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  • Writer's pictureDr. Gary Witt

Branding: Why Your Brand's Image is Paramount

Most companies have little or no brand image at all. In buyers' minds they are little different from their competitors, just like gasoline stations. Those brands are lost in a big crowd called "all the rest." Only a few brands will stand out in any category. It is critical that yours does if you want the best shot at attracting customers. Otherwise you get the "leftovers!"

Marketing Psychology

Dr. Gary Witt

When I was young, my dad’s dream was to own a Cadillac. It was a good car, but that wasn’t his reason. Our Buicks were good, too. He wanted a Cadillac because of the status of the brand name, what it said about the people who owned one – you had “arrived” when you drove a Cadillac. It wasn’t just a car, it was a symbol, a visual extension of you.

While the Cadillac’s image has changed, the image associated with the name is still strong. I recently saw a cheap pair of pliers with this tagline on the package, “the Cadillac of pliers!” Good marketers know the value of creating an image that sells their product. And that image is most often emotional!


You read about branding and brand building regularly because it is one of the most important and least understood factors in marketing success for small businesses. In my marketing classes we call this the Magic Inch. Simply put, in any buying decision there is usually about an inch of difference in the buyer’s mind between their first and second choice. And that difference often comes down to the one with the better brand image.

Consider, for example, two black t-shirts of good material selling for $25.00. They are identical in every functional way. The only difference is that across the front in rhinestones one says “Saks” and the other says “K-Mart.” Which will sell the most? A purely functional decision would dictate equal numbers sold. But we know the Saks pile will be gone long before the first K-Mart shirt is sold. Most buyers would be happy if others saw her as a Saks sort of woman, but few would like to be thought of as a K-Mart sort of woman. We often (not always!) buy the image before we buy the product or service. If you want an edge, think about tuning up your brand’s image.


A few years ago Laurence Vincent wrote an interesting book called Legendary Brands. He makes the same points about the power of image to sway buyers, to build loyalty to a brand. Vincent calls brands like Starbucks, Apple, Nike, Levi’s, Kodak and others Legendary because they transcended their functional image in the buyer’s mind. He says, “Legendary Brands go beyond rational understanding of quality, function, and monetary value. The brands are often described as representing the personality of the consumer. The oft-heard response is that the Legendary Brand is ‘a lot like me’ or ‘a lot like people I admire.’” The brand promises us what we want, which is more than the product.

Apple is far more than a computer or an iPhone, it is a lifestyle, the type of person you see yourself as, a community, a badge of quality and specialness. Nike is more than shoes, it is the symbol – thanks to Michael Jordan and other celebrities – for the dreams of athletic achievement, physical joy and the camaraderie of teammates. Go to’s opening screen to see a perfect demonstration of the fact Nike sells image first and shoes second.

Just like the Saks woman, we all want others to think we are who we would like to be. Understanding those motivations in your buyers will help you tailor your brand image in their mind, and influence their buying decision. If your brand identity is the same as their desired identity, you can sell more -- it is that simple.

Want to know more? Check out the other blogs on Branding to help you craft and fine tune your own brand image.

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