Cadillac used to be synonymous with luxury and quality.  Today, as a recent New York Times article points out, most people think of the brand as old and stodgy. While trying to reclaim its place in the lux car space, the focus now seems to be on the quality of the product.  But isn’t that where it should have been all along?

Great brands start with great products and services that delight and deliver value at all times to those who consume them. But too often conversations about branding focus on advertising and marketing.  As Cadillac clearly demonstrates, you can throw tons of money at campaigns to persuade your audience to line up with your thinking and your beliefs. But if your product doesn’t deliver? Well, you’ve wasted your time with empty promises.

So if you’re trying to brand yourself or your company’s product or service, what should you do?

  • Start with your audiences and what they want and need. This sounds obvious. Unfortunately, it’s advice that many brands seem to have forgotten.  Apply the “Prism of Value” to your product or service.  In what ways do you make the customer’s life better, richer, more enjoyable? In what ways do you reduce stress, relieve burdens, eliminate fear and anguish?  Your product or service must solve a problem and tap into an emotional yearning.
  • Focus all of your efforts from product development, to marketing to pricing around how you are making things better and reducing negatives. People will pay for things they find valuable and meaningful.  They shell out $80K for a Tesla, or $4 for a latte, and they will stand in line for hours for that concert ticket. These are the products that have resonated with an individual’s tastes and desires—bottom line, they make people feel good about themselves.
  • Give a crap. This is especially important in service-oriented businesses. Too often when dealing with brands, you get the sense that all they care about is making money. On the other hand, demonstrations of customer care and goodwill build brand loyalty. By example, Southwest isn’t the cheapest airline, but bags flying free, free flight changes, and transparent pricing all say we want your business. Prospering brands make it about the customer—it’s easy to return products or reach customer service. Customers who feel as though they’ve been treated with respect become loyal followers.
  • Be consistent. Ever go to a restaurant and have a fantastic meal with great service that gives you a wonderful memory, only to return (maybe with a prized associate, business prospect or family member) and have a terrible experience? The letdown makes you lose trust.  Be clear about how you serve your customer and focus efforts on consistently replicable processes, continual training, and constant reinforcement. That consistency brings brand values to the forefront, delivering optimal experiences that build loyalty.
  • Continue to innovate. Don’t rest on your laurels. Athletic shoe companies continually come out with new models using new technology to enhance performance. The German automakers and Tesla continue to develop and refine their technology.  GM and Cadillac are betting on super cruise control that uses eye sensors and other tools to remind you when to take the wheel from automatic driving systems. In a world that is constantly changing, you have to change to keep up with your customer’s needs.

Building a brand is hard work.  Throwing money at advertising or creating cool websites will only take you so far.  The great brand that rises above the mediocre is still all about the product and service—giving customers and clients what they want, need and deserve every day.