I recently conceptualized brand management functioning like a prism.

A prism is an optical element that refracts light and is used to break up that light into its spectral colors (the colors of the rainbow).

Prism Analogy for Brand Management

The beam of white light is the organization’s value proposition. It is an identifiable, focused and engaging offer of value. This beam of light is a bundle of the brand’s identity: strengths and weaknesses.

The prism represents the brand manager whose duty is to interpret the value and translate the brand message to consumers. The brand manager uses marketing to refract the light of value into spectral colors that appeal to different consumer types.

The spectrum of colors represents the image of the brand the consumer experiences. Different types of consumers experience the brand in different ways. For example, a consumer viewing the brand from the red end of the spectrum may be most interested in the level of service the brand provides while a consumer viewing from the violet end may be more price conscious. The brand message speaks differently to different consumer types.

The brand manager owns the understanding of both sides of the brand; the organization’s brand identity (white light) and consumer’s brand image (spectrum of colors). It is through this knowledge that the brand manager best positions the brand to consumers.

It is important to understand that the brand manager isn’t altering the content of the white light and isn’t creating a color of the spectrum that doesn’t already exist within the white light. The different colors the consumers see are not a fabricated image by the brand manager rather, like light, are already imbedded in the organization’s identity. A strong brand manager has the ability to see and focus all of these elements.

We already know that names and logos themselves are not a brand, rather they are simply the visual manifestation of a brand. The brand as a whole is present in every point of contact with the customer and is comprised of the accumulation of these experiences. A fancy logo does nothing for a brand empty of value but a logo that doesn’t match brand identity to brand image sends mixed signals to consumers. The logo that greets visitors to a website isn’t the most important thing when it comes to the overall brand experience, but it does often happen to be the first encounter visitors have with the brand. It is one component of the brand experience that can and should be easily controlled.

In my previous post I explained that from a brand image perspective, the Nevada Commission on Tourism logo sends the wrong message to would-be businesses, tourists and residents. I believe Nevada should be emphasizing its strengths with its first impression rather than trying to educate them how to correctly pronounce the state name. Nevada has a great value proposition, it just needs to emphasize it more in the first point of contact.

In Forbes most recent “Best States for Business” ranking, Nevada placed second in economic climate ranking. What a fantastic fact for the foundation of a value statement! Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be leveraged properly. Doing a Google search on “doing business in Nevada” tells what Nevada is saying to potential businesses. Going to the first link, a “Doing Business In Nevada” page from the NV.gov website isn’t so promising. The first page that greets executives and CEOs wishing to learn more about our highly ranked economic climate shows a glossary in which the first entries are “Alcoholic Beverage, Selling – See Liquor License” and “Bail Enforcement (Bounty Hunters)” YOU STAY CLASSY NEVADA. See for yourself here. Could potential businesses stop right there and move on the 3rd ranked state on the list, Washington? Possibly, and if so, that is what we call a missed opportunity.

That doesn’t mean Nevada’s value proposition isn’t well-defined. Taking a look at the fourth link on the search brings us to the Nevada Commission on Economic Development website which does a great job of presenting the brand image to businesses. However, this site isn’t nearly as visited as TravelNevada.com or NV.gov so it is safe to say the initial point of contact for many visitors isn’t a logo that says “welcome to our state, this is our value…” it is one that says “this is how you should pronounce our name”. Warm greeting isn’t?

Check out this photo I found in the Nevada Outhouse Trivia Book:

How cool is that?! Not only does this sign welcome visitors, it also shares part of the state’s value proposition to residents and businesses. If I were a logo designer I would come up with a fantastic logo that really knocks them dead but alas, I am not a logo designer, I am a brand analyst.

Nevadans need to stop worrying about how their state name is pronounced.

I am a 6th generation Native Nevadan and my son Braden is 7th generation Nevadan. My great-great-great grandfather, a frontiersman and pioneer, settled Clover Valley in Lincoln County Nevada in 1869. I feel this makes me fairly qualified to speak on this subject.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Nevadan’s abhorrence with others mispronouncing the state name see here and here. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to “People who don’t like people who pronounce “Nevada” “Nev-ah-da” and it currently has 868 followers.

A recent poll conducted by this website showed that 83% of Nevadans who participated said they want to immediately correct people when they hear the name mispronounced. While you can include me with those that instinctively twitch when I hear snobishly pronounced “Nev-ahhh-duh”,  I have come to realize that it really just doesn’t matter. Our obsession with the correct pronunciation is damaging to the Nevada State Brand.

The State of Nevada is so upset with this mispronunciation by outsiders that the Nevada Commission on Tourism has actually created a logo that educates visitors how to correctly say the state name.

Do you see that little mark above the first a? I researched to find out it’s called a breve and it denotes a short vowel.  It tells readers the “a” should be pronounced as a “short-a” such as that in mat, cat or bat. Wow. Outside of linguists, who would even know how to interpret this correctly? But the most important question is: Why is this even an issue?

Is this really the most important thing we want visitors to know about our state? The only thing that would be more unwelcoming would be for the logo to say “Leave us alone”. While everyone wants to pronounce other’s names correctly out of respect, those individuals that immediately correct others who misspeak come off as insecure and irritable.

There are currently many stereotypes and perceptions regarding the state of Nevada, with many of them being negative aspects. Nevada is the 35th least populated state despite being the 7th largest in area. Nevada has long been seen as living in the shadow of California, and has long dealt with the image of being a nuclear testing site and dumping ground. Media coverage of the state often includes the immediate image of Nevada being associated with gambling, drugs, and prostitution. Many Nevadans are insecure or frustrated with these stereotypes and place their stress and emphasis on an area they feel they can control, such as how to correctly pronounce the state name. I understand this frustration but I say we just need to get over it.

