Creating a successful start-up includes many factors, from delivering a great product or service to proper financial and legal planning.  But one of the key factors to the future success of any company is creating a Brand. At last week's Brands Conference in New York, speakers from companies large and small discussed the elements of creating a great brand experience.  The valuable pieces for a start-up are to make sure you understand what branding is, how your company can act more human, and to think about some key human interaction traits when you are communicating with customers and prospects.

Let's define what we mean. David Knies of Launch Control Group defined a brand as a set of experiences around your product or service. Marketing is how you tell the story of your brand, and, according to Knies, your product is often part of your branding. For example, the souvenir you take home from an amusement park is a part of your brand and a reminder of the experience. Tiffany's brand is an experience. Knies asked, 'Who wouldn't want a little blue box.' We know the gift inside has certain positive qualities.  At the opposite extreme, he kidded about how calls using an iPhone often end in 'Hello? Hello?' instead of 'Good-bye' and noted how people assign that negative brand experience to AT&T.

Saul Colt (covered in August 2008's "Love is all you Need") talked about branding as 'Making Love to Your Customers.' He quickly clarified the point around being human as a company or brand by discussing the desire and butterflies you get from a first kiss. Colt said 'It is something that brands can't replicate – something genuine and between two people. Your goal as a human brand is to give people a 'first kiss feeling.' Try to be human and try to create attraction.  Always be there and never be desperate – people can 'smell it.''

Eric Weaver of DDB  discussed research regarding how people really make decisions, and had insights that are applicable to any sized business. He noted that we as humans think we're rational and think we respond to situations in a 'Think>Do>Feel' model. We think about an issue, need, or problem, take an action, and at the end we have a feeling or experience about it. We really act in a 'Feel>Do>Think' model (hence the many ad campaigns over the years that use beautiful people or exciting situations to sell us stuff.) Weaver noted that 'We typically default to emotional decision making because it processes faster in our brains.' So brands we like tend tod trigger emotional response. 'People are less interested in brands that are overguarded and neurotic,' said Weaver, showing a slide with BP's beleaguered president Tony Hayward in front of the Gulf of Mexico last summer.

He talked about how people relate best to people, and they connect best to brands with human characteristics – anthropomorphic connections were shown including the Marlboro Man and Mrs. Butterworth. Brands that "act human" included Apple and Virgin. Of even more interest was Weaver's insight that 'emotional distance does not equal revenue.' In otherwords, those companies that are showing a human face, connecting with their customers, talking with them in stores and online, are poised to capture more revenue than companies who are not engaging.

Take Harley Davidson owners. Carol Roth discussed the HOG or Harley Owners Group as an example of 'Loyalty 3.0' and brands. That experience happens online and offline, and Harley customers are famous for being champions of the brand on behalf of the company.

The final word of the day for me went to David Rogers from Columbia Business School's Center on Global Brand Leadership, and author of "The Network Is Your Customer: 5 Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age."  Rogers said, "Being more social is not the goal. As organizations engage in social media, they need to identify the business goals they are hoping to achieve. In for-profit companies, that means tying social media to ROI, whether it comes from customer acquisition, increased lifetime value, or activating customer advocacy on your behalf."

Bottom line - make your brand more human, connect with others online, and make sure it ties into your business goals and connects with your customers.  How is your start-up thinking about branding? Let us know in the comments below.