Beyond Your Logo: Creating your brand


golernCreating a brand identity involves multiple components and levels of communication with your customers and prospective customers. Often; however, lifelong learning programs confuse the symbols of their brand for their brand itself. Your brand is not your logo or your brochure design or your tagline. These are communicators of your brand, but your brand is something entirely different.

What is your brand?

Your brand is intangible. It is the image you create in the minds of your public about who you are, what you do, and how you can benefit them. This intangible is represented by your logo, your tagline, and your brochure. Your task then is to make sure that when people see your logo; for example, they think first about the image you have created.

Some examples of brand creation

There are some great examples of brand creation in the consumer market. Let’s look at Subaru* and how they have created their brand. Subaru’s approach is three-fold.
Subaru created a product to meet a specific need in the marketplace, i.e. an affordable, dependable, practical vehicle. But, there was a problem. Subaru cars didn’t sell as well as other Japanese cars. The cars met all the criteria identified in the market, but they were not exciting. They didn’t get people enthused.

The company realized that they needed to do something to connect with their potential customers and to engage emotionally with prospective buyers. Their solution was the “love” campaign. In its television ads, the company focuses on life and relationships. There is little talk of features, statistics, comparisons with the competition, and other techniques we often see in ads. Instead, the focus is on everyday people in everyday situations of life; on family, children, and connectedness. The ads are emotionally appealing, speak to the values and experiences of most of their audience, and suggest that the love they put into every car they produce is equivalent to the love people share in their daily lives. These ads are something everyone can relate to and feel good about. Hence; their tagline: “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.” It is this emotional connection with the public that is at the heart of the Subaru image.

Subaru has made a conscious effort to know who their customers are, to understand their values and beliefs, and to demonstrate how Subaru, as a company, supports those values.

Through their “love” campaign, Subaru has connected emotionally with the public, striking a balance between practicality and emotional appeal. Their brand, defined by their emotional appeal, along with their practicality, has made Subaru a top seller. Dealers can’t keep them in stock and there is very little opportunity to negotiate on price. The cars are in such demand that it isn’t necessary to negotiate. In addition, Subaru has created strong customer loyalty, word-of-mouth support. For lifelong learning programs as well as cars, the emotional connection, in conjunction with a well-defined, high quality product, are the two essential components of a brand. Neither alone is sufficient.

My Subaru and Customer Loyalty

This writer owns a Subaru, but it wasn’t the “love” campaign that sold me on this car. It was my son. He bought a Subaru and was soon singing its praises. “This is the perfect car for you, Mom,” he kept saying, offering example after example of why this was so. I admit that I was a happy Camry owner. I’d had two of them and I fully anticipated owing another one if the one I drove would finally die (which it has not).

My other son needed a new car and called for advice. I can’t understand why, but I heard myself recommending a Subaru, citing all the reasons my older son had given—safety, reliability, and lifestyle appropriateness. Soon, I had two sons driving Subarus and telling me I should too. By the time I was ready to purchase a new car, I determined not to even look at anything else, and I bought a Subaru. The customer loyalty of my two car-freak sons had an impact. But, it has not stopped there.

Customer Loyalty Strategies

Subaru likes me. I know this because I hear from them often. They ask for my opinions and feedback. They want to know about me and what I value. I get regular emails, surveys, and interesting information. I get regular mailings and a magazine aimed at making sure I am happy with my Subaru. I get updates about new features. My satisfaction is always on their mind.

Subaru has learned that their customers have a strong set of shared values and interests. Subaru owners view themselves as individualistic, environmentally aware, and community oriented. Subaru owners love their dogs. Subaru knows that their customers like to affiliate with companies who share their values. That is why they instituted their “share the love” initiative. Every new Subaru purchase allows the buyer to designate a local charity to receive a $250 contribution from Subaru. This is one more way to demonstrate that their values as a company are consistent with the values of their customers.

You can do this too

Subaru has created a model for how to maintain contact with customers, how to reinforce shared values, and how to create customer loyalty. This is a strategy that lifelong learning organizations should follow. Particularly in a time of for-profit providers of education, it is essential that LERN members know their customers and know how to communicate meaningfully with them. Lifelong learning programs need to adopt Subaru’s three-step approach to branding:

1. Create a high-quality product that is well defined and meets a need in the marketplace.
2. Create a strategy for engaging at the emotional level with customers and prospective customers.
3. Learn what motivates your customers and communicate regularly with messages that reinforce the values you share with them.

*To be clear, LERN is not promoting Subaru. We do admire their branding and customer loyalty approach and we think lifelong learning programs can benefit from implementing similar strategies.

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