Is it a business or a brand?

It should be both

Over the years the term “branding” has become one of the most important terms for a business looking to market itself successfully in a highly competitive and ever changing world. Well thought out and consistent branding can make a company. Look at Coke and Nike. These two companies are recognizable world wide. Their branding remains consistent and identifiable even when the language changes. The brand and the company become interchangeable. I know you are thinking, “These are huge companies, with huge marketing departments and budgets.” But, That is no excuse for any business, large or small, to suffer from poor branding. Here are several, easy to accomplish, steps to get you started on the right path to brand creation.

Define (or re-define) your market. To begin with, you can’t be everything to everybody, so don’t even try. Conversely, is it possible that your product or service might appeal to more than the niche market you originally had in mind? Figuring out your target audience is the first step to building or strengthening a brand that will truly appeal to that market.

Define your mission and values, and stick to them. You’ve probably heard this one before, and if you’re somewhat of a cynic, you may think that crafting a mission and vision statement is a waste of time. But a concrete mission statement that directly relates to your business and actively affects how you do that business can be enormously helpful on several levels. And since you probably won’t be very successful if your business isn’t consistent with your values, it’s good to define those too from the get-go. You don’t need to hire an expensive consultant to draft a mission and value statement. Nor do you have to wave your mission and value statements around like a banner. You don’t even have to use them in your marketing material. Those statements can be your secret allies. The important point is that defining your mission and your values can provide a solid basis for the message you wish to convey through your brand, while keeping you on track as your business grows.

Be different. Everyone and his uncle claims to offer great quality or unparalleled customer service. You have to go beyond that to seek out and exploit your points of difference. A point of difference can include a visual symbol, story, color scheme, proprietary process or product, historic milestone, physical characteristic, or combination of several of these. And give your brand a “personality.” What human-like characteristics does your brand have? Think of your brand as a person you’re introducing to a single friend. Is your brand playful, confident, sexy, fun? Be creative, but don’t be inconsistent with your purpose. For example, if you’re a tax accountant, “sexy” or “fun” probably aren’t appropriate. Honesty, reliability, and integrity, however, are. And one more point: Just because a gimmick worked as a brand-builder for that over – caffeinated furniture store owner or the “crazy” car dealer, this doesn’t mean it will work for you – especially if you’re not selling furniture or cars. Remember the three magic words: Be. Your. Self.

Appeal to emotions as well as logic.  More than likely, it will be emotional appeal that initially attracts people to your brand. Of course you have to back up that emotional draw with real value, and it’s been pretty well established that people do use logic to justify their purchases. But without emotional reinforcement your brand probably won’t stick in your customers’ brains, at least not for very long. Here’s where a powerful “story” or cute mascot can play a role. Just make sure the story is genuine, that you stick to it consistently, and the mascot is appropriate for your market.

Take care in creating your brand name. Make sure it is consistent with the image you’re trying to convey and that they will resonate with your target market. A name isn’t everything, but it’s an important building block for a lasting brand. Don’t make it bland and generic, but don’t make it too obscure either. Your company name should support your strategies for positioning your business in the marketplace. There’s no foolproof method for coming up with the perfect name; you can spend thousands on market research, or you can test the name with a few colleagues and potential clients, but in the end, of course, it’s your choice. Do try to avoid names that are hard to pronounce or spell, or that could have a negative connotation. And be sure to research name availability so you won’t step on any trademark toes.

Take care in creating your logo. Your logo will be the most memorable visual image of your company. It will be used on both print and online media, so it needs to look good on everything from business cards to signs, photocopies to business stationery, and your Web site to a T-shirt. It should, of course, be congruent with the image you want to convey about your company to the world. A logo for a business consulting firm will probably look a lot different from that for a line of aromatherapy products. Your logo should be memorable and simple. You don’t have to make it a four-color job; some of the most striking logos are one- or two-color, which will certainly save you on printing costs.

Avoid brand confusion. Make sure your logo, tag lines, service marks, and the general “look and feel” of your Web sites and promotional material are uniquely yours and don’t resemble those of another established company. If that other company is big enough, sooner or later they will probably send their mighty legal team to crush you. If you try to fight them you will almost certainly end up spending money you don’t have, and in the end you will have to change your company name or your logo or your advertising… in short, it’s better to get it right the first time.

Create a demand for your brand. This one is almost worthy of a whole separate article. Effective advertising and marketing help create demand, of course, but the real key is to build a great customer experience by delivering on your promises.

Don’t be afraid to “re-brand” if what you’re doing isn’t working. Companies re-invent themselves all the time. But that too is worthy of a separate article… so stay tuned.