Having a brand helps differentiate your business from competing firms and build customer loyalty.
Branding isn't just for big firms with big budgets. Every business needs a brand, whether you run a café, a plumbing business or an IT consultancy. You can create an effective brand by examining what makes your business special, what it means to your customers, then creating a unique identity.
1. What is a brand?
Every business has a brand
- As Jeff Bezos of Amazon says, "Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room".
- Put simply, your brand is your reputation. Every business has a reputation - it is the result of people's experience of using your business, or simply seeing it or hearing about it.
A brand differentiates you
- A brand can be an identification or a mark that differentiates one business from another. For example, through a name or a logo.
- A brand also symbolises how people think about your business. Building a brand helps customers in their decision-making, creating a perceived knowledge of what they are going to buy - before they buy it.
- A brand can cover your business as a whole or relate to specific products and services.
A brand builds confidence
- Customers trust that the business, product or service will do exactly what they already believe it will do.
A brand involves the emotional response of the customer
- For example, a clothing retailer can create a brand based on making its customers feel good about what they wear, how they feel about buying clothes from that shop and what it says about them to their peers.
- A brand builds a unique personality for a business, and therefore attracts a defined type of customer.
Most importantly, branding is based on consistency
- Customers are consistently rewarded for their confidence in the business and experience the expected emotional response.
- For example, a domestic cleaning company can build its brand successfully if customers' homes are always thoroughly cleaned, the owners believe they are using the best company and they feel good about returning to newly-cleaned homes.
2. Do I need a brand?
Every business has a brand identity, even if it doesn't take steps to manage it
- Your customers (and potential customers) already have a perception, good or bad, of what your business means to them.
- As a business owner, you need to make sure your brand shows your business in a positive light and communicates your unique selling points (USPs) to customers.
- Building a brand is about making sure that customers associate your business with their requirements.
- Brands can help increase turnover by encouraging customer acquisition and loyalty.
Brands help businesses in fast-moving sectors
- If your business environment changes rapidly, a brand provides reassurance to customers and encourages their loyalty.
Brands help you to stand out
- For example, if you are in a crowded marketplace.
- When customers are confronted with a wide choice of comparable suppliers, they will always choose the one they feel will suit them best. Your suitability for a customer is conveyed through your brand.
A brand adds value to your business
- Successful brands can make businesses more attractive to potential buyers or franchisees.
Budgeting for a brand
A brand can cost as much or as little as you like
You could budget for:
- your time and the cost of your employees' time;
- reworking your company's stationery, signage, packaging and website;
- design and printing of sales-support material;
- advertising and PR;
- a branding agency to create and manage the brand for you.
Even a small amount of branding should bring benefits
- If you keep it simple, it can be confined to the cost of the time you spend creating it and getting your staff to work with it.
- Even if you go no further than bringing stationery, sales support materials and online identity into line with your branding, you should feel some benefit over time.
3. First steps
Before you develop your brand identity, you have to assess your business, how it operates and the messages that you want to - and are able to - deliver consistently to your customers.
You must be realistic right from the start.
Work out your business, product or service's core competencies
- These are what you achieve for your customer, not necessarily what you do.
Assess your existing and potential customers and what their preferences are
- Find out what they like and what they don't like.
- For example, if they are driven by competitive pricing, there is little point in you presenting yourself as a premium-price supplier.
Find out how your customers and your employees feel about your business
- Reliable? Caring? Cheap? Expensive? Luxurious? No-frills?
- Later in the process, these emotional responses (brand values) will form the basis of your brand message.
Find out how favourably your business is viewed by customers and potential customers
- This is your perceived quality.
- Do they trust your business, product or service? Do they know exactly what it does for them? What do they think of when your brand is mentioned to them?
- Low perceived quality may restrict or damage your business. High perceived quality can give you a platform to grow.
Consider how far you can develop your business
- How much can you change your business with its current customer perception without moving away from your core competencies?
- For example, a shop known for selling fresh sandwiches could also consider selling homemade cakes and biscuits without going outside its core competencies.
4. Pulling the elements together
Once you have assessed your core competencies and your current brand positioning, start to define your brand identity.
Decide who you want to lead the process
- It may be you, or someone inside your business who will champion the brand.
- Specialist branding agencies can also run the process for you, but you may need a substantial budget.
Discuss your core competencies and brand values with employees and customers
- Remember, what you think about your business is almost certainly not what your customers or employees think.
- Your brand must reflect what your customers and employees think about your business to have any credibility.
