The vast majority of first-time entrepreneurs underestimate the unyielding power of branding. They do so at their own peril. Branding cannot be treated in the same way as marketing or advertising.
But what exactly is branding and why is it so important? According to the American Marketing Association (AMA), a brand can be defined as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competition.” In essence, it’s how you enable your business to stand out from an endless sea of similar businesses and copycat competitors.
Your brand needs to be uniquely identifiable to your company and 100% distinguishable from every other business in the industry. It’s admittedly no simple feat to establish that sort of recognition. However, there are plenty of steps you can take to expedite the process. First, let’s take a look at what it takes to generate proper brand recognition.
What makes a brand successful?
Every day, we are surrounded by branding from signs, symbols, fonts and logos. Nearly everything you see will inevitably bring some company or product to mind. Most of us can recognise the make of a car from a tiny symbol – we don’t have to read the name on the car itself.
Meanwhile, the black stallion of Lloyds and the iconic eagle of Barclays immediately conjure up images of mortgage applications and cash machines. How on earth does one establish that sort of branding power? Apart from financial services, successful companies like Barclays and Lloyds have five common attributes.
First and foremost, they’ve developed a firm brand position. A brand position is the content that describes what your company does and for whom. It establishes what your company’s USPs are, what sort of value can be found within your products and how customers benefit from interacting with your brand. You should be able to reel this position off to potential clients in a concise 100 words.
Similarly, successful brands all make some sort of promise. A brand promise is the single most important thing that a company promises to deliver to its customers day in and day out – for example, delivering a company formation in under three hours. To come up with a unique brand promise, you must sit down and take into consideration what your customers, employees and shareholders expect from your company. After you’re able to establish an achievable promise, you must set it in stone, and every future business decision must ensure it is kept.
Next, your brand must establish some sort of personality. Brand traits demonstrate the type of organisation you are and what you believe in. Better yet, establish a figurehead within your company that customers will be able to relate to. Develop around five discernible and personable traits that customers will be able to rely upon.
You’ve also got to consider your brand story. Established banks like Lloyds and Barclays have long and intriguing corporate histories. They prove said organisations to be heavily established and deeply engrained with their communities. That sort of credibility is invaluable; therefore, you’ve got to give your customers some background on where you have come from, what sort of experience you have and how your new company came about.
Finally, successful brands spend a lot of time to establish ironclad associations. Brand associations are the unique, tangible assets that a company clings to – such as its name, logo or unique colour schemes. A unique combination of assets will help a brand to establish links of instant recognition. Once a company can achieve that, the sales practically make themselves.
How will my business benefit from branding?
Above all else, the previously outlined elements of successful branding make a customer feel at ease. We are all more confident in the companies we’re dealing with and the products we choose to buy from if some sort of discernible customer relationship is already present. Another company can offer the same product for less money; however, thanks to the power of branding, we will shun that company and continue to choose the brands we recognise.
By and large, identifiable brands offer greater credibility. Because we can instantly recognise a brand, most of us fall under the misguided presumption that well-branded companies provide superior products. We believe they are more trustworthy, and the products and services they offer are simply better than any other brand.
It’s a very clever strategy, and one that we are all influenced by at some point in our lives – whether you care to admit it or not. Fortunately, this raw purchasing power is something you can harness form the very moment you have formed your new company.
How do I create a successful brand?
Believe it or not, developing your company into a discernible brand isn’t a terribly complicated process. According to The Design Council, any effective branding exercise involves just three principles: you must create difference, add value and connect with people.
Let’s use Rachel’s Organic Butter as an example. This company has created a unique character and promise based upon certain judgements – both emotional and pragmatic. The gold and white design of Rachel’s products, set against a contrasting black background, enables the product to jump out at consumers when placed amongst the ubiquitous, yellow-toned packaging of competitors’ offerings. Consequently, Rachel’s Organic Butter is presented as distinctive, superior and unique.
According to Justin DeMers, American entrepreneur and founder of AudienceBloom, any company should be able to achieve that sort of distinction through seven simple steps:
- Know your audience: By establishing a thorough understanding of the demographics of your specific target market, you will be able to appropriately direct your marketing campaign and your brand identity. This will enable you to create a natural connection with your intended audience.
- Be unique: When establishing your brand strategy, you need to identify what makes your business distinct from the competition. How are your products different, special and more desirable? If you can come up with something appealing and unique, you should highlight those attributes while promoting your branding strategy.
- Be passionate: If you’re not passionate about your business or product, why should anyone else be? Being genuinely passionate will allow you to connect with your potential market and make other people adopt your enthusiasm and share the unwavering belief you have in your product. Work smarter, and you will achieve more.
