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The Brand Gap: What You Think vs. What Really Matters

Michelle Mire
Senior Content Marketing Specialist
PublishedMar 14, 2023
Your Opinion About Your Brand Doesn’t Matter — Superside
5 min read
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On April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Roberto Goizueta made what he called “the boldest single marketing move in the history of the packaged-goods business”—the introduction of New Coke and the exit of Coke Classic.

Share prices dropped immediately. Stock prices for arch-enemy Pepsi increased, prompting the competitor to celebrate by giving their entire workforce a day off and running ads declaring victory in the cola wars.

So many complaint calls rolled in, the company had to hire extra operators. Protests were staged. Some people even filed lawsuits.

Seventy-nine days later, New Coke was no longer.

Brand Goals: No One Wants To Be the “New Coke”

The infamous story of New Coke exemplifies what can go wrong when marketers undervalue or completely ignore what their customers think about their brand.

At the same time, in today’s hypercompetitive world, fortune favors the bold. So, how do you experiment with your brand without risking it all? Let’s explore a few perspectives.

Your Brand Isn’t What You Say It Is

An image showing influencer Marty Neumeier, his book the Brand Gap and his famous quote, "Your brand isn't what you say it is. It's what they say it is."

In his iconic book, The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier famously declared, “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is." They, in case you weren’t paying attention, are your audience.

Neumeier asserts that for customers, a brand is more than a logo or identity system; it’s a fundamentally emotional experience.

The strongest branding combines strategy and creative to forge a connection unlike any other.

What Can Marketers and Creatives Do?

“You need to be curious. You need to be empathetic and always serve the customer, considering what they want and need.”

Catherine Blair-Timothy
Catherine Blair-TimothyGroup Creative Director, Lightspeed Commerce

At a recent Superside webinar, 95% of the attendees said brand growth was in the middle or at the top of their list of needle-moving priorities.

During this session, Catherine Blair-Timothy, Group Creative Director at Lightspeed Commerce and Dmitry Shamis, Creative Leader and former Global Head of Creative and Brand at HubSpot, shared that marketing and creative leaders need to act as brand advocates and educators both within the company and when working with stakeholders like outsourced design partners.

Start With a Brand Framework

What story does your brand tell? Your framework captures this essence at the highest level, giving every stakeholder an objective frame of reference.

Whether you’re using one of the classic 12 archetypes, NeedScope structure or a simple “we’re this, not that” approach, your brand framework shapes the fundamentals of your positioning and identity.

For example, Superside is an advocate for its customers, setting the standard for Creative-as-a-Service (CaaS) that frees marketers and creatives from the shackles of creative bottlenecks and fuels growth.

An infographic that reads, "95% of marketers and creatives say brand growth is in the middle or at the top of their list of needle-moving priorities."

Create Consistency With Brand Guidelines

Brand guidelines are tactical tools. They document how to use the logo, brand colors, iconography, photography, design templates and other assets, ensuring consistency at every touchpoint.

While they’re not as exciting as planning a campaign, the guardrails within the brand guidelines eliminate guesswork and wheel reinvention, making it a million times easier to produce campaign assets

📖 Read More: How TransAct's brand guidelines provided 70x more design efficiency.

Know When to Experiment With Your Brand

"There are lots of really good reasons to experiment with your brand. But, one of the questions that comes up is thinking about where and when."

Dmitry Shamis
Dmitry ShamisCreative and Thought Leader

Humans are complicated. So is branding. While structure is a good thing, change happens and your brand needs room to adapt.

Whether your audience has changed, you’re targeting a new segment, exploring a new channel or any number of reasons, you have to respond.

Sometimes it’s a small adjustment. Other times, you may opt to refresh or completely rebrand. Either way, inaction is not an option.

Blair-Timothy and Shamis provided a matrix for evaluating your brand experimentation options. In their model, risk is a function of funnel stage and audience size. The larger the audience and further down the funnel you are, the greater the risk.

📚 See the full recording and our other resources in our learning center.

The Scariest Parts of Brand Experimentation

The emotional creatures that we are, many of us have our reservations about taking risks in the first place.

In fact, 52.2% of the marketers and creatives attending the webinar said their biggest fear about experimenting with their brand was a loss of brand recognition.

Many also don’t know where to start, with 39.5% citing a lack of market insights as the greatest barrier preventing them from testing anything new.

Infographic with two statistics. "52.2% of marketers and creatives say their biggest fear about experimenting with their brand is a loss of brand recognition." And, "39.5% say a lack of market insights is the greatest barrier preventing them from testing anything new."

Taking Calculated Risks

You don’t have to make blind guesses and you can look before you leap into any brand experimentation. It can be as simple as asking your audience what they think. Shamis noted, “You won’t have a more engaged audience than the one that's actually paying you money.

You also don’t have to be exhaustive, asking hundreds or thousands of customers their thoughts. Just take a small sample and look for trends.

At the Superside Momentum Summit, Max Bidna (aka Marketing Max) also identified some simple methods for gathering customer feedback. He suggested sending short customer surveys twice a year and making regular efforts to gather testimonials.

Skimming review sites can help you test the water. If you have an online community, it’s a natural platform for chatting with highly engaged customers. Your sales and support teams are a wealth of information as are your campaign results. Even a simple A/B test can be quite telling.

You Can Do This!

Branding isn’t about you. But, then again, it is—you help shape the interactions your customers have with your brand. Oh marketing, we love how counterintuitive you really are.

You can take risks and test ideas. You may not need to make the boldest single marketing move in the history of your industry—but then again, maybe you could. Just take the time to consider what your audience thinks and feels.

Plus, you don’t have to go it alone. Superside can help with any range of branding projects large or small, strategic or iterative or anywhere in between. With experts like Anneke King by your side, you can tackle anything from creating or updating brand guidelines to producing a wide range of dynamic, on-brand creative assets.

Make That Emotional Connection
Make That Emotional Connection
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Make That Emotional Connection

See how Superside has helped ambitious brands with everything from brand guidelines to breathtaking branded campaigns.

Michelle Mire
Michelle MireSenior Content Marketing Specialist

Michelle enjoys learning from and empowering ambitious marketers and creatives focused on scaling design and fueling growth.🚀 With more than two decades of experience, she’s worked at both agencies and in-house teams at companies of all sizes in the United States and Canada. She began her career as an advertising copywriter, remastering these skills as a content marketer and becoming a subject matter expert on everything from frozen pies and financial statements to SaaS and now CaaS. (There’s a reason why writers do so well on Jeopardy!) Connect with her on LinkedIn where she keeps threatening to be more active. (It’s like a chef saying they want to cook more at home.)

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