Deborah Gabor: Branding Isn’t What You Think

Deborah Gabor headshot

It’s not hard to see why so many people believe branding is a dirty word. The word itself has been overused and abused by marketing professionals who have never bothered to take the time to understand what it really means. It’s a shame because when done right, branding can be a potent tool for any organization that wants to thrive in today’s aggressive marketplace.

That’s where Deborah Gabor comes in. As a branding expert, Gabor has spent her career helping organizations understand the true meaning of branding and how to utilize that knowledge to craft a powerful, effective brand strategy.

In this exclusive interview, Gabor discusses the basics of branding and offers her insights into creating an effective brand strategy. Here’s what she had to say.

She’s Here to Impact One Million Brands

Gabor’s company, Sol Marketing, is on a mission to help one million brands. Whether it’s through her numerous interviews or readers of her books, she wants to make an influence on the way you brand your business.

Gabor isn’t playing small with her goal. Instead, she’s putting in the elbow grease to help companies understand that branding is a necessary part of growing and that the process doesn’t have to be complex or obtuse. 

In her words, “I do what I do because I make businesses better. It makes them more profitable, more sustainable, and more scalable. Better businesses contribute to healthy economies, and healthy economies are better for humans.”

Check this video out to see what she’s all about:

So, What Is Branding?

Usually, when we think of branding, logos and marketing come to mind.  A logo is the visual representation of a brand, while branding itself is everything it takes to make an organization stand out in the marketplace. So, branding isn’t just advertising or designing a logo. Instead, branding covers all aspects of an organization’s image and personality, including its product development processes and customer service interactions.

But this is just a minor piece of the branding puzzle. Gabor breaks it down for us like this:

“Branding is the collective emotional response to your product or service. There’s nothing else in business where you get to use words like love and hate.”

It’s essential to create a consistent and differentiated experience across all customer touchpoints if you want to impact the way your customers view your business positively. This will help make your business a magnet for your consumers.

According to Gabor, there are two parts to branding: your brand identity and your brand image.

You create a relationship with your customer that keeps them loyal and invested in these two things. Gabor elaborates, “That’s where the irrational loyalty comes from. It’s the thing that actually protects you in times when one of you doesn’t behave on values and beliefs in your shared relationship.”

Five Ways You’re Thinking About Branding Wrong

If you’re new to branding or just starting your business, you may have some preconceived ideas about branding that aren’t necessarily true. These beliefs may hinder your branding development and make it difficult to form a connection with your audience. Here are five of the most common mistakes:

1. Branding is the icing on the cake.

Branding isn’t the icing. It’s the whole cake. If you want to attract customers effectively, you have to stick to your promise. Everything from your advertising to the customer service you provide needs to reflect your brand’s values.

Additionally, don’t forget about your product. It needs to be up to par with what you’re promising your customers. You can’t afford to slack off in any area if you want them to stick around.

2. Branding is only your company’s visual identity.

It’s not all about advertising and putting your logo on everything. To create a successful brand, you need to focus on the customer experience and how you make people feel. Advertising and marketing are just one part of the picture. Taking the time to understand your customer is vital to creating a cohesive brand experience.

3. Your brand needs to appeal to everyone.

This is a common misconception that can leave your branding efforts unsuccessful. It’s important to understand that every brand has a core audience, and your goal should be to attract people who fall into this category. The narrower your focus is, the greater your chances are of connecting with this group of people on a deeper level.

Appealing to a distinct group helps ingrain your brand into your customer’s life and create loyalty. Trying to appeal to everyone dilutes your message and makes it seem like you want to develop a connection with anyone.

Gabor advises, “The best brands in the world aim their brand at a singular ideal archetypal customer. They aim the brand this way because it gives them relentless focus. Most of all, it tells them who they’re not for.”

4. Branding is the domain of the marketing department.

Brand identity and image should be shaped by the entire company, not just the marketing department. All members of your team should have a clear understanding of who you are as a brand and what you stand for.

Everyone that your customer interacts with is a representation of your company, so everyone must be on the same page.

It needs to come down from the top and be something that everyone at your company is responsible for. That includes sticking to your values as a company. As we’ve seen in the media, companies often seem disingenuous when they promote an image of themselves that doesn’t align with what goes on inside the company.

When business owners and leaders refuse to take responsibility for their brand, the result is often a tarnished image that can be difficult to restore.

