Be. Do. Show.
These three words are the building blocks of branding, says Kat Cole, group president of FOCUS Brands, which owns and operates Cinnabon, Schlotzky’s, Auntie Anne’s, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and other food service companies.
“First, you must be the brand culturally, and then have behaviors and practices that demonstrate what your brand is about,” says Cole, who’ll address how to build successful and resilient brands during a keynote address at the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, Feb. 26 to March 2 in Washington, D.C.
“Only then should you start marketing it, making promises, and telling the world.”
Too often, companies make brand promises they can’t keep because they don’t follow this order, she says.
“They come up with a great story about what they stand for and what makes them unique, and do some beautiful advertising. But then the consumer finds it’s not a differentiated experience and the brand gets it wrong.
“It’s all about authenticity,” Cole continues. “If you’re trying to market what you aren’t in practice, then ultimately it won’t work.”
Cole honed her branding chops early on, first as a 26-year-old vice president at Hooters and later as president of Cinnabon, where she led the company to its highest-ever growth, profitability, and franchisee satisfaction.
She says the three main components of a successful brand are:
This requires first understanding who your core target customer is, and then ensuring you remain relevant to that consumer based on the competitive offerings they have access to.
“If you’re not offering a unique version of what your customers want, you're simply a commodity,” Cole says.
“And then it's a price race to the bottom.”
A nice logo and attractive creative don’t cut it. A brand must stand for something.
“If you stand for nothing, competitors who have meaningful platforms will pass you by,” she says. “A brand is a promise to the customer, so credit unions must ensure the services they offer are relevant to the target consumer today—which may be completely different from two years ago or even two months ago.
“Having a position in the community is incredibly important.”
Cole also embraces the idea of thinking globally and acting locally.
"Understand the macro dynamics of the world, but realize that all business is highly local,” she says. “If you want to be successful and have a great brand reputation, you still have to do great things in real life.”
Bill Merrick is deputy editor of Credit Union Magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @CUMagazine.