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Trying to sear your brand into the minds and hearts of your target consumers is no guarantee that they will get your message much less respond to it.

Many marketers' notion of branding conjures up imagery from old cowboy movies: innocent calves with their legs tied, helplessly eyeballing the red hot branding iron as it sears a "mark" into their skin... forever branding them. The assumption here is that the company has all the power and control in the brand/customer relationship, and that the customer is helpless to resist the branding. It's a fallacy for a company to think they can say, "Here's the story we came up with about our brand, and this is what you will think about us."

Marketers and their agencies are mistaken if they believe they can develop even the most creative and intrusive message, and then by the sheer weight of their advertising dollars and heavy spending gain their customer's attention and motivate the desired action.

The fact is, branding isn't something that brands do to people, it's what people do to companies. Marketers cannot accomplish their goals to induce sales without the complete cooperation, and voluntary effort of their target audience.

Today's consumers "rule," and have complete control over your brand.

Twenty-five years ago, a marketer could tell America their story and establish their brand in one night with one commercial aired across the three major networks. And if it was a particularly clever commercial, everybody would be talking about it at the water cooler.

Today, consumers are too savvy and sophisticated to blindly participate in the old patterns of marketing: show me a commercial or ad, and I'll think about buying your product or service. With "touch point marketing" and messaging at every point of brand contact, consumers are exposed to an estimated 5,000 advertising and branding messages a day- possibly over 1 million a year! The clutter and "noise" is deafening, and many consumers actively tune our advertising, choosing to pay attention to those categories where they feel they have a need or desired product and service. And even then, they are highly selective about what experiences they will let in. In many cases, consumers like gathering their own information, doing their own research, forming their own opinions, getting in-put from trusted friends and impartial third party resources.

So, your brand is not what you say it is, it's what your customers think you are. A " brand is a promise of a specific experience that you will have with a company's product or service that you can count on to be the same, or better, each time. The perception of that experience is in the consumer's mind

Consumers create this perception at their own discretion as they choose to interact with your company's messages, services or products... or not! They decide what they will or won't process. No matter how memorable or great a brand's advertising is, your target audience still has the final say about how they will think about your product or service. Therefore, in every way and every time customers interact with your brand is marketing.

The "idea" of your brand will be filtered and manipulated by your target audience as they "experience" your brand. They will connect the dots between every other interaction they have with your brand, which could have been good or bad:

• A good ad
• A bad sales person
• A good internet experience
• A bad response from customer service
• A better message from a competitor
• A bad comment from a friend who's unhappy with the product

They will process their feelings and thoughts about these experiences through their own biases and perceptions and form their own personal perception of your brand. By the time they're through integrating all of these experiences and perceptions, your brand story may not be what you want.

Perhaps the most significant reality is that consumers often form their impressions before they have encountered all of the components of your integrated brand message! Most people today, including you, are time starved, and conditioned to taking small bits of information and brief brand experiences and jumping to a conclusion with "instant impressions" about your brand's relevance and connection to their needs and desires.

In fact, you're at risk that they may reject your brand because their first experience was not as rewarding as the complete positive experience they have had with your competitor

Your brand is at the mercy of the fact that EVERYTHING IS MARKETING. Or, you can leverage this paradigm.

Companies can gain control in the branding process through "brand orchestration" - creating harmony at every point your target consumers come in contact with your brand.

Since everything is marketing, the challenge is orchestrate every touch point and experience to guide customers to form a positive impression about your brand that motivates them to take the action you want.

As part of your brand development process, you will determine what your brand essence or "DNA" is - the unique soul of your brand that is present in every experience with your brand - that is the foundation for your desired brand impression.

Agencies and branding consultancies develop integrated marketing communications plans to influence consumer purchases, but in actuality, it's the consumers who do the integration!

Companies need to recognize that traditional media-based impressions such as TV commercials, print ads, internet pop-us, radio, direct mail, etc. are only a small part of orchestrating a strong brand impression.

Consider the touch points of someone choosing and experiencing a new low airfare airline, and how important it is for the company to control as much of the messaging as possible before travelers buy a ticked, experience the many interactions at the air terminal, during flight, at the baggage claim area, and exiting the terminal. Target customers may...

• See an ad for the airline
• Hear a friend about their good or bad experience
• Read a PR story about the airline's charitable efforts
• See TV commercials, or hear radio commercials
• Hear Jay Leno tell a joke about the airline on the Tonight Show
• Experience pop-up while on the internet
• Find the real price comparisons on an internet travel site
• See a bill board
• Have an easy or hard time on the airline's website, or...
• Experience an interminably long wait when calling the 800#
• Speak with a reservation agent who's friendly, helpful and fast
• See the CEO on a talk show
• Deal with a ticket agent who's grumpy, and uncommunicative
• Find the gate signage confusing
• Wait for a delayed flight with little compassion from the gate attendants
• Find the waiting area messy and unpleasant with newspapers and fast food wrappers and cups strewn about
• Find the crew friendly, efficient and truly caring
• Love or hate the snacks or pay-on-board food selections
• Find the seat and on-board entertainment comfortable and fin
• Exit the airport quickly

Every one of these experiences shapes a brand impression, and only 4 of twenty were the result of an advertising message.

If the desired brand impression is, for example, that this low airfare gives you "more comfort" than any other airline at its price, they need to orchestrate this message at every possible touch point, not just promote this message in the advertising. They need to send non-media message such as:

• Making the internet experience as easy and "comfortable" to use as possible.
• Train 800# personnel to treat callers like friends and families - conduct business on a "first name basis." "My name is Connie, what's yours may I ask? Well, Greg, how can I help you, and where can the ACME family take you?"
• Perhaps install portable seating areas near check in counters, so people can sit and relax instead of standing in lines while waiting to go to the check in counter.
• Send all of the employees to a "Brand School" to explain how every employee, whether they interact directly with the public or not, must do their part to deliver the brand promise.
• Provide comfort amenities aboard the flights such as refresher toiletries kits, "homey" patchwork quilt-looking blankets, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, wider seats, etc. • And much, much more...

Create a PR program focused on comfort:

• How to fly comfortably - the smartest, lightest way to pack for a trip; the most comfortable types of clothes to wear for travel; exercises and stretching you should do a few days before traveling to avoid travelers aches and pains; tips on how to buy luggage on wheels; on board exercises; things to bring from home that make your flight, and waiting for your flights more comfortable and efficient.

All of the above are positive experiences that reinforce the desired brand impression, and provide a "wow" that motivates people to share and create a buzz.

The ultimate goal of orchestrating every brand experience is to create brand ambassadors - consumers who promote your brand because it has so totally pleased them.

In today's brand/consumer relationship, the consumer has totally control. A company cannot force their brand message on consumers by the sheer force of the advertising program and media spending.

However, the brand can leverage the dynamics of this relationship by looking beyond the boundaries of traditional media communications to "orchestrate" the total brand experience and by giving thought to what should happen at every touch point where the brand and consumer meet.

The brand essence or "DNA" should be inherent in every designed experience, so as the consumer integrates their many experiences with the brand - media and non-media - they put together the components of the program to assemble the desired brand impression.

The net result is that consumers say to themselves, "I get the message, I want the product or service because it will make a difference in my life, and I understand the only place I can get it is from company X. I'm ready to buy it."