5. My brand needs a spokesperson.

There are many different faces that make up your brand, and none of them should be the total focus of who you are as a company. Instead, you need to think about all the different channels through which people see and experience your brand.

Gabor says, “When you put all your eggs in one basket, it limits scale and puts your brand at significant risk.”

She also advises against naming your business after yourself or associating your brand with just one person—case in point, Jared Fogle. After Subway used him as the face of their company for years, they ended up regretting it because of his tarnished reputation. This resulted in a huge embarrassment and a lot of negative press for Subway.

What If My Resources Are Limited?

If you’re starting a business on a tight budget, it’s important to remember that you don’t need a lot of money to create a successful brand. Instead, you need to be creative and focus on the customer experience.

Furthermore, Gabor suggests starting as early as possible and branding often. You can’t do it once and be done. It’s an ongoing process that you must do continuously.

Thankfully, there are several guides online that you can follow to help point you in the right direction. And, as your company grows, you can bring on additional help to create a more polished and professional image.

First, develop a relentless focus on what your goal is. This will help you in the long run because you won’t have to continuously backtrack to figure out what you want your company to represent.

Next, figure out what makes your customers tick and develop a good business model that will appeal to them. This will help set you up for long-term success and loyal dedication.

Finally, ask your customers what they think of your brand to continue changing and adapting your business. You can’t improve something that you don’t know is broken, and the only way to do that is by getting feedback from those who matter most: your existing customer base.

By following the steps above, you’ll already be a step ahead of many other companies that don’t take the time to brand themselves properly.

Deborah Gabor headshot
Deborah Gabor / Photo courtesy of Deborah Gabor

Who Is Your Ideal Customer?

To Gabor, this is the most crucial question you should ask yourself when branding your business. Too often, companies try to appeal to everyone, and as a result, they wind up appealing to no one.

To find your ideal customer, you need to think about who you’re trying to reach and what you want them to do. Once you know this, it becomes easier to target your branding efforts.

To do this, ask yourself questions like:

·       What pain points are you solving for them?

·       What do they wear?

·       What car do they drive?

·       What does their routine look like?

·       What are their dreams?

Once you ask these questions, it becomes easier to put a face to your customer and build your brand around a particular type of person.

There are several simple ways to do this. In fact, Gabor makes her clients draw a picture of their ideal archetypal customer. This helps them humanize their customer and walk a few miles in their shoes.

She states, “The best brands in the world are human. Whether they serve other businesses or are customers like you and me, they’re humanized. And they do that through the lens of the ideal customer. You should strive to become a part of that person’s identity. Become a part of who they are.”

It’s also necessary to make sure that everything you do as a company resonates with this target customer. This includes the content you create, the products and services you offer, your website design, customer service, and even how people get in touch with you. In other words, every aspect of your company should tap into who this person is so that they can easily recognize themselves in it.

Is Your Product Valuable?

You may think that you have the most incredible product in the world, but does your customer? You need to figure this out in the beginning stages of your business so that you don’t end up sinking all your funds and energy into something that no one wants to buy.

There are several tools that you can use to check, including surveys, focus groups, and customer interviews. You can also do some market research to figure out what to do and how to position yourself.

It’s essential to do your homework and figure out what people want and need. You can’t rely on assumptions because they’ll likely lead you in the wrong direction. In other words, if you’re not asking the right questions or listening to the answers, how are you supposed to provide your ideal customer with what they need?

If you are still unsure, reconsider your process. Is it possible to improve what you’re offering? Are you targeting the right people? Are you reaching them in the right way?

Gabor states, “You want to validate that there’s actually a problem that is significant enough that people are going to spend money to solve it and that there’s a big enough opportunity there that it’s worth starting a business around.”

Be Singular

When branding your business, don’t compare yourself to anyone else when starting. This will only muddy your efforts and make it difficult to stand out in a noisy world.

It’s essential to focus on what makes you unique and appealing to your target demographic. Trying to be like someone else won’t get you very far, and it’s essential to keep in mind that every company has something unique to offer. So, figure out what this is instead of trying to copy someone else.

If you do end up comparing yourself to others, try understanding how to build your own brand instead of trying to figure out what makes someone else successful. Focusing on competition takes the focus off you and your audience, making it more difficult for your business to stand on its own two feet.

