Cowboy or Cow?
I can’t help but often think about cowboys and cattle when I think about branding. Maybe it is because my in-laws raise beef cattle, or maybe I have seen too many westerns. Probably the westerns. There is, however, some similarity between business branding and cattle branding. They both use visual elements to show ownership of their product or service.
Brand Identity vs. Brand Image
Often defined as the visible elements of a brand that together identify and distinguish the brand in the consumer’s mind. In this way, the Brand Identity is like the cattle branding iron. Many companies think of their logo as their brand. In a way, they equate their logo with a branding iron. I believe that this definition is incomplete. I would define Brand Identity as the visual and philosophical elements of a business. The writer George Macdonald said, “You are a soul; you have a body.” In a sense, the soul of a business is their raison d’etre. The reason for the existence of your business is why you do what you do. You have probably heard some business or other referred to as a soulless corporation. The truly soulless corporation is a company that has lost touch with why they are in business. If your company is in touch with why you do business, then the visual aspects of your brand should express that soul. A business that is in touch with that aspect of their Brand Identity is the cowboy wielding their branding iron(visual elements) to make their mark.
Some rodeos have an event known as team branding. This event requires four team members: one on horseback, two waiting to flank the calf and one ready with the branding iron. As the team member on horseback ropes the calf, the two flankers must wait until the calf is dragged across a line before they can remove the rope and brand the calf. Branding is all fun and games unless you’re the calf. In business branding, who is the calf?
Defined as the impression in the consumer’s mind of a brand’s personality. This is based on marketing, personal experiences, reputation, and perception. While some may think that in this analogy the consumer is the cow since they are the ones with the impression and their impression is based mostly on the efforts of the business. However, the business is the one being marked by the consumer‘s perceptions. These are greatly influenced by consumer emotions.
How often and how quickly can a business be damaged because of public perception? In the 1990s, a fruit juice company was sued due to E.coli contamination in their apple juice. That incident caused over a 34% drop in their stock value. (1) More recently, the racial bias incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks caused a drop in their stock value and resulted in a financial agreement with the victims and racial bias training for Starbucks employees throughout the company. (2) There is good news though. When businesses go above and beyond public perception can benefit those brands as well. Events such as U-Haul allowing free storage, Anheuser-Busch donating water, or Tide setting up mobile laundry stations for Hurricane Florence victims (3) , Taco Bell flying in 10,000 tacos to a town in Alaska (4) , to something as simple as giving free ice cream to a kid. Kindness in this day of social media pays generous dividends to your business brand. If you leave customers with a positive impression of your business, they will mark your brand as one worth their time and money. Branding in business is strange; some days you are the cowboy, other days you are the cow.
1. Groves, Martha. latimes.com. [Online] November 09, 1996. http://articles.latimes.com/1996-11-09/business/fi-62903_1_apple-juice.
2. Stewart, Emily. vox.com. [Online] May 19, 2018. https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/5/19/17372164/starbucks-incident-bias-bathroom-policy- philadelphia.
3. Klara, Robert. Adweek.com. [Online] September 18, 2018. https://www.adweek.com/brand- marketing/after-hurricane-florence-made-landfall-these-brands-quietly-helped-the-relief-effort/.
4. Gianatasio, David. Adweek.com. [Online] July 10, 2012. https://www.adweek.com/creativity/taco-bell-airlifts-ton-tacos-remote-alaskan-village-141768/.