When people think of branding, they often think of an iconic logo…Apple…Starbucks…Nike. While logos are extremely important, a company’s brand is much more than that.
Your brand is the sum total of all the images, feelings, and experiences that come to mind when people hear or see your company name. It’s the culmination of every ad, every phone conversation, every interaction with a sales rep, every experience with your product, every story in the press. It’s the cumulative stamp on the brain (and in the very best cases, the heart) of your customer. In other words, it’s what sticks. It’s powerful, it’s long-lasting, and it’s often emotional. It is arguably your business’ single biggest asset.
If you’ve done your job well, your brand stamp is money in the bank. If your brand conjures up a negative perception or no perception at all, you’ve got a lot of work to do.
Time and money invested in building, or in some cases fixing, your brand are resources well spent. Let’s take a quick look at why you should take the plunge.
The 5 Key Reasons Your Branding is Critical
- Creates Recognition, and by Extension…Trust
When we have a problem to solve, we immediately search our brains for who can fix that problem—who have we heard of and who do we know firsthand? Companies with strong brand recognition jump to the head of the pack. That’s great for the customer because they can more efficiently make decisions. It’s great for you because they efficiently chose you! Even for more complex purchases where customers still comparison shop, top-of-mind awareness gives you a strong advantage. Once they’ve chosen you, and the experience is positive, you now have a relationship. You have trust. Assets that make the next sale much easier and more likely. As long as you keep building on the expected brand and experience, you’re golden.
- Promotes Your Vision…and Your Success
When done well, your brand promotes and personalizes your company’s vision. Think REI and Patagonia in the outdoor recreation space, Gatorade and ESPN in the sports arena, and Deloitte and EY (Ernst & Young) among accounting firms. These brands promote both a long-term vision for those companies as well as ongoing success. Customers long to know more about the companies they love, and it’s your job to keep them in the know. It’s all part of what keeps them coming back for more, increasing both your lifetime customer value (LCV) and your ROI.
- Builds Ambassadors for Your Brand
When everyone has a clear picture of who and what you are, it provides something solid to get behind. That goes for your customers and your employees. When they have good experiences with you they will become powerful ambassadors for your brand and share their experiences with others. When they have bad experiences, they will become anti-ambassadors also sharing their experiences with others with equal (or likely even more) fervor. This is why it is so important to not only build but also protect your brand. The best way to do that is to make sure that every aspect of the customer and employee experience matches the image you want to portray.
- Maximizes Your Marketing Dollars
Branding gives your marketing efforts a consistent overarching “frame.” It ties all your communications together, creating greater overall impact. Picture a Bank of America logo and tagline on each of three ads, promoting collegiate checking accounts, no-fee credit cards, or high-end trust accounts. Very different products, very different markets. Without the frame of the company brand, they would have to spend exponentially higher marketing dollars to achieve the same level of customer awareness for each product separately. Brand investing is just smart.
- Wards off Competition
Consistently positive customer experiences backed by ongoing and consistent brand messaging makes it difficult for competitors to gain a foothold. Your customers understand who you are and love what you do for them. You’ve got them locked down.
How to Bring Your Brand to Life
Okay, now you understand the importance of brand. But how do you build one? This and several supporting articles will guide you through the process step by step.
1) Protect Your Asset
To build a long-lasting company brand be sure you have secured:
- Legal rights to the brand name. You don’t want to invest time and money into building your brand only to be given a cease and desist letter from someone who already owns it. This is especially important If you operate in more than one state or plan to in the future. Research the name via the U.S. Patent & Trademark (USPTO) database of active and registered trademarks. Look for any “live” marks the USPTO would likely consider “confusing similar” in the same industry category. This is the main gauge they will use to make ownership determinations, assuming you can show you are actively using this name.
- Domain names, especially the “.com” version. Because your website is vital to your success, do a quick search on any domain registration website to see if the brand name you’re interested in is available. If it’s not, you are generally better off coming up with a different name where you can secure the .com version, rather than settling only for a .org, .net, or host of other domain endings. This is especially the case if the .com leads to a company in a similar field in your trading locale.
If your research shows that the trademark and domain names are available, file for them ASAP because the situation can rapidly change. Register the .com domain and ideally any similar-sounding names or acronyms you plan to use to prevent customer confusion down the line. Once you register, most domains are yours in about a day. Trademark approvals take longer, typically six months to a year, sometimes longer.
2) Define Your Brand’s Personality
If the idea of defining a personality for your business leaves you scratching your head, instead begin by defining the personality of your ideal customer.
What are they like? What do they want to be like? Even customers in the B2B (business to business) market break down into many different personality types. Logical thinkers in buttoned-down shirts and off-the-rack suits…big budget risk-takers wearing Armani…kick-back imagineers in jeans and slogan-clad t-shirts. Are your customers casual and fun? Adventurous? Straight-laced? A touch mischievous? What do they care about? What common threads do you see?
After you’ve defined what makes them tick, ask yourself if those same attributes fit your company? Could your customers see something in you that you do not yet recognize?
Perhaps you speak to an inner part of themselves that they want to bring out. It might be a nostalgic part of their past or something they still aspire to be. Consider whether those common threads fit the image you want to build. If so, there might be some untapped brand-building potential.
3) Design Your Logo
Your logo is your brand stamp, the one marketing tool that reflects the totality of what you have to offer—and it’s a decision you will live with for a long time. As such it’s important that you invest in an experienced logo designer who can create a look that is completely in sync with your company’s image. This is such an important step that we’ve devoted an entire “Mastering Marketing” article just to this topic.
4) Create Your Brand Messaging
Once you’ve defined the attributes and personality that best describe your company and pinpointed success stories to illustrate your brand, you’re set. Your marketing writers and designers can now choose the right words, images, and media to introduce your brand to the world. For more information, check out our “Mastering Marketing” articles on other aspects of branding, promotion, and lead generation.
5) Outline Your Brand Guidelines
Some companies quite literally write the book on branding, upwards of thirty and forty pages on just their branding. Unless you have many decentralized marketing staff members, partners, and vendors developing your communications, you won’t need anything that elaborate. All you really need is a style sheet, a simple document outlining the do’s and don’ts of how to use your branding so that every communication is consistent in look, tone, and feel. As mentioned earlier, consistency is key because it reinforces your brand in the mind of your customer, building familiarity and trust. Inconsistency creates dissonance, and dissonance strips away the power your brand would otherwise have.
Though simple to prepare, there are a number of things to consider as you customize your style sheet. You’ll find an easy to follow how-to guide under “Mastering Marketing.”
From time to time, businesses find themselves in need of rebranding. This could be to overhaul a lackluster image, to accommodate a name change, or to fix more complex problems. Look for an in-depth “Mastering Marketing” article for additional factors to consider before pursuing this very important step.
Now that you know where to begin, you can work to ensure that every element of your marketing and day-to-day customer experiences are in sync from top to bottom. Our ever-growing how-to articles are here to guide you in the building blocks of developing your true power brand.