Note your agreed core competencies and brand values
- Make sure none of them conflicts with your brand stature. For example, if your employees agree that your business means "high quality" but customers associate you with "cheap and cheerful", your branding is already damaged.
- Concentrate only on the areas that overlap - these will form the basis of your brand.
5. Creating the brand
Once you have worked out your core competencies, brand values and perceived quality, you can communicate them to your customers.
Build the message into everything customers or potential customers see and hear
- This includes before they have any direct contact with your business.
- Make sure your marketing reflects your brand values. If necessary, redesign your logo, company stationery and website so they provide an immediate visual link to your brand values. Make sure your social media activity reflects your brand values.
- Reconsider your marketing strategy. Are you active in places that reflect your brand values? Does your copy and content reflect your brand values?
Make sure your staff understand the brand values and believe in them
- Engage staff in developing the brand.
- Your staff's attitude and behaviour will influence the success of your brand more than any promotional activity.
- For example, if you make strong customer service a brand value, the brand is damaged if one customer feels that whoever they are talking to doesn't care.
Make sure every point of contact reflects your brand values
- For example, if being friendly is one of your brand values, make sure anyone who has direct contact with customers is friendly.
Names and taglines
You don't have to create clever names to have a brand
For example, you can use your own name.
What you call your business, product or service is important
- the name suits your customer profile;
- your customers refer to your business, product or service the same way you do;
- it doesn't clash with your brand values or core competences.
You may want to have a tagline
- This is a subsidiary line used to reinforce the brand message.
- You don't need to have one but it can help, particularly if the name of your business or product doesn't describe what you do.
- If you want to create a tagline, base it on your core competencies. For example: John Smith - unblocking drains fast.
Brand names, logos and taglines can be legally protected
- For example, by registering a trade mark.
6. Managing the brand
A brand will not work instantly. It will develop strength over time as long as your business consistently communicates and delivers your brand values to customers.
Keep all your staff involved in your brand and your business
- As your staff will be responsible for delivering the brand, they all need to feel a part of it and believe in it.
- Discuss your brand values regularly with your staff so they are clear about them.
- Encourage them to offer suggestions to improve your systems so the brand values can be more easily delivered.
Monitor your customers' response to the brand regularly
- Continually review how your brand values are communicated.
- Get regular feedback from friendly customers and find out if what your business is doing for them matches the expectation your brand creates.
- Ask dissatisfied customers or former customers too. You learn useful lessons about your brand through honest criticism.
- Regularly review your products, services and systems to make sure they efficiently back up your brand message.
Use your brand with new customers
- Once the brand is developed within your own business and your existing customers, you can use it to attract new customers.
- Use your core competencies to show the benefits of your business to potential customers. Show what your business can do for them, not just what you do.
- Make sure every communication with potential customers is also consistent with your brand values - offline and online.
7. Extending the brand
A successful brand can offer opportunities for a business to grow. However, if you are introducing new products or services, you must make sure they are consistent with your existing brand values.
Stretching a brand too far reduces its strength and can damage it.
You may want to use your existing brand for new products or services
- Consider how new products or services fit your core competencies and brand values.
- If they fit well, brand them in the same way as your existing products and services so they benefit from your existing branding.
Consider whether to have a diffusion brand
- A diffusion brand is a different message with its own identity tied to your existing brand.
- If new products or services remain within your core competencies but not your brand values, you may want a diffusion brand.
- Remember that any problems with a diffusion brand will also damage your main brand, so treat the diffusion brand with similar care.
Use a separate brand for new products or services that do not fit the existing brand
- If your new products or services fit neither your core competencies nor your brand values, you must brand them separately.
8. Golden rules
Once a brand has been created, following some simple rules should ensure its continued effectiveness.
Always think about what your business achieves for your customers
- Structure your business to achieve it.
- Be focused on customer needs, but never let your customers dictate to you. It is your brand, not your customers'. If you change your brand values just for one customer, you will damage your brand.
Do everything you can to deliver the brand message consistently
- From your company letterhead to the way the phone is answered, your customers should always feel that you are providing them with exactly what your brand promises.
Keep your staff involved with your brand
- More than anything else, your employees will be responsible for making the brand work. Make sure that everyone believes in it and encourage and take notice of any suggestions they may make to improve the delivery of the brand message.
Meet and exceed what your brand promises to customers
- Failing to deliver a brand promise just once will damage your brand. Delivering your brand promise better than your customer expects will strengthen your brand.
"The starting point for the creation of a brand must be a decision of where you position yourself in a marketplace against your competitors. This will help clarify which values your brand should communicate." - Ben Harris, New Brand Vision