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Building a Killer Brand

Years ago, when I was a creative hotshot at a ridiculously large and unbelievably stupid advertising agency, I used to teach a class on advertising. It was called Rob Frankel's Advertising Boot Camp, and it was, essentially, the Marine Corps of advertising classes.

The first session of Advertising Boot Camp always started with the same question: "What's your ultimate career goal?" And we'd go around the room with 20-something-year-old kids telling me how they wanted to be the creative director of this advertising agency or an art director somewhere else.

They were, of course, all wrong.

"Your ultimate goal," I would tell them in my own gentle-but-condescending way, "is for some blue-suited bigwig in some far away corporate ivory tower to be yelling at his coven of yes men, 'I don't care if he's 10 times as expensive! Get me <Your Name Here>! He's the only one who can do the job!'"

That's the Ultimate Goal, chief. And you don't do that by being better than the next guy. You do that by being the only one capable of doing it.

All of which brings us to the concept of branding. Branding is a whole lot more than a simple cocktail party buzzword. It's a really, really important factor in any business's success, but even more so on the Web, where visitor loyalty disintegrates with one click of a mouse.

The first step to creating a killer brand is to realize that sooner or later, any product or service is going to spawn competition. And the minute you've got competition, you've got, as Ricky Ricardo so wisely intoned, "a lotta 'splainin' to do." Because in addition to showing what you do, you now have to convince that viewer with his nanosecond attention span why he should click on your hyperlink rather than Crazy Harold's, your cut rate competitor's.

Look, anyone can sell product. But only you can sell you. And if people trust you, they're more likely to buy your next product from you, too.

Man, I see tons of businesses paint themselves into corners by betting the farm on one trick ponies. It's usually some genius accountant or brain-damaged lawyer's idea: "Hey guys, let's name the whole company after our product!"

Oops. Did someone say Wordperfect?

Unless your business plan calls for selling the company 30 seconds after funding, you're in this for the long haul. Which means you have to plan for competition and seed your brand early-like now.

To find out if a brand really is working, ask yourself this: "Why am I choosing this product over the other?" If you're buying a car, and safety is your primary concern, you already know the brand that hits your brain first. When it comes to your site, that same branding thing should happen.

That's what brings them in. That's what brings them back.

Now, before you line up for the next Peter Drucker seminar, let me save you some dough by telling you that branding isn't as easy as it looks. In fact, some of the biggest names you know have some of the lamest branding growing out of their necks, sapping their strengths like marketing melanomas.

Fess up: The reason you buy Microsoft stuff isn't because the company stands for anything. It's because everyone else uses it - at least for now.

And if that doesn't convince you, try this: if Windows, Mac, Unix, BeOS were equal in market share and third-party support, which one would you choose?

Uh-huh. That's what I thought.

Rob Frankel may be the most widely read on (and off) line branding expert on the planet. His branded "Obnoxious Bobbing Head" appears on six different continents, with articles reprinted in six different languages. His latest book, "The Revenge of Brand X," is soon to be published by McGraw-Hill. In addition to speaking and consulting, Rob Frankel served as Business Opinion columnist for Ziff-Davis' Internet Business magazine and co-hosts a nationally-syndicated radio show. Rob is also the Moderating Dictator of FrankelBiz, the web's first and only transactional list where people do business instead of simply whining about it. You can reach Rob directly toll-free (throughout North America) at 1-888-ROBFRANKEL, and see/hear samples of his work by visiting Rob Frankel (http://www.robfrankel.com).