Gabor believes that the best brands in the world are unique. Therefore, she encourages green entrepreneurs to define their relevance and branding strategy early in the process.

To discover what your brand’s unique qualities are, ask yourself the following questions:

·       What are the different ways in which I help my customer?

·       How does my product solve specific problems?

·       What problem will it solve in their life?

·       Have I pinpointed what people want to have this problem solved?

You need to know your business and what it offers by researching the market beforehand. However, instead of comparing yourself to others, you should be looking to the future and what you want your business to become.

What Do Customers Care About?

When you’re excited about your product, it’s easy to get invested in the features, patents, and technology that come with creating your own business. But is that necessarily what the customer cares about?

According to Gabor, the answer is no. Instead, it would help to focus on what your customer thinks when they look at your brand.

Typically, they will ask themselves questions like:

·       How does this elevate my life?

·       How will this make things easier for me?

·       Will this help me become a better version of myself?

·       Does this make me happy?

·       Is this an extension of my personality?

When you ask these questions, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be selling them on what your product does but how it will improve their lives.

Gabor believes that a customer-centric focus is essential to success, which you can achieve by simply putting yourself in their shoes.

Satisfy Your Customers’ Needs

As Gabor puts it, each brand has its own Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. To move up to the next level, you must satisfy the lower ones. Therefore, it’s important to know what those needs are, but remember, needs can change over time. You need to stay on top of change and be prepared to offer what your clients are looking for.

To do this, you need to know where your customer is. This means that you must understand how they speak, what they care about, and their interests. If you don’t understand their needs as a brand, it will be difficult to reach out and connect with your target audience.

This is especially key if you are a startup. If you choose to brand yourself based solely on a proprietary technology or feature, you’ll quickly turn your premium product into a basic one. Gabor states, “You’re basically telling the whole world to imitate you and make your product into standard equipment for its category.”

To avoid this, speak directly to your customer and identify their values and beliefs. Once you do so, you can start blossoming your relationship with one another. Remember that your brand revolves around cultivating this relationship and ascending higher to fulfill your customers’ needs.

Identifying Your Customers’ Values and Beliefs

Once you find a few groups, follow the experts in those spaces and see what they talk about. This will give you an idea of who follows them and why.

Social media is an excellent tool for finding your customer’s interests, but it might not be easy to join in on the conversation or participate in different groups. You may have to jump through a few hoops to get the information you need.

Once you have all this information, it will be much easier to create relevant and exciting content. Create a story that speaks to them and their feelings to connect with your customers on a deeper level and show that you understand who they are.

Deborah Gabor headshot
Deborah Gabor / Photo courtesy of Deborah Gabor

Your Branding Will Help You Pitch Investors

Your branding will also play a role in how you pitch to investors. It would be best if you let them know that you clearly understand your target audience, their needs, and what you’re doing to satisfy those.

Once you show the investor how much thought you’ve put into your brand, it will be evident that you are serious about your business’s success. Furthermore, this will show investors that they can trust you and your vision.

Your branding strategy will become an essential part of your talk when you’re looking to raise money for your business. Don’t ignore this step and risk undervaluing or underselling yourself in the process. Therefore, it’s essential to explain your brand and why it’s valuable. Tell them your story and figure out what they’re looking for. If you can do that, they’re more likely to be willing to invest in your startup.

If you don’t know why they should invest in you, you won’t convince them. Your branding is about telling a story and taking them on a journey.

Here are some of Gabor’s tips for approaching investors:

1. Be very clear about who you are and make sure there are a ton of people available to buy your product.

When you do this, you help validate that there’s a market for your brand. Investors don’t like uncertainty, and they like it even less when you’re asking them for money.

By providing investors with clarity, they will be able to put a face and vision to your company and feel more comfortable investing in you.

2. Have a clear and unique value proposition.

A unique value proposition makes your brand different from the others. It’s what captures people’s attention and makes them want to know more about you.

Focus on what makes you irreplaceable and how you’re going to solve someone’s problem.  When you can articulate this clearly and concisely, investors will see the potential in your business.

Furthermore, your singularity will seem novel and exciting. It will make your brand stand out from the rest of the crowd.