Instead of making this the primary focus, and initial experience to the state, this time and emphasis and fervor would be much better spent on stressing the positive aspects of our state and creating a welcome atmosphere to businesses and tourists. Nevada should be using their first impression to explain the state’s value to businesses, tourists and potential residents. From my perspective, it looks like Nevada needs to work on its brand identity.

I will take a look at that in my next post.

Those of us in the know will continue to pronounce Nevada the proper way; we just won’t greet our visitors with a phonetics lesson.  We’ll welcome those businesses that bring jobs and we’ll smile at those tourists who pay our taxes out of their wallets as we continue to enjoy the good life under the tall, blue Nevada sky.

Nevada – Does the proper pronunciation of the state name matter to you?

I am working on a post for my analysis on identity and image of the State of Nevada brand and would appreciate your input. Please vote below.

In the last post I discussed Brand Identity – how YOU (the business) wish to be perceived by the consumer. Brand identity is everything the company wants the brand to be seen as. Today I will turn the lens around and look  at Brand Image – how the CONSUMER actually sees you.

Brand-aware businesses spend hours of soul-searching to uncover their brand identity and how they want to be perceived. However, brand identity (self-image) is not always translated into brand image (customer-perception). This is where the rubber meets the road in marketing; getting your customers to see you as you want them to see you. Those businesses with well-managed brands have this figured out.  This leads to the promise of the brand being fulfilled and customer leaving happy.

Analyzing brand image from the consumer’s perspective is very entertaining. Much like people watching (the practice of  observing people and their behaviors and trying to figure out what they are all about), brand image analysis is “brand watching”. Some of us do this consciously when we encounter a brand, all of us at least do this subconsciously. We are constantly scanning our environment and developing a brand image of everything we encounter. The process of consumers developing a brand image is explained by the examples below.

Northtowne Walmart, Reno NV
With the Walmart brand in general, you know you are getting low prices at a sacrifice of service but the Northtowne Walmart is a brand in itself. Anyone who has ever been to this particular store will understand what I am talking about. The poor brand image starts before you even get in the store as you are faced with running the gauntlet of shopping carts strewn about the parking lot as no one has cared to collect them. The asphalt outside is littered with trash and stained with oil marks. Immediately when you walk in, you are greeted with a wave of foul air and as you wander through the aisles of disarray you are introduced up close and personal to Reno’s finest class of citizens. I understand this may sound exaggerated to some but I can assure you this is how Northtowne Walmart’s brand is seared into my conscience.

Focusing on Strengths creates a positive brand image in minds of consumers (despite brand shortcomings). Below is an example.

Super Burrito, Reno NV
On a more positive side stands the Super Burrito brand. While it isn’t the cleanest, newest and even most English-proficient joint in town, the experience of a #1 Chicken Super Burrito is unparalleled in Reno. There are other noteworthy burritos in town but none gives Super Burrito a run at being the champion of Reno burritos. The  #1 (the burrito that gives the restaurant its namesake) leaves me filled, happy and primed to come back for more. It has never done me wrong and always meets expectations.

See my previous post for an example of a company that understands its identity and effectively translates its brand to image.

Obtaining congruence between brand identity and brand image is challenging but it all starts with being self-aware, emphasizing strengths, while marginalizing weaknesses.

Think about the brands that you have developed a relationship with. What is your favorite brand? What does it promise? What does it represent? What adjectives can you think of to describe it?

Please share your comments below.

In the previous post I outlined my definition of a brand and in this post I will go into detail about brand identity. If an organization agrees that effective branding is necessary they need to understand the concept of brand identity. Simply put, brand identity is how the business wishes to be perceived by the consumer. The process of identifying brand identity revolves around understanding what you are, what value you provide, what kind of relationships you wish to create and what kind of environment you wish to operate in. A business that understands itself will be able to develop a strategic branding strategy founded on a clear brand identity.

A great example of a company that has understands its brand identity and is effectively implementing it into its brand experience is REI.

REI offers quality outdoor gear for people serious about outdoor recreation. Through a robust membership program REI offers a club-like atmosphere that rewards engaged and loyal customers. A 100% satisfaction guarantee and employees who field test the gear ensure customers will be happy and informed with their purchases. Such services come at a high cost so pricing is not a major component of REI’s brand identity. With outdoor equipment, the price/quality relationship is fairly high so REI caters to those avid climbers, hikers, and adventurers that are willing to spend on quality gear.  This allows REI to offer a higher level of service.

REI’s understanding of its brand identity is shown in its approach. The entrance of the store invites customers to step into the outdoors. The asymmetrical wooden entrance looks like an entry to a lodge hidden deep in the forest where mountaineers gather to discuss their encounters with nature.

The first physical engagement customers have with REI is the active step of opening the doors. No automatic glass doors here; muscles are required to enter. The handle is actually an ice axe nailed to the door and customers are immediately thrust into an adventure experience with an hands-on relationship with the brand as they grasp the axe to forge their way into the store.

This hands-on approach gets the customer engaged in touching products that are accessible and interactive on the showroom floor. Want to see how a certain tent feels when you lay down inside? Grab one of the sleeping bags hanging on the wall and climb in the tent for a trial run.

Prices that aren’t prominently displayed don’t even play a role at this stage of the experience as this is not what REI wants the customer to be focused on. REI know its strengths and intends to not let price become a weakness of the brand identity. Although REI doesn’t offer the selection of Scheels or command the reach of Sports Authority, their well-defined brand identity allows them to remain a trusted brand among outdoor enthusiasts.

Think about the brands you come in contact with that do an exceptional job of brand identity. How is the understanding of their identity shown in the experience? Please share your comments below.