Branding Lessons Learned from a Trip to the Hardware Store

, Posted on Jul 01

What’s broken? The part, or the system?

My friends and family are well aware that I’m not the most “mechanically inclined” individual in the world. So when something breaks around the house, a comedy of errors is likely to ensue.

Thankfully, I live near what is billed as a hardware store “with old-fashioned service,” whereby you are greeted at the door by an expert looking to help and guide you…whatever your need. So a recent trip to the hardware store reinforced for me the parallels between fixing an appliance and fixing a brand.

The Story
I enter the store and am immediately greeted by the shop owner. “What can I do for you?” he asks.

“I’m looking for [widget part I can’t quite describe or remember].”

“Why, what are you looking to do?”

“I need to fix [household appliance X] that won’t [perform stated function].”

The expert returns, “Why do you think you need that part?”

Me: “Because that’s the part that’s broken.”

Correcting, but graciously, he replies, “No, no, no…that might be the part that looks broken, but what you really need is this…” He leads me to a completely different department, an entirely different part and approach and a wholly separate—yet correct—solution. Turns out, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. But that’s why I don’t work at a hardware store…or fix things.

The Brand Parallel
So it is with brands that begin to wear down and fall apart. Often times, the brand malfunction manifests itself in a broken part somewhere in a marketing program, but the underlying issue is far deeper than that. The symptom is treated again and again, but the disease persists.

“We need a new website!”

“Why is that?”

“Well, we no longer like how it looks, it doesn’t say what we do anymore and it’s completely off-target for our audience.”

“So how should it look, what should it say and why does what you have fall flat with your target demographic?”

“We’re not sure; we just know it needs to be fixed.”

“Your problem is not your website—your problem is your brand.”

The website is but a widget X in marketing program Y, built upon overarching strategy Z. Fixing the X doesn’t get to the heart of the issue Z, which is that your brand strategy is not flowing from your marketing strategy, which is an extension of your overall business strategy. Or, what is more commonly the case, you’ve never taken the time to truly discover, define and communicate what any of those strategies are in the first place.

It’s no wonder your website is broken. You haven’t defined what you’re asking it to do—and for whom!

Start with the Why
Notice in my parable how the hardware store expert approached my problem. He started with two fundamental questions: “Why?” and “What are you looking to do?”

You should approach your marketing strategy in the same manner. Before you start blaming various tools in the toolbox for not achieving branding or marketing means, take a step back to ask yourself what it is that you’re looking to accomplish and why your current efforts are not achieving those goals. You may have to take one further step backward, if you can, to ask the most fundamental questions of all:

Why are we in business?

Why should anyone care?

Then, and only then, can you begin the task of fixing [marketing appliance X] that won’t [perform stated function].


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