The most common branding mistake, in my view, is to focus solely on functional benefits based on the assumption that customers will have the motivation and capacity to seek out relevant objective information and apply that information to a structured decision process leading to a logical decision.

The mistake is particularly prevalent in the high-tech and B-to-B world. However, we know that the driving assumption is nearly always very wrong. Further, superiority on functional benefits that matter to customers is difficult to create. Even when they emerge, competitors usually copy or appear to copy them quickly.

The alternative is to surround the brand with bases of a customer-brand relationship that go beyond the offering. Consider dimensions such as:

• Shared interests—Pampers on baby care, Muji on lifestyle.

• Personality—Zara as trendy, Virgin as irreverent and creative.

• Passion—Whole Foods Market’s passion about food, Nike’s passion about athletic excellence.

• Organizational characteristics—being global (VISA), innovative (3M), quality driven (Cadillac), customer driven (Nordstrom), concerned about the environment (GE), treating others with respect (the original HP way).

• Corporate social programs—SalesForce.com’s 1-1-1 program, Purina’s Pet Rescue program, Ronald McDonald House

None of these affect the offering, but they do affect the relationship between the customer and the brand and are much harder to duplicate than a functional benefit. Competitors can become irrelevant because they lack these elements and, as a result, can appear to lack interest in and relevance to their customers.