A term tossed around so often you’d almost be confused as to what it actually means. Brand. Like synergy, half a decade ago, a concept with real-life implications that have all but taken a backseat to the more vague aspects of marketing.
Brand. The spirit of a business distilled into five letters.
The Half-Eaten Fruit
Apple’s roots—heh—run all the way down to a garage. No surprise, of course, considering the hallowed company it shares—Amazon, Microsoft, and Disney being some of the biggest names on the list of mega corporations that began in spaces designed to house cars and whatnot.
By 1975, both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had dropped out of school. A year later, Apple Computers was founded. Interestingly, the company was formed on April 1, and one must imagine how much of a joke it would have been to the duo if they were told what their brainchild would grow into over the next four decades.
Apple’s success is almost outrageous. To the layman, that is. While the company has seen its own share of losses—rare as they may be—its upward trajectory is undeniable, and that has mostly been as a result of careful, calculated brand positioning.
Before 2001, when Apple released it first true mainstream device, the iPod, the company had a quarterly revenue of under US$2 billion. One year after, it was up to US$3.24 billion. Eighteen years later? A mind-boggling US$88.3 billion.
What happened in that period?
For one, the tech industry grew. That is a fact that cannot be denied. More importantly, though, Apple managed to grow its brand and position it for maximum profit. The Apple tree grew.
Case in point would be the company’s smartphone business. While Apple sells way less iPhones yearly—slightly over half, in fact—than Samsung does its own smartphones, Apple’s smartphone division makes significantly more money.
And that’s the number one advantage in having a great brand image:
It allows for more profitable positioning
Bigger profit margins. A direct by-product of positioning itself as a luxury brand. Quite similar to Mercedes-Benz in the automotive industry, in fact. It’s no surprise, then, that the two brands see a significant overlap in customer bases.
Look no further for a perfect example of Apple’s branding philosophies than the company’s own logo. The company’s first logo depicted Isaac Newton sitting under an Apple tree, a nod to the famous scientist’s epiphany on the concept of gravity. And while that particular apple had a short fall under Newton’s watchful eyes, Steve Jobs’ has done the exact opposite.
The company’s current logo is, perhaps, even more striking: A part-eaten Apple. An allusion to the fruit from the tree of knowledge wrongfully tasted by Adam and Eve in the Bible? Unintended, perhaps, but the existence of such a link is inarguable.
Again, knowledge. Innovation. The zeal to sail uncharted waters.
And that’s reason number two:
It gives your brand synergy with a particular concept.
Apple and innovation. Alienware and outrageous gaming performance. Redbull and energy. Good for business.
Of course, positioning isn’t the only thing that matters. Branding has to backed up in real-life, and it’s no surprise that Apple has the best customer service in the industry. Best warranties and arguably the best quality assurance, too. You don’t get to position yourself as the best without actually being the best, after all. For the most part anyway.
People are a lot more willing to pay a premium if they know their real-life user experiences will reflect it. And positive user experiences inspire brand loyalty—a concept that is the backbone of every successful business.
According to Fundera, 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers.
Which leads us to reason number three:
It inspires brand loyalty.
Especially when backed up by real-life positive user experiences.
But even then, the reality of the matter doesn’t always match up to the brand image.
“No highs, no lows, must be Bose!” Or so the saying goes, anyway. To most audiophiles, Bose is a perfect example of a brand with considerably more bark than bite. The company’s audio products aren’t bottom-of-the barrel, per se, but Bose’s brand image and marketing would have the regular consumer believe its hardware is the cream of the crop; an idea the average audiophile out there enthusiastically disagrees with.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Bose hardware is generally some of the priciest on the market. Much like Apple, in fact. And Mercedes-Benz.
From a neutral perspective, it’s hard to argue with the not-so-subtle nods to innovation in Apple’s brand image, but the company’s halo, at times, makes it appear to be more than it actually is.
Back in 2016, Apple claimed it took courage to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7 phones. Cue “Le Courage” memes. In actuality, though, Apple wasn’t the first company to ditch the headphone jack; a little-known Chinese company, LeEco, had done that months before. Apple is also regularly credited for implementing the notch on the iPhone X when another OEM, Essential, did that months before.
Like Bose, Apple’s brand image has allowed it to earn bonus points it otherwise wouldn’t have. Sounds inconsequential, perhaps, but successful business men know to take any advantages they can get.
Which leads us to another point:
Marketing backed by a strong brand image is more successful.
Perhaps, however, the biggest perk of branding is the first impression it gives to potential customers. You know what they say about first impressions? They matter.
“First impressions matter. Experts say we size up new people in somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes.”
Elliott Abrams seems to think so too, and the man knew his stuff.
Be it a website—or an actual building—that first click or step through the sliding doors influences the final buying decision of a lead a lot more than some realize. There’s a reason why most people try so hard on first dates. Creating a good first impression puts your foot in the door.
Proper branding provides credibility. Say what you want about price not having a direct correlation with quality; the fact remains, though, that a positive first impression and branding plays a heavy part in giving premium brands the legitimacy they need to be able to charge premium prices.
There’s a big difference between walking into a FILA shop and checking into a Balenciaga store. The difference may not be concrete enough to be noticed by the average person, but it exists. Subtle things like lighting and air conditioning in the shop are designed to provide a different experience.
Ever tried hiring a contractor online? Or even just buying something? Noticed how you almost always gravitated towards the ones with better websites? The power of first impressions.
Which would you be more likely to do business with? Both websites don’t exactly crown themselves in glory but the first is undoubtedly better, and a more attractive option to the average prospect.
The difference between walking into a Mercedes-Benz showroom versus a Hyundai one.
Maybe, just maybe, the difference between sealing a deal versus having them pull out midway.
Of course, appearing premium isn’t the only thing branding is good for. Ideally, branding is best used as a tool for shaping perception. It could be to inspire trust, or portray an image of cost-effectiveness—it’s all down to the business’s ideals and objectives.
Should you work towards building a kickass brand image?
No. If you don’t care about building a successful business, anyway.
Branding isn’t an easy way to get to the top, and a great brand image doesn’t always imply a successful business. It sure as hell helps, though.