Building a Brand is a Social Process, not a Financial One

Yeah, this bro greeting may not return in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but social excitement sure will in many forms. And the surefire way to accelerate same-store velocities or online sales is to insert your new brand into high-intensity social events as a legitimate cultural participant. 

Too often, founders in the throes of cash flow management AND who do not focus on consumer interaction/marketing outreach think of brand-building as a financial process. 

This is sad because a brand is a cultural phenomenon more than a financial one. Your UPCs total annual sales equal a small business, yes, but they do not equal a brand automatically. Not even close. A brand is a social outcome. It takes time. More importantly, it takes social interaction to transform a trademark into what we refer to as a brand. This is either offline word-of-mouth or online social mentions. Or both.  

Brands become powerful when the mere mention of them triggers repurchase even among lapsed consumers who got distracted by other alternatives. But it takes years for your brand’s trademark to become a symbol with this powerful reminder effect on the consumer’s brain. I’ve never seen a shortcut around it, except in brands that burrowed furiously into a hyper-connected social niche. 

What founders can and should do is make their brand a social badge somewhere in American life, especially if they sell snacks or beverages. Becoming a social badge involves creating habitual users inside real-life, tight social networks. It doesn’t have to be college students either. It could even be an occupational group like ER nurses (a special breed, trust me). The first sign that your product line is becoming a brand is using your trademark as a social badge inside small, social niches of early consumers. This use of your trademark as a mysterious, powerful symbol of modernization eventually will attract folks beyond the initial niche. Until you can create heavy users out of either ‘status adopters’ or ‘pragmatic adopters’ from outside the early niches you sell within, you won’t know if your business is becoming a brand. 

Having spent too many years soaking in giant POS datasets across the grocery store, I know all too well that there are an astonishing number of $10M, $20M, even $50M CPG brands that have almost no real brand power. They are forgettable commodities purchased out of shopping habits, not brand enthusiasm. 

Don’t become one of them.

Dr. James Richardson

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