Featured Carousel Features May 2018

Your Brand? It’s What They Say

Written By: Sara Dagen

It came to me while I was sleeping.

“Stranded at the drive-in, branded a fool. What will they say Monday at school?”

Odd thoughts for someone who hadn’t watched “Grease” or listened to its soundtrack since last century, but I’d gone to bed thinking about branding and awakened with song lyrics as my Eureka! moment.

Because when the character Danny gives voice to his fears in those simple lines from “Alone at a Drive-in” in the musical, he also gives voice to what branding is: What will others say about me?

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room,” Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, once said.

And Danny was fearing just that. Would people brand him a fool in their conversations on Monday?

Typically, we think of branding as a name, design or logo that identifies a person or a product. We see a swoosh symbol and think “Nike” and all its products. We see a white “f” on a blue square and think Facebook. An icon of an apple missing a bite? Apple products. A brown box with a one-dimpled smile? Amazon.

Indeed, the American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”

But branding is so much more than that. Branding is the sum total of a customer’s experience with your product or service, your business platform or personnel.

Earlier this year at a large conference, I co-led a marketing session titled, “It’s ALL Branding,” in which we reached out to audience members to think through everything their office does in the course of the day and determine which activities were or were not branding.

The audience shared these tasks: “build partnerships, problem solve, network, negotiate, educate, evaluate, discover, make phone calls, persuade, sell, talk, write, search Google, collaborate with internal and external audiences, serve internal and external customers, report data, analyze data, comply with governmental regulations, train entrepreneurs,” and more.

Of course, the other co-leader and I had given away our bias by naming the session “It’s ALL Branding,” but other than nixing “search Google,” the audience members concluded that, indeed, everything they did in the office was branding.

Basically, branding is everything we say and do – and how we say and do it. “We” means your entire office personnel and physical surroundings plus the behavior of your website or telephone system and maybe even the means of accessing your building. That’s in addition to what you thought you were selling – you know, the service or product stamped with the clever logo or name you set out to market.

Former Celtics basketball coach Red Auerbach once said, “It’s not what you tell your players that counts, it’s what they hear.”

Branding is like that. It’s not what you tell your audience – via marketing slogans, commercials, news releases, social media and conversations – instead, it’s what the customer “hears” or experiences. Branding is a result of the whole user experience. Negative experiences contribute to negative branding.

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends,” Bezos said.

Prior to my leading that “It’s ALL Branding” session, my office spent a day with Zing Train, learning the art of giving great customer service. Zing Train is a training arm of Zingerman’s,  a community of businesses built upon the original delicatessen established in 1982 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The company has what it calls a “unique approach to business” that translates to any business, not just restaurants. One of the questions we had to consider during the training was simply “why give great service?” My response, as you might now guess, was simply, “It’s all branding! What people say about you is your brand.”

So I again point to Danny Zuko in the musical “Grease.” He didn’t want to be branded a fool – but he knew that what others said about him would be his brand.

What are people saying about your company?



Sara Dagen is the marketing and communications manager at UF Innovate. In that role, she handles marketing for the Tech Licensing office as well as the Sid Martin Biotech and The Hub business incubators. When she isn’t actively boosting the UF Innovate brand, she is actively working out at the gym or pulling weeds from her yard – because it is all branding. A double graduate from the University of Florida, Sara earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in educational technology.

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