brandingBrand. It is the foundation that great businesses are built on. And the gift we offer the world as marketers. Apple, Zappos, Nike, Crossfit. Each of these companies is greater than the sum of their parts - and each of them is bigger than the product they sell to the marketplace. Nike doesn't write about shoe technology - they write about how to unleash your inner athlete. Apple doesn't tell us about their sleek computers - they show us how our lives get easier. Zappos doesn't sell me shoes - they bring service to my doorstep and make my day better. Crossfit isn't selling fitness; they are inviting me to a lifestyle that pushes perceived boundaries.

Find the Thump

As inbound marketers, we are given one of the greatest responsibilities in business today. To communicate brands. To influence the marketplace to believe in, interact with and adopt the brands we represent in the marketplace.

What happens when we try to create brands on purpose is that we forget about the heart and we get caught up in the rational mind and the brand becomes boring, watered down, unrelatable and generic. To get statistical about it, our bodies process information 70,000 times faster than our minds. Our bodies make a snap judgment on if we like or don't like something. If we're attracted to or repelled away from a brand. Once we have that emotional response, our minds then look for evidence to rationalize our explanation. So - as marketers, we need to be mindful of providing both. The initial emotional/ visceral response and then quickly provide the supporting evidence to justify the response.

The heart - that invisible thing that you can't explain - we call Thump. It's that one thing that you offer the world that pierces the soul of your buyer - that's when thump happens. For Nike - it's just do it. We make decisions with our guts and not our heads - and that if a brand doesn't find what we call "thump" - then you haven't found what's going to make it stick and grow in the marketplace.

5 Essential Tenets of an Inbound Brand

1. The brand is the product

"The Brand is the Product" - Lee Clow This quote is only impactful if you know who Lee Clow is. Mr. Clow was the creative force behind the Apple "Think Different" campaign. A campaign, that when it launched, was one of the first - if not the first - to spend nearly a million dollars on a single ad spot - that didn't focus at all on the product. It was a call to the crazy ones, to the misfits - a call to join a revolution to march to a different beat. He knew -that if he could get people to believe the story - that they would buy any product. It's almost as if he knew that the pace of innovation was going to get to a place where the window of true product and service differentiation would be fleeting.

The only thing lasting would be brand loyalty.  Apple was able to define and stay true to their one thing: Different.

It used to be that the product was the brand. Think about Coca Cola. Coca-Cola became a household name because the product was good (or at least they convinced us it was). But how many other things - outside of brown stuff in a can - has the brand name Coca-Cola? Nothing - right? Because which product lead brands - there is no space for brand elasticity.

Contrast that with Apple - what started with computers, moved to music players, moved to phones, moved to redefined retail experiences.

When clients entrust us with helping to define their message - and to share that message with the world through marketing - we are creating a story that is so much bigger than what they do. It's the brand that the marketplace forms a connection to.

2. It's not what you do; it's how you help

Know what you're great at - and HOW IT HELPS OTHERS. It's not enough to know what you do - you have to really understand the pain it solves for your target audience and WHY THEY BUY IT.

When you begin inbound marketing, it's like picking up a gigantic magnet. If you don't know who you are - and what your business needs, you don't know what 'charge' to put to the battery.

If your company has not answered questions like: what's the most important thing we bring to the market, how are we unique? and why do customers buy from us? - you are not ready for inbound marketing - and you certainly are not going to be able to super charge a brand through inbound marketing efforts.

Let me show you an example of what I mean. Here are 5 clients that we work with. I've not listed the company names, but on the left hand side is what they would have told me that they do for their customers the first day they walked into our offices.


