When a new business brand appears, it quickly goes through a couple of stages. Firstly, there is the awareness stage as customers and the world in general spot a new kid on the block. Whether the new business owner planned it or not – a new brand exists. The world may not know much about what it is, what it does or what it stands for, but it is there.
Next it goes through the ‘knowledge’ stage, as people begin to learn more about it, either through formal communications, word of mouth or empirically through direct contact. But this knowledge is not cold, dead facts – it is dynamic, thanks to attribution. People attribute values to knowledge/actions – and the same action can have positive or negative attributions based upon the decisions we made about the brand in our initial awareness stage (see ‘the halo effect’).
Let’s look at an example: you have started a new job and in your team are Miss A and Miss B. You take an immediate liking to Miss A and an instant dislike of Miss B. You are working hard on a difficult task and Miss A looks over your shoulder and points something out and says; ‘I think you have gone wrong there. The result should be X’. You think to yourself; ‘Thank goodness she pointed that out, I might have got into trouble there. She is a useful friend to have.’ Alternatively, Miss B may come over and say; ‘I think you have gone wrong there. The result should be X’. You think to yourself; ‘Damn her! She has just been waiting for me to make a mistake so she could show me up!’ It is precisely the same action, but with a different attribution.
The same goes for brands – the same action by two brands can have very different attributions, dependent upon the judgement that was made in the earliest stages of awareness. An innovative recycling scheme that may be seen as sensitive and pioneering by one brand, may be attributed as a cynical smokescreen by another.
The important factor is the emotional attachment the audience makes in those first awareness encounters. All too often branding is not considered a major or important issue in new business or product launches. There are far more ‘important’ things on the agenda such as delivery, pricing and production and although the value of branding may be recognised it is often thought that it can be dealt with later. But if a brand is allowed to leak out into the market without planning that critical opportunity to make a positive statement may be lost. Future attributions may be negative in the eyes of many despite all the good intentions of the owners. We don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.