3. Treat your investor pitch like it’s a branding exercise.

Don’t simply stick to your PowerPoint slides. Make sure you participate in conversation with them and appeal to their desires. Gabor recommends, “Think about who your ideal investor is. Understanding how to become a part of their identity should be a part of your pitch too.”

This can help you create a powerful pitch that aligns with your potential investor’s ideals. It may also guarantee that you are finding an investor that is the best fit for you and not simply one that is just available.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Starting Your Brand

If you want to be successful, you need to start your brand with a strategic foundation of who you are and your story. You must know what you’re selling and how to reach your target market. In addition, you should know what steps you need to take to position yourself towards the best possible outcome.

Once you have that figured out, it will be much easier to develop a brand strategy that works for you.

Make sure to ask yourself the next three questions:

1.  What does it say about the person using this brand

Asking this question will help you figure out what you want your brand to say about your customer. But, first, you must come up with a message congruent with your brand. Second, you must make sure that you deliver on that promise.

This question will also help you develop a unique selling proposition (USP). If you can’t answer this question, it’ll be challenging to create a strategy that stands out from the rest. Without one, it will be tough for your target audience to understand what makes you distinctive.

When customers feel like they’re getting what they expect from your brand, they will be more likely to stick around. Furthermore, they’ll be more likely to tell their friends about you.

2. What’s the one thing my customer gets from me that they can’t get from someone else?

This question will help you identify the unique benefits of using your brand to ensure that what you offer is valuable and relevant to your customer. So, what’s your brand’s superpower?

When asking yourself this question, Gabor advises, “It’s never a feature. It’s an ability, something only you can deliver. If you can’t figure it out, ask someone.”

Asking your customers questions will also help you discover your brand’s inadequacies and allow you the gaps of what your ideal customer isn’t getting from your brand.

3. How do I make the customer the hero in their own story?

When it comes to branding, it’s essential to make your customer the hero of their story. So how do you do that?

Make sure that you’re always putting your customer first. After all, without them, your brand wouldn’t exist in the first place. So, cater to their needs and make sure that you’re consistently exceeding their expectations. This will also strengthen your relationship and give you more wiggle room if your brand happens to misalign with your customers’ values.

Creating A Strategic Foundation for Your Brand

Start by creating a mission and vision statement. This will help you stay on track and make sure all your branding efforts are aligned with your overall goals.

From there, develop buyer personas to understand better who your target audience is. Once you know who they are, you can create content and messaging that resonates with them.

As an example, Gabor brings up the pink colors that woman’s brands typically use. She stated, “I’ve seen so many women’s brands come across as pink and womanly. And when we really peel back the layers of the onion, we realize that their ideal customer is actually repelled by that.”

Make sure to create a style guide that reflects your brand’s personality and values. This will help ensure that all your branding efforts are cohesive and on-brand.

You need to research and use market data to validate and gather information on your customer base. This will help you better understand their needs and wants. Remember, your brand is only as strong as your customer’s willingness to invest in it. So, make sure that you’re putting in the effort to create a valuable experience for them.

If you can answer these questions and develop a strategic foundation for your brand, you’ll be on your way to crafting a successful brand.

The Bottom Line

Every individual, corporation, or organization has a brand, whether they acknowledge it or not. Every product or service is packaged with a certain feel that can lead people to think of them as dull, exciting, old-fashioned, or modern. However, that’s not the only part of branding.

The most important step of branding is identifying what separates your brand from the rest. Without that, it will be challenging to determine where you should position yourself or how you can best appeal to your target audience. Successful brands have a clear vision of their USP and can tell their customers why they’re unique and what makes them stand out, as well as how they can fulfill their customers’ needs.

Developing a successful brand takes time, effort, and dedication. But, if you can figure out who your customer is and how to appeal to them, you’ll be well on your way. Remember always to put your customer first and exceed their expectations.

Furthermore, make sure that your branding efforts are aligned with your overall goals and values. Your goal is to make your customers irrationally loyal and willing to invest their money and time into your brand.

Deborah Gabor has a lot to say about branding, and it’s worth listening to. She has proven that she’s a force to be reckoned with in the branding world. If you wish to learn more about branding and how to set yourself apart from the competition, read her books: “Branding Is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything” and “Irrational Loyalty: Building a Brand That Thrives in Turbulent Times.”

Cover photo by Matthew Lemke and courtesy of Deborah Gabor.

View this article in the February 2022 issue of MP: Day 1.