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“Brand” is more than a catchphrase or a company’s style choice. It’s the collective imagery, feeling, and reputation of a company that follows it everywhere. When built properly, your brand can help your company reach new heights of success. But when built improperly, your brand might push customers away and make turning a profit nearly impossible.
That’s why it’s important to have a good marketing strategy and a solid grasp of brand management: what do you need for the branding process, and how does your brand image impact the customer experience?
This article will cover some branding guidelines and strategies for new entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journeys.
Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. But what exactly does “branding” mean? How does it affect a small business like yours?
Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.
Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option? You can’t be both, and you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target customers want and need you to be.
The foundation of your brand is your logo. Your website, packaging and promotional materials–all of which should integrate your logo–communicate your brand.
Brand Strategy & Equity
Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you advertise is part of your brand strategy. Your distribution channels are also part of your brand strategy. And what you communicate visually and verbally are part of your brand strategy, too.
Consistent, strategic branding leads to a strong brand equity, which means the added value brought to your company’s products or services that allows you to charge more for your brand than what identical, unbranded products command. The most obvious example of this is Coke vs. a generic soda. Because Coca-Cola has built a powerful brand equity, it can charge more for its product–and customers will pay that higher price.
The added value intrinsic to brand equity frequently comes in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes, hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it’s not just the shoe’s features that sell the shoe.
Defining Your Brand
Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions below:
- What is your company’s mission?
- What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
- What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
- What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?
Do your research. Learn the needs, habits and desires of your current and prospective customers. And don’t rely on what you think they think. Know what they think.
Your target audience is essentially the group of customers most likely to buy something from your brand. You can determine your target audience by understanding its key attributes, like sex, age, location, and more.
Do some market research and figure out your potential customer demographics. The more you learn about your target audience, the better you’ll be able to market to them, and the better you’ll be able to meet their needs in the long term.
Because defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be complex, consider leveraging the expertise of a nonprofit small-business advisory group or a Small Business Development Center .
Once you’ve defined your brand, how do you get the word out? Here are a few simple, time-tested tips:
- Get a great logo. Place it everywhere.
- Write down your brand messaging. What are the key messages you want to communicate about your brand? Every employee should be aware of your brand attributes.
- Integrate your brand. Branding extends to every aspect of your business–how you answer your phones, what you or your salespeople wear on sales calls, your e-mail signature, everything.
- Create a “voice” for your company that reflects your brand. This voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated in the visual imagery of all materials, online and off. Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it ritzy? Be more formal. You get the gist.
- Develop a tagline. Write a memorable, meaningful and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand.
- Design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials. Use the same color scheme, logo placement, look and feel throughout. You don’t need to be fancy, just consistent.
- Be true to your brand. Customers won’t return to you–or refer you to someone else–if you don’t deliver on your brand promise.
- Be consistent. I placed this point last only because it involves all of the above and is the most important tip I can give you. If you can’t do this, your attempts at establishing a brand will fail.
Designing Your Brand’s Style
The visual identity of your brand can significantly increase your brand recognition, so having an interesting but clear brand style is important. Let’s dive a little deeper into some of the things touched on above.
For example, your brand’s logo should be unique, iconic, and related to your brand’s mission or what it produces. Try to incorporate some aesthetic or stylistic element of what your brand does into the logo; don’t be afraid to hire a good graphic designer to create a stellar logo from scratch.
You only get one chance to make a logo that sticks in the minds of your target audience. If it’s a good one, your brand will grow that much more successfully. Logo design can help you capture new customers and convince your target market/customer base to give your company a shot. Plus, it’ll serve as effective branding on product packaging!
Similarly, you should choose your brand’s color, text fonts, and other stylistic elements carefully. A specific color or text font can draw people to your brand or push them away, depending on your industry. For instance, if you want to make a line of power tools for women, a red or violet color could be just the ticket, while pink might be considered a little too classically feminine for your target audience.
You should also consider how your brand’s voice fits into your brand’s overall style. If, for instance, you run a B2B company and advertise and sell primarily to others in your industry, you shouldn’t speak down to them or use a lot of catchphrases.
Instead, you should use highly technical, informative language that proves your brand’s authority and knowledge in its niche. The reverse is true if you advertise and sell to the public; the simpler and more understandable your copy and content is, the better.
Spreading the Word – Ensuring Brand Continuity
Designing a good brand style is just the start. You then need to make sure that you maintain brand continuity in all marketing materials you put out, including the materials made by freelancers or third parties.
To that end, it might be wise to create a style guide for your brand. The style guide should include breakdowns of all the information above, including how your logo looks, the colors to use for marketing materials, and the brand voice to use for copy text.
Send out the style guide to every marketing expert or professional working with your company. This includes social media typography and messages, especially since you’ll communicate to your loyal customers on social media in many cases.
The style guide must be adhered to at all times, including by individuals in your organization. Why?
The more consistent your brand feels in the minds of your consumers, the easier it will stick in their minds and the more memorable it will be overall. If your brand feels chaotic or disorganized, people will be less likely to remember the name, let alone the purpose, of your brand when they need a product that you sell. They may even think you’re rebranding or your brand values are changing when they aren’t.
If you do this right, your brand will become ubiquitous with the services you offer or the products you make.
Wrapping Things Up
Ultimately, building a brand requires practice, experience, and patience. Keep iterating on your brand identity and theme; as you learn more about your customers and what they desire, you can tweak your brand over and over until it is the ideal version for profitability. Good luck!
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