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Branding is Key!

June 17, 2009

In tough economic times it is more important than ever to be more than a “me too” business.  It is critical to be able to differentiate your business from all of the others that basically offer the same services/products that your business offers. When all businesses appear to be alike, the customer is tempted to close their eyes and pick one at random, or decide based on price alone. So, unless you have the lowest price, your fall-back competitive strategy is luck. Rest assured that at least some of your competitors have a better competitive strategy than luck.  So, it is critical you do the same! 

Although there are many things that can set one business apart from the others, nothing is more important than your brand. And, once you have established your brand, everything your business does should be aimed at protecting the integrity of this brand. This holds true whether we are speaking of a company brand, a product brand or your brand as a person. 

This short article is intended only as a primer to branding and brings the subject to top of mind while you are focusing on your total marketing plan. As such, it is not all inclusive. However, it will hopefully stimulate thinking and dialog on the subject that will cause you to give it the attention it requires. 

The very best time to plan your brand is at start-up. However, there are so many things going on at start-up that, often times creating a brand is overlooked. The second best time is as close to start up as possible. It requires lots of time and money to change it after the business has been in the market for many years. Even more risky is the potential to lose customers if it is done poorly. So why do some businesses change their brand in midstream? Quite simply, it is because the reward is far greater than the expense and risk. 

Pick Your Niche
You cannot be all things to all people. You cannot offer the highest quality at the lowest price and stay in business. After researching your market, select the niche where you will compete and what makes you different from those with whom you will compete. This becomes your specialty and is what you base your brand upon. 

There are several components to building your brand. Let’s consider each.

Company Name
Your company name can be just your legal name or you can do business under an assumed name. For example, your legal company name might be International Coffee Group, Inc. doing business as (d.b.a.) The Java Cup. In selecting the name that will be your brand and the public will know, keep in mind that it should suggest what your company does and what makes it better than competitors (what it will do for customers). If you are interested in doing business nationally, internationally, with both genders or across generations, you may want to avoid names that will restrict its use by geography or demographics. If your name is catchy and easy to pronounce, all the better. 

Many companies use a color for brand recognition. For example, we have a chain of flower shops here in Minneapolis who has branded their products with a light purple color. When you open flowers from them, you know immediately where they came from because of the light purple wrapping paper or tissue. Everyone knows the shipping company who uses “Brown”. UPS has been using that color for their brand since start-up. It’s easy to recognize a Yellow Cab, isn’t it? If using more than one color, make sure they complement each other. And make sure the color(s) are web friendly. 

I can’t image a brand without a logo, although I have seen a lot of businesses with no logo. In fact, I have seen businesses that don’t even use the same font in their name. This is certainly not the way to protect the integrity of your brand. Anyway, a logo is a very important part of branding. This should not be a “do-it-yourself” project. Considering you can secure a logo for as little at $25 at GotLogos and up to $1,000 from other sources, there is no reason to not have a professional logo. Once you have created your logo, you will want to use it on everything you can: signage, letterhead, business cards, website, invoicing, packaging, etc. 

Most brands have a slogan. Try identifying the brand from the following examples of slogans most of the population will recognize:

“Never leave home without it”
“Finger-lickin’ good”
“Just do it!”
“M’m m’m good”
“Melts in your mouth – not in your hand”
“Fair and balanced”
“Expect more, pay less”
“Let your fingers do the walking”

Can you create a slogan that projects the mental image you desire for your brand and is difficult to forget? In an industry specific consulting business I had in the 1990s, our slogan was “When it has to be right the first time!” What is your slogan? 

Customer Experience
The customer experience is by far the most powerful factor in building a strong brand. If you don’t believe this, all you have to do is ask someone to name their favorite brands. For example, what brand comes to mind when you think of motorcycles, hamburgers, coffee, department stores, sodas, software, or hotels? A significant percentage of the population who has made these brands so profitable would list Harley Davidson, McDonalds, Starbucks, Nordstrom’s, Coca Cola, Microsoft, and Ritz Carlton. Why do you think these brands are so strong? Of course, these strong brands have been built with consistent marketing messages and millions of dollars in advertising. 

However, there is another, more powerful reason these brands are so strong. Customers have a consistent and positive experience every time they come into contact with these brands. A strong brand is built over time through consecutive experiences that are positive. When it comes to brand identify it doesn’t matter as much whether or not your services/products are the highest quality or the lowest quality, the most expensive or the least expensive. What matters is that your customers can expect to experience the same thing every time they do business with you and it is satisfactory. So, you don’t need a million dollar advertising budget to build a strong brand. All you need to do is create a consistently positive experience for your customers.   

How long do you think it takes to weaken a brand once it’s been built? You guessed it; just one bad experience. This is why it is imperative to pay close attention to how your customers perceive your company and its service/products. All savvy business people know that it is less expensive to keep a customer than to go out and find a new one.        

Now that you have created a brand that embodies the message you wish to portray to your target market, it is time to promote it. Promote your brand on everything you can: signage, letterhead, business cards, website, packaging, advertising, press releases, etc. 

Final Word
Once you have developed your branding plan and implemented it, you must protect it fiercely through all your actions and deeds. It takes a long time to build a solid brand and just minutes to destroy it. MCI worked very hard to build their brand and after the buyout by Worldcom, they destroyed it in very short order. Consider how quickly Enron destroyed their brand. Again, whether it is a company brand, a product brand or your personal brand, people will make many decisions based upon their image of your brand. So how you behave, how your product behaves and how your company behaves will determine the public’s perception of your brand. It is up to you to protect it or destroy it. I leave it in your hands.

This article was written by Mike Clough, June 2009

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 18, 2009 12:29 pm

    thank you for these tips, and highlighting the importance of commanding a carefully defined niche and creating a memorable customer experience. The only thing I would add is infusing the business with the passion of the entrepreneur, passion that will drive buzz and assist powerfully in the branding effort.

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