Why ‘Brand’ is so much more than a marketing term

A tale of two brands
Todd Feldman
written by: 
Todd Feldman
Founder & President, The Rocket Factory
In 2009 I signed on with leading eCommerce software platform company ATG (later acquired by Oracle). I was brought on as a global consultant advising top brands on their commerce strategy and then tying go-to-market plans directly to the significant investment they made in our software. The goal, of course, was to help them maximize their return on investment.
Having already spent almost my entire career on the business side of digital companies, I was very fortunate to be exposed to a ton of different industries, company sizes, and organizational structures.
In prepping for new engagements, I would do a good deal of research on the company outside of what I was hearing directly from the client during introductory calls. A lot of it had to do with establishing a good picture that compared what I heard directly to what I was seeing in the market.
Time and time again there was no better indicator of organizational dynamic than how their online store was structured.
In driving eCommerce sales, beyond the site entry points from digital marketing, there is nothing more important than making sure to create the most efficient (read fewer clicks) path to the “Checkout” button.
Think of it in physical stores as the store layout and the deliberate path to what you are looking to buy and then the ease in which you wind up at the cash register.
And yet, at least 90% of the time, I would observe site layouts that were completely counter to what was best for the customer experience. In my notes, I would draw their high-level org chart, and then as I got on-site with my client, I would see if my observations were correct.
My hit rate was very high. And I still see it to this day.
The same goes for Brand (with a capital ‘B’).
So what’s the point?
I didn’t lead this post by going straight into discussing Brand because to many people, Brand can be an elusive and oftentimes confusing term that gets foggy somewhere between colors, imagery, and customer psychology.
I’ve written my fair share of articles about Brand throughout the years.
And debated about writing another.
The truth is, there is no other more important concept that must be demystified by anyone looking to build and sustain a profitable business.
Unless there is a deep and clear top-down understanding of Brand in your organization, you can forget about your P&L, your technology stack, your organizational structure, and who you hire.
Here’s why.
Because like any promise you make to your friends, family, and co-workers, Brand is the promise you are making to the market you serve.
And you wouldn’t make a promise you can’t keep.
For companies, it’s just as simple as that but much harder to operationalize and deliver at scale.
Putting the cart before the horse
For many firms that I’ve worked for or observed throughout my career, Brand is an afterthought. It’s something that is developed after things like product/market fit, revenue models, doing promotions, hiring talent, and picking technology.
I have been most successful in building killer brands when we have a very clear picture of our mission (our “Why?”) from the very beginning.
It’s not to say adjustments can’t be made, but it must be part of a broader, holistic strategic planning endeavor that takes into account careful change management practices.
With a clear mission, you can make clear promises.
Guess what else you can do?
  • Make super-smart hires with top people that deliver on your promise (this is most important).
  • Create game-changing product innovation.
  • Invest in technology that is focused on delivering your promise.
  • Build procedures and experience designed to enhance your promise by delighting customers.
  • Design amazing culture that connects deeply with your employees and your customers.
  • Charge more for your product or service.
  • Eliminate promotional pricing.
  • Adjust more quickly to market pressures.
  • Communicate more effectively.
  • Establish, build, and maintain trust with customers and employees.
  • Develop messaging and creative that ties directly back to Brand objectives.
  • Basically everything!
Two quick top-of-mind examples to bring it home
Robinhood’s recent role in last week’s WallStreetBets’ short squeeze is a great case in point.  And if they were a client and I were going in there to do some consulting work, I would be able to tell ahead of time where the role of Brand plays in their organizational structure and culture.
It’s one thing to say that you are “…on a mission to democratize finance for all.”
But if that truly is your Brand and it makes up the very fabric or your “Why?” then communicating transparently and in simple terms to common people as to why you were suspending trading for Gamestop and others would be a super easy decision.
If their hiring criteria lined up to their promise, then the communication team in partnership with their compliance team would have the communication written clearly that combines what’s needed for customers and for regulators.
It’s one thing to pay lip service to Brand, it’s another to truly live it.
I’m hoping in the coming days, Robinhood can revisit their missteps of the last week and reverse the negative sentiment that they have earned.
The flipside to this is Zoom.
As you may recall, early in the pandemic when everyone was forced to quarantine, Zoom got inundated with new business growing year-over-year revenue by more than double.
The hard part for them was that this led to all sorts of issues from service disruptions to Zoom Bombing.
With Zoom’s culture built around “delivering happiness,” you can see that the very core of why they’re in business was in jeopardy. What they thought pre-pandemic – delivering happiness through a frictionless experience without passwords and lengthy log-in procedures – were no longer were relevant.
Almost immediately Zoom CEO Eric Yuan addressed the situation head-on, taking control of the message and being super clear on fixing product security and service capacity.
These types of situations can be very challenging, however, there is something to be said about being transparent with everyone about your mission. Your North Star. Your Brand.


Edit February 1, 2021, 6:30 pm: Robinhood sent a plainly worded email to customers this evening. In the email, they explain in simple terms why they had to limit the trading of some popular stocks last week. In addition, they linked to this letter to customers on their blog.