Your brand is one of your greatest assets. It's not just your logo, slogan and design scheme, but your customers' total experience of your business. Your brand is in your customer promise, your business values, your personality, the way you talk to your customers. It's in the way you package your service and answer your phone.
Communicating your brand clearly and honestly to your customers spreads confidence and goodwill. It is a badge of trust that sets you apart from competitors and can give you a lasting competitive edge.
What is branding?
When someone thinks about your business, they have their own perceptions of what the business is about. This isn't just knowing what products and services you offer, but how they feel about your business. Think of branding as the experience customers and others have when they engage with your business, and the perception they're left with.
Branding is the process of deliberately trying to create the right brand image for your business - and then using that brand to encourage your target customers to want to do business with you. In most sectors, there's often very little to separate competing products and services. Your brand can be the thing that helps customers differentiate when making buying decisions.
Your brand should tell your customers exactly what to expect from you. Deliver on your promises and they will come back again and again. How often have you gone to a familiar restaurant chain because you know what's on the menu, what it will taste like and how much it will set you back? It's the same for your customers.
Successful brands connect with customers on an emotional level. A positive brand identity will also attract new customers by stressing the differences between you and competitors. This is critical if you are in a highly competitive or fast moving market where it is difficult to differentiate yourself on product features alone.
The power of a strong brand is such that it can lift a single firm or product above others to become something truly memorable. Think of vacuum cleaners and you think of Hoover; think of a personal tablet and iPad will spring to mind.
Brand image and brand values
Before you can develop your brand identity, you will have to understand what the core values of your business are, what your business mission is and how you differ from the competition.
You must also be sure that what you want to tell your customers about your business and your offer matches what your target customer segments want and what you actually deliver. It's no use developing a premium brand if your target market just wants value for money, for example; and a brand based on friendly service will not survive long if your staff are unhelpful.
Effective branding will give your firm or your offer a personality that suits your customers, and businesses selling the same products can have very different brands. For example, a plumbers' merchant selling to trade buyers will aim for a value-for-money brand image; a DIY store will put more emphasis on providing a welcoming environment for the general public.
Exploiting your brand
This is where your name and logo come to the fore. Good brand design gives you a consistent image that will enable people to recognise you immediately. Trade marking can help ensure that your distinctive brand image is protected against competitors.
Your brand marketing must connect to and emphasise your brand values across everything you do. This is why luxury goods firms take out full page ads in glossy magazines, and high quality professionals make sure their correspondence doesn't have spelling mistakes.
If you sell a range of products, you'll need to ensure that they all fit together within a brand strategy that makes sense. If you're a luxury goods firm and you decide to produce a cheaper range, it would be wise to develop a separate brand identity so you don't scare off your established customers. While you can stretch your brand to take advantage of new opportunities, your brand will be damaged if you fail to maintain a consistent focus on your core brand values.
Apply your brand consistently
Your brand should be applied consistently - from customer service standards, social media posts and staff appearance to your signage, website and stationery. Your customer experience should mirror your brand promises. For example, there's no point having reliability as a core brand value if you don't answer customer enquiries promptly.
Never compromise - live your brand values every day and safeguard your brand identity. Customers must be able to quickly distinguish your business and understand what it stands for.
Finally, if you have employees, make sure they also realise the importance of embodying your brand values (provide training where necessary). Consistency underpins all successful brands.