- Be consistent: Always offer the same high standard of customer service and product satisfaction. If your business is hit or miss, people will simply remember their disappointing experiences. A consumer may favour your product when it’s good, but if this is not consistent, they will abandon you en masse.
- Be competitive: When you think you’re as good as you can be, try to be better. Don’t get complacent, or you will inevitably fall behind. Always offer more than the consumer expects. Don’t just satisfy – exceed expectations.
- Seek exposure: Thrust your business into the spotlight whenever and wherever possible. Remain in sight and you are more likely to be recognised, remembered and trusted. Give your company an online presence, get involved with social media, distribute fliers and advertise in local establishments and newspapers. You can’t go wrong.
- Be a leader: If you want others to be enthusiastic about your business, you need to lead by example. All too often, employees and consumers become despondent and disheartened when the person leading a company fails to instil any enthusiasm or motivation for the business or its products. We’ve all been in that kind of situation, and it does nothing for morale or loyalty. It makes you stop caring.
What if it doesn’t work?
Very few entrepreneurs get branding 100% right on the first try. If you find a strategy isn’t working, go back to the drawing board and consider what sort of changes could be made. Sometimes, you might even find that nothing is working. If that is the case, it’s time to carry out a rebranding exercise.
Rebranding is a long-term marketing strategy that businesses employ to develop and improve an established image and identity with which they and their products are associated. It is the transformation of the appearance of a business – a type of ‘makeover’ that alters the way in which a company is perceived by existing and potential consumers.
By implementing a rebranding strategy, a business can revitalise its image and products in order to re-establish relevance and meet the needs of its consumers. Rebranding is about changing a brand promise, and consistently delivering that promise to consumers to establish a trusted and valued identity.
There are many reasons a company may wish to initiate a rebranding strategy, and it’s something that most businesses will be required to do at one time or another. Most companies decide to rebrand when their current strategies have failed or become redundant. For example, perhaps a company has changed over time and outgrown its original brand image and values, or an existing brand strategy has become ineffective because of changes to macro-environmental factors. If you’re concerned that your company may require a bit of rebranding, there are three tell-tale signs you should be looking out for:
- Your brand has no target market or refined focus.
- Your brand and marketing message are not known, understood and supported within the company.
- Your brand is not clear, consistent and constant.
That being said, the need to rebrand could also boil down to a simple, proactive decision. For example, if you’re entering a new market sector, targeting a new audience or seeking an international expansion, you might find that it’s time to widen the appeal of your brand assets.
How to rebrand successfully
First and foremost, rebranding must start from within an organisation. It’s essential that all members of your company are 100% motivated and fully understand what you’re trying to deliver and achieve with your rebranding strategy. After all, you cannot successfully alter the way your brand is perceived on the outside if the people delivering the concept and message do not understand the idea in the first place.
Once you’ve got everybody on the same page, it’s time to act. According to Jose Costa, President of MAACO, companies should consider the following measures when looking to implement a successful rebranding strategy:
- Establish long-term goals: This will enable all members within your organisation to understand and relate to the new brand positioning and the marketing message you are trying to deliver. By involving all members of an organisation in the rebranding process, they will support the brand and the efforts of the company.
- Get involved with the company culture: Focus on your company’s core strengths, and work on ways to improve the competencies that will enable your business to flourish. Create a plan of action, and ensure all team members have a clear understanding of their role and the actions they should focus on.
- Integrate your key message: Do not simply concentrate on how the rebrand is going to happen. Your rebranding strategy must explain why your company must change – and you must make this clear to everyone in the company.
- Do not limit the reach of your message: Altering the visual aspect of your brand (like a new logo or name) will not be enough to successfully rebrand your business. To achieve successful branding, you must integrate the new message into all areas of your marketing strategy. Consumers will see where and how things are changing, and this will yield understanding, enthusiasm and trust.
By taking these steps on board, the transition period should be far simpler and relatively painless.
The bottom line
To maintain relevance, your company has to evolve. No matter what type of industry your business operates within, market conditions and consumer demands are constantly shifting. Do yourself a favour, and shift with them. Above all else, you must remain vigilant and pay close attention to market trends, societal changes, competitors and consumer interests.
Ensure your brand serves its purpose, is understood, and is clearly communicated to the target audience you want to reach. So long as you can maintain some degree of recognition within your industry, your business will be able to grow deep industry roots – making it far more difficult for competitors to steal your business.
Just remember: branding isn’t just about you and how you want your business to be perceived. It’s about the customer, and how they want to interact with your company. So long as you’ve always got their interests at heart, there’s no reason you should fail.