Startup Tools: The molecular chemistry of brand building. Wait, what?!

You were born an original, don’t die a copy. — James Mason.

This quote by James Mason is also the title of his book. If you turn it over you will find the following words on the back cover. As you read them, I invite you to insert the name of your brand.

“(Brand), you were created on purpose, for a purpose, with unique gifts, talents, and strengths to offer the world. (Brand), don’t waste any more time trying to be like someone else….”

Because your brand is indeed one-of-a-kind, I call on you to look beyond the “one-size-fits-all” books, blogs and brouhaha on branding. Sure, we all would like a quick and easy formula to follow, but the truth about your brand is that it’s complicated. In this article, and those that follow, I will simplify and un-complicate (but not dumb down) key elements in the creation of a successful brand. These apply to both business-to-business (B2B), and business-to-consumers (B2C) — both product-centric brands and service brands.

Better chemistry, for better brands. The first step is to keep calm and use chemistry — metaphorically, that is. Think about your brand as a unique molecule — an entity composed of “elements” in weighted combination. In the field of chemistry, the periodic table is an important and informative reference for identifying what manner of molecules can be formed and how they will behave. Elements are arranged left to right and top to bottom in order of increasing atomic number. In the field of branding there are complex and interrelated elements that, when combined, can influence the consumer bond to a lesser or greater degree. As scientists added elements and their atomic weights to the periodic table — increasing our understanding of the composition of our universe — so brand researchers have made discoveries about the nature of brands. An Arizona State University team in design and marketing has mapped the findings from 30 years of research and more than 300 studies, creating a table of brand elements.

Peering into your brand’s molecule gives you a holistic understanding of your brand and provides a means for realizing the value your brand brings to those it touches. In other words, your brand molecule provides a framework for knowing what excites and unites people about your offering — everyone from customers to your employees, investors, suppliers, the community and competitors. Within your organization your brand molecule provides direction in making decisions about how to best price, place and promote your brand. Today, we are experiencing unprecedented media fragmentation and the evolution of new communication channels. Your molecule is a tool for seamlessly integrating this myriad of digital channels with traditional promotional vehicles to create memorable brand experiences.

Starting today, and in the weeks ahead, I will work with you to build your brand molecule. Ready? Take out a piece of paper or power up your tablet and let’s go.

The nucleus (or the heart of the matter). You likely remember from chemistry 101 that at the center of every molecule is a nucleus. Because your brand molecule also has a nucleus, draw a circle that represents the center of your brand. What does this look like? If it looks like your logo — erase or delete it! Instead, insert your customer! When customers, rather than you or your organization, are at the center (the nucleus) of your decision-making process, you begin to see through their eyes. The protons and electrons within your nucleus are the cognitive and affective (emotional) responses to the tangible and intangible elements of your brand. The process of building your brand molecule will reveal these “protons” and “electrons.”

I invite you to join me in the weeks ahead to explore what elements make up your brand. Next, we’ll work together to determine what elements contribute to the way your brand is perceived — and lived ­— by those at its center. By doing this you’ll gain an understanding of what your company can and needs to do, strategically, to establish lifelong relations that will grow your business.

Note: This article was originally published in The Arizona Republic’s “Getting Started,” a column by Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business faculty on entrepreneurship. The author is Nancy Gray, clinical assistant professor of marketing at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

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