3. Your brand is like a person

Have you ever been to a party and there is this guy trying so hard to be the center of attention that's it's just uncomfortable? He's telling jokes, talking loud, using all of these crazy hand jesters - in an attempt to get everyone's attention - but there is just nothing of substance to keep you interested? On the other hand, have you ever been to a party where there was someone there that was so magnetically hilarious, that the entire crowd seemed to just show up where he was? That you kind of pushed and strained your way towards the person - and you wanted to be sure you heard the next thing coming out of his mouth so you were in the 'know'

Don't try to copy what others are doing. Too often we look around at what's working for other companies and brand to decide what to do. Know who you are, and be authentic. Consumers can sniff out an unauthentic brand really fast. Are you funny? Are you serious? Are you witty? What's your personality? At Element Three, I always tell our team 'we don't do funny'. It's a core value of ours, in fact. I want to be seen as a marketing company that is known for driving measurable business impact - first and foremost. I don't believe that can be achieved when our clients see videos of us with beanies on chasing each other with Nerf guns. You're much more likely to walk in on a debate about the latest business leader on the cover of Forbes at Element three than Nerf gun wars. But, if I was trying to keep up with some of my more hip counterparts - I could make all of these crazy videos - but it would be very forced - and not reflective of who we really are.

Brands in the marketplace are the exact same way.

4. Your brand can't surpass the values of its leader

I wonder what answer I'd get if I walked into a company and asked them for signs of an Inbound Brand. I'd probably hear things like:

  • "Oh, well we have a blog"
  • "We use HubSpot"
  • "We have lots of white papers on our website"
  • "We do A/B testing"
  • "There are lots of info graphics on our website"
  • "We hire people who have a lot of social influence"

But those are just tactics! Those 'things' in and of themselves are not what Inbound Marketing is about at all.

Deciding to use inbound marketing as your main strategy is not actually a marketing decision at all. It's a brand level and business level decision. You are saying: I am going to step out and be a market leader. I am going to tear back the covers on what we've previously thought as proprietary, we are going to share our minds, our people, our voice, our perspective with the marketplace. We are going to tell a story and be significant. We are going to drive change. We are going to inform beliefs in the minds of our prospects. We accept that what we say may at times be controversial. We believe we have something relevant to say to the marketplace. We believe we are special. We believe the people who work here have something to say and it will impact the way that they think about their jobs, and their contribution.

That's a culture of Inbound Marketing. Taking risks and chances and opening yourself up to what could be - instead of what always has been. At taking a risk and taking a stand - and being something specific instead of nothing in particular.

I have found, that the bravado of the leader - and their willingness to make mistakes and take a stand - is one of the greatest indicators to me of whether or not a client is going to be successful executing inbound marketing.

5. Know what you're driving towards

Strong inbound brands have a clear vision of the future. They know exactly what they are driving towards and are willing to stay fixated on the vision of the future.  In their minds eye - they know exactly where they are headed. They are in the process of making a million little decisions about operations, and hiring, and marketing and sales - that build into the thing they see for the future of their business. That exact same thing is true of brands. If we can't help our client see a vivid picture of what their brand can be in the market - of how it comes to life - we can't help lead them there. Each blog post, each landing page, each tweet - is a micro brand experience that all layer together to form the brand.

How Brand influences Inbound Marketing Decisions

Brand drives your editorial calendar, your content strategy, how you nurture leads, your call scripts when you screen leads, how you answer the phone, what headline you put on your call to action, which presentations you're willing to talk about at conferences and it drives what you wear. Creating content without the rudder of a brand message or an intimate knowledge of what the company behind the brand offers the marketplace is plagiarism in my opinion. If you can't find the story organically - you are either fabricating it or stealing someone else's.

"(Most brands) want to be all things to all people. They want their brand to be a male brand and a female brand. An upper-crust brand and a plebeian brand. And in their greed they almost always end up with a brand which has no personality of any kind - a wishy washy neuter brand" - David Ogilvy The unpublished David Ogilvy.

Tiffany Sauder is President of Element Three, an inbound marketing agency based in Indianapolis, IN. You can read her blog at Element Three or follow her on Twitter at @tiffanysauder.

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Originally published Oct 10, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated January 18 2023


Inbound Marketing Branding