Every year truckloads of money get spent on brand developers, brand managers, creative design firms, and other marketing groups to fashion highly effective and expensive brand logos and corporate identities. Do they work?

There no question brands are important. Brands—good or bad, strong or weak—often tip the scale when it comes to purchasing or adopting decisions. Many brands like FedEx or Kleenex have become so powerful that they become verbs – literal “words in the mind.” You don’t think about “UPS’ing the Canon’d copies overnight,” but you probably would instantly understand if a business associate told you to “FedEx the Xeroxes overnight.”

Such is the power of an established brand. But how does one identify and evaluate a brand? Is a brand a logo, a corporate identity, an advertising campaign? brand_building

Brands are all of the above, but they are much more. And, most importantly, they are out of reach. Brands live between our ears. Brands represent a complicated cognitive assembly of perceptions, beliefs, emotions, experience and word of mouth. If someone highly credible in our lives makes an authoritative statement about a product or service we’ve never seen nor tried, then that statement instantly becomes the brand in our minds – despite millions of dollars spent by companies trying to promote key brand elements and attributes to the contrary.

Brands represent promises kept or promises broken. They include direct experiences and emotional perceptions. Neglecting that touchpoint aspect of brand development and sustainability can be fatal.

A brand living in one’s mind became all the more powerful with the advent of social media. Social media powerfully extends or blunts preferred brand messages and attributes. Social media and the digital capacity to instantaneously communicate are two reasons why marketers like Seth Godin urge marketers, PR people and brand developers to find satisfied customers and “give them a digital megaphone.”

Word of Mouth – a slippery and difficult communication pathway – accounts for a huge slice of the brand-building pie. Online independent testimonials—good, bad or apocalyptic—can be had numbering in the thousands simply by opening a browser on a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Brands are thus directly influenced by forces beyond a marketer’s control. That, of course, doesn’t change the need for professionally developed logos, brand identity, or marketing campaigns. It just puts much higher degrees of performance pressure on multiple platforms.

Public relations professionals have been dealing effectively with brand development through word of mouth for decades. Independent placement—a virtual 3rd party endorsement—of products and services in credible media has been a mainstay of advancing brands through PR for multiple decades. However, brand development has changed considerably. While media relations is still important, content development of credible, non-abstract and easily verified information placed in preferred communication platforms holds great influence in brand-building.

Thus, understanding what media platform is preferred by one’s target audience has become even more critical than in the past. For example, developing brand messages for mobile devices and tablets is different than for traditional television or print publications.  Web copy must short and conversational. Pitching and hard selling on digital platforms is often viewed as intrusive – people certainly like to buy, but they don’t generally like hard sells. If you’re intrusive online, you’re a half second away from your competitor.

Respect where your brand lives – directly in the mind of your customer, your prospect, your target audience. Remember that while logos and physical representations of your brand are critical, so are the emotional perceptions, values and preferences of your target market. Outside forces can play huge roles in brand development, so be sensitive and aware of critical changes in your marketplace.

Above all, remember that in an instantaneous social-media-connected world, a brand represents a promise. Keep—and better yet, exceed—those promises, and you’ll be rewarded. Break a promise, and watch for ticket sales on Eventure for the burning at the stake of your once-powerful brand.

By Michael Snyder, Managing Principal, The MEK Group