When Oprah recommends a book, it hits the New York Times bestseller list. When Paul Newman’s salad dressings debuted at supermarkets, millions of shoppers dressed their greens with “Newman’s Own.” When Martha Stewart pulls out her glue-gun, viewers wipe out the shelves of local craft stores. What’s up? Oprah’s not a literary critic, Paul Newman was not a chef, and Martha Stewart doesn’t have a degree in fine arts.
But, what they do have is that magical element known as “a brand.” Not surprisingly, branding started with professional marketers who made a science out of motivating people to supercharge their spending.
Today, branding is everywhere. Just note the dizzying number of product placements in movies and on TV. The can of Coke sitting on the table in the sitcom doesn’t have any lines, but it still does its job in its brief—and highly influential—cameo performance.
What consumers buy has something to do with the product and a lot to do with how they see themselves. In fact, successful brands make you feel good and, like a good friend, really “get” you. That’s why branding works so well.
The roots of branding lay in consumer product marketing. Early on, marketers discovered that giving a “personality” to everyday commodities—such as soap, toothpaste and food—was the key to shaping consumer preferences. With that formula in place, it wasn’t long before women with Dove-soft skin and Crest-white smiles were serving their children Swanson-brand TV Dinners.
Today, branding is everywhere. Name a company on the Fortune 500 list and I’ll show you a budget that includes millions spent on promoting and protecting a brand—particularly in tough times. Smart companies know that when their competition is buttoning up, dollars spent on branding gives them an even better return on their investment.
And, more companies are branding their organizations by developing the brand of the founder or CEO. Think 1-800-flowers and who comes to mind? What about Wendy’s? Microsoft? Trump? (Okay, that was a trick question.) What’s more, you don’t have to be a CEO to realize the value of personal branding. While achieving an Oprah-sized brand may be out of reach, there are a few surefire ways to increase your personal brand to build your business or your own reputation.
But, more about that next month.
Katherine Heaviside is president of Epoch 5 Public Relations. Contact her through epoch5.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.