You walk into a large grocery store and see thousands of products sitting on hundreds of shelves. On the outside of each bottle, box and bag are descriptions of the contents and lists of ingredients. But suddenly you realize that this grocery store is a little different – all of the labels are printed on plain white paper and contain only black text. You head over to the beverage aisle where you see hundreds of plastic bottles containing brown liquid. Each one is marked “carbonated soda.” There are no logos, photos or bright colors to help you find what you want. Which bottles are filled with Coke? Which ones contain Pepsi? Is there any root beer? Diet soda?
This is a world without brands.
We’re familiar with grocery stores, and we know how to use labels to find what we want. But a brand is much more than a label; a brand is a specific set of mental images that we use to understand the world and make decisions. It isn’t just what’s in the bottle, it’s also information about what to expect from the offering. In the case of soda, this information includes how many calories are in a serving, what kind of flavor the soda has, whether or not the flavors are natural or artificial, how much is in the bottle, how much it costs, the expiration date, the ingredients, whether or not the bottle is recyclable, and much more. But there is also a world of information available about the product that isn’t on the label. We encounter soda brands in commercials, on billboards and at sponsored events. We also learn about these products when we hear about studies on the effects of high fructose corn syrup or when a dentist recommends drinking less soda and more water. All this information blends together into a cohesive mental summary that we evoke whenever we say “I’ll have a Coke.”
How much information do we have about your brand? What do we know about your competitors? About your industry? How do we differentiate your business from every other? Do we know enough to make a decision?
Each entrepreneur must offer a rationale for every purchase. It may be as simple as a label, or it may be a cultivated, long-term relationship with a salesperson. But however it’s delivered, this information becomes the catalyst for making a decision. As you create a brand for your business, you must clearly provide information about your products and services, describing how they compare with others in the marketplace. In our information-rich society, the difference between success and failure may be the quality of information that potential consumers receive.