What's your identity?

If you’ve ever pondered the thought process behind some of the more memorable advertising campaigns, you must read ”Be the Brand: How to find powerful identity and use it to drive sales,” by David N. Martin (New Marketplace Books, $19.95, 220 pages).

Martin, founder of The Martin Agency and a 35-year veteran of the advertising world, has authored the definitive guide to advertising and marketing. He has worked with and beside some of the most well-known creative minds, and made quite a mark himself with his previous book, ”Romancing the Brand.”

Martin founded the Martin Agency with partner George Woltz in the early 1980s ”in a sleek penthouse with one client, no furniture and a single dream.” Over the next 10 years, the agency became one of the largest advertising firms in the Southeast and created the ”Virginia is for Lovers” campaign.

He’s worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies and several nonprofits, including Keep America Beautiful. In ”Be the Brand,” Martin employs an anecdotal approach to what could be a dry subject and, although he spends more than 200 pages mapping out brand building theories and strategies, he peppers the lessons with stories of some of the most famous advertising and marketing campaigns to date.

What makes his approach different is that he boils the art of advertising down to one question: ”What’s the simplest way to express what your company stands for?”

Core values

As the book’s name suggests, Martin stresses the importance of recognizing a business’s core values and its competitive edge. That, he says, must then be translated into brand recognition.

Taking a cue from the simplistic yet effective approaches of Volvo, Volkswagen, Perdue, Nike, McDonald’s and the like, Martin says business owners must discover the core competency of their company by asking both employees and customers.

”Walk down the hall asking employees to give one defining word that represents the company,” he says. ”You will be fascinated about what you hear or don’t hear.”

Martin reiterates that a company needs a single focal point to build a rock-solid brand.

Every brand has a unique claim to fame,” he says. ”The secret to a long, happy brand life is to find out what that one thing is and, having found it, never let it go.”

He stresses the role of leadership in creating and maintaining brand identity and says owners must focus internally as well as utilize an outside advertising campaign.

”In order to have a strong brand, the people in the organization have to feel a part of it,” he says.

Brand as expectation

”What the brand is, is expectation,” says Martin.

Even the most creative advertising campaign can’t make up for a subquality product or service. Just because you say it doesn’t make it true. Eventually, the consumer will realize that.

”If you are going to have expectation of performance, you need actual performance in order to have a brand that really works,” he says.

Martin drives home the point that quality is one of the foremost issues on the minds of consumers, even above price.

”It always comes back to quality,” he says. ”In one study, consumers rated what was important to them about a product on a scale from one to 10 … And price was only about a six or seven.”

Brand as business plan

”Great companies have a particular value,” Martin says.

That’s why he stresses the brand and the business must go hand in hand. One strengthens the other and in the end, that drives the value of the company as a whole.

”Your quest for a robust brand starts with a hard look inside your company,” he says.

Core values drive the brand, which in turn reminds the company of its core values.

”A clear sense of identity guides much more than marketing and advertising tactics,” he says. ”It guides the way you do business holistically in a competitive world.”

Keep it simple

Martin says there is a trend to simplicity. He refers to it as the real age of time when people live complicated lives. The key is to find a brand hallmark, stick with it and make sure everyone else does, too.

”Information is plentiful,” he says. ”Memories are short.”

Martin points to studies in which test markets regularly misidentify advertisers shortly after seeing costly prime time television spots. Going back to the ”one thing” philosophy, he warns against being too esoteric. When pondering, use the KISS rule, Martin says –”KISS — as in keep it simple stupid.”

Good product, bad marketing

”Most of the advertisers today have to be very selective and pick their target market. It would cost you $15 million to advertise to everyone in America once,” Martin says.

He stresses the importance in print and media advertising of targeting your market, repeating your advertising and making it simple and creative.

Martin offers two examples: The market resurgence of Apple Computer and Volkswagen (VW).

It’s no coincidence, he says, that sales rose after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Jobs reignited the same core values that drove sales in the 1980s. Then, he combined that with a marketing strategy that spoke to a targeted audience.

VW had a similar problem. Even though the quality of the product stayed consistent, the message it put out to consumers didn’t relate to the soul of the brand. It wasn’t until VW found its target audience that sales began to rise.

Like any branding book worth its salt, Martin discusses the basics of marketing — using emotion in advertising and how to speak to your audience.

”Through the years, many brands have become famous by tapping into true human emotion to show the end result of product use in human terms,” he says.

He also says it’s important to use color and emotion in sales techniques.

But what really makes this book stand out from others on the shelves are the real-life examples and stories that only someone with Martin’s background can recount. He doesn’t offer any quick solutions.

Instead, he lays the blueprints for integrating and fostering both a brand building strategy and the business as a whole. And that’s something many consultants fail to provide.

How to reach: ”Be the Brand,” (800) 295-4066

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