

It’s hard to wrap your arms around these intangible elements, but they exist and they have to be managed. Your brand strategy should inform what you see, but it should also shape the feeling, sentiment, reputation and symbolism of your brand.


Ann: How can creating a brand strategy improve your marketing?

Pecanne: My fundamental belief is that really good marketing comes from organizations that have deep, thoughtful brands. These companies have given thought to the many, many dimensions of their identity – from their personality to their values.

It’s hard to market your company without understanding the many dimensions of your identity. Your marketing isn’t going to feel coherent. It will lack emotional engagement. It will feel shallow.

When your brand and marketing are working together, you know your audience feels a certain way about your company. Consumers are going to trust you more.


Ann: Can you give an example of a brand that has great dimensions? 

Pecanne: Let’s talk about Southwest Airlines as a brand.

Southwest is a brand for the common man. They aren’t an elitist brand.

Back to dimensions, they have a distinct personality that’s different from their competitors. They use ‘love’ as their theme and in their tone. They’re playful.

They use red and blue consistently in their uniforms, and in their TV ads, and in how they paint their planes. They have a consistent tone that’s playful and not pretentious.

Their identity is cohesive. They have emotional appeal. You understand this brand. You see Southwest’s marketing and advertising, and they stick in your minds. They’re on your radar when you’re booking a ticket.

Another way to think about Southwest is that it’s a deep brand.

It’s almost like knowing a person. With people you know well, you know their heritage and style. You know their beliefs and values.

It’s the same thing with a brand. The more of those dimensions we understand, the more connected we feel with those brands. The deeper the relationship, the more forgiving we are towards those brands when things don’t go perfectly.

When you just stick to colors and taglines as your brand identity, you don’t give your audience much information about who you are. You limit the relationships you can build with people.Characteristics of Deep vs. Shallow Brands

That’s why the really successful brands round out their brands with dimensions, such as their personality, values, heritage, where they came from, and who they want to appeal to.

It’s about going deep.

It’s like making friends. You have to reveal something about yourself.

With a business, you have to reveal more of who you are, so people want to try your company. This is what a relationship is about.


How to identify a brand problem

Ann: What are some signs that a company may have a branding problem?

Pecanne: It could be a range of things.

‘Our target audience hasn’t heard of us.’ That’s a brand awareness issue.
‘People don’t understand what we do.’ That’s a brand confusion issue.
‘Our target audience doesn’t think highly of us.’ That’s a brand image problem.
‘Our sales are falling because a competitor has improved its image.’ That’s another brand image problem.
‘None of our marketing materials look like they come from the same company. We don’t have any consistency or standards.’ This a brand schizophrenia problem.
‘We have a lot of brands that we’ve acquired, but they don’t fit together.’ This is a brand architecture issue.
‘Our business name is too close to another company in our category. Or, our business name translates poorly in another language. It’s hard to spell. It’s difficult to remember or say.’ These are all brand naming issues.


Building the case for branding

Ann: Let’s pretend that your marketing team sees the value of branding… but some of your senior executives don’t. How can you get your executives to understand why you should brand your company?

Pecanne: The folks who don’t get it need to understand the business case first, so they can buy into how it’s going to benefit the business.

You need to help your executives see that good branding equals good profits. More often than not, it’s about shifting consumer sentiment. It’s about having people talk about your business more positively. It’s about increasing profits because you can sell for higher margins and build loyal and life-long customers.

Loyal Apple customers line up to buy the iPhone 5.

For those who really don’t ‘get it,’ help them take an objective look at your competitors and who is doing well in your category. Look at their marketing and brands.

Usually, it’s pretty obvious which of your competitors are doing it well. Their marketing tends to look better. Their message resonates with consumers. They may have had an increase in sales or continue to be a leader in market share. They have raving fans and customers talking about them.

Your executives need to have a desire to not only catch up to your competitors, but to want to surpass them. Until they get that, they’re not going to have an appetite for discussing your customers’ emotional triggers and creating brand mood boards.


How a brand consultant can help

Ann: How can a brand consultant help a company that’s struggling with a brand problem?

Pecanne: A brand consultant can take you down the right path and help you think through all the dimensions of your brand − dimensions you may not even know you’re missing. Most companies never think about the personality, or the style, or the ‘DNA’ of their brand.

Sometimes it takes an outside person to break the ice on ‘sacred cow’ conversations. That person gets to ask outrageous, and dumb, and obvious questions on topics that are hard to talk about until you have a neutral party in there who can play the facilitator.

Sometimes you need someone to draw out things that your people couldn’t say in a normal conversation.

When I partner with companies, it’s one part helping them make decisions and build consensus on their brand strategy. And the other part is helping them figure out how to implement their brand strategy. How do you take the next step? How do you get from your brand strategy to the marketplace?


The biggest brand mistake to avoid

Ann: What is the biggest mistake that you see companies make when they’re working on their brand strategy?

Pecanne: Some people think that you have to differentiate your business through your products, and the difference has to be tangible.

For a lot of companies, though, their products are very similar. The reality is that small product differences that make a big difference to you are often too nuanced for your customers to care about.

You have to hit your customers over the head with something else.

Instead of focusing so heavily on differentiating your business through your product features, it’s the feeling of what you’re selling that needs to be different.

Going back to Southwest, they’re not much different as an airline, but they try to create a different experience and try to attract people based on what they believe in. They believe everyone has the right to fly around the country and sit where they want.

People have a choice, and many will rearrange their schedules or pay more to fly on Southwest because they feel that brand has spoken to them.

Pursuing a true product difference may be very difficult for a company. People forget that the more intangible aspects of their brand − such as their beliefs and values, or their personality − can be their points of difference.

Example of Brand Personality and Purpose

Chipotle is a great example of a brand with a distinct personality and a strong sense of purpose: food with integrity.


The secret to a great brand

Ann: What is the secret to having a great brand?

Pecanne: Great brands are deep, and they have a strategy. But most important, they are completely unafraid to emotionally engage their audiences.

People have the ability to be emotionally triggered, and the brands we love and talk about are the ones that emotionally engage us. Those are the brands we recall, and talk about, and buy more – even if they cost more.

This is the key to a really good brand. It’s about emotionally engaging people.

And this is a real stumbling block for a lot of companies. Many businesses get all the rational pieces – figuring out their pricing strategy and how they’re going to position themselves to the market, but they forget the heart.

They forget how viscerally motivated we are, especially in an advanced society.

We are very viscerally motivated. It’s a proven fact in neuro-science.

There are some strategic decisions that companies have to make about their brands that are emotional – the essence of the brand, the personality of the brand, the values of the brand. All of these elements are based in emotion.


Where to get more brand advice

For more advice from Pecanne or to learn about her workshops and services, please visit Be sure to check out her free quiz: “Does my brand need a makeover?”

Until next time!