Branding for beginners

In today’s competitive world of marketing and advertising, a key to success is building a strong brand. Branding involves developing a compelling, positive and lasting image of your business that creates an emotional connection with your customers. The strength of your company’s brand could mean the difference between struggling for recognition and sales or thriving as a dynamic, best-in-class business. In this article, we discuss several key aspects of branding.

1. Define your brand(Inside Blog - Clickable drawer)

Your brand is the image customers have of your business. Take the time to define your brand thoughtfully and early, so your company’s image is what you intend it to be. It should be strategic and intentional. Discover how to get your business to stand out from its competitors in a positive way.

Define Your Unique Value Proposition

Clearly describe what it is you offer your customers. Explain why they should deal with you and what sets your business apart from competitors. Is it caring customer service? Product quality? Reliability? Speed and convenience? Don’t try to be all things to all people. Focus on what you do best and the value you bring to your customers. Let that drive your core brand message.

Identify Your Target Markets

Thoroughly define your customer needs and how your business will satisfy them. Conduct market research if you need to. Get to know your target markets and your customers’ needs and aspirations. Understand and convey clearly to customers how you can help meet their needs.

Define Your Employer Brand

What sets you apart as an employer and community member? As a company, what is your mission? What are your core values? And how does that translate into a unique value proposition? How does it make you more attractive as an employer? For example, if you have a reputation as a great place for employees with families because of wide-ranging employee benefits and flexible work arrangements, that could help you attract and retain the best people. And that, in turn, can strengthen your overall brand.

2. Create a brand strategy (Inside Blog - Clickable drawer)

CCreate a clear and concise brand strategy and then execute it effectively and thoroughly. A brand strategy is a formalised document that identifies what your company is and believes in. It defines your target market, shows how you’re differentiated from your competition, and defines your company’s personality. By creating a clear and concise brand strategy, you help your employees understand, support and participate in the efforts to achieve your branding – and business – goals. This can lead to greater consistency and a stronger connection with your customers. Once you have defined your brand strategy, execute it effectively and thoroughly. Clear, consistent, strategic branding will help you build strong brand equity, which could lead to long-term success.

Promote Your Brand to All Stakeholders – Internal and External

Your brand is about more than your products and/or services. It’s what your customers perceive and feel about your company. It’s your company’s image and reputation. What problems are you solving? How are you making a difference: in your customers’ lives, the community, and the industry? Communicate this with targeted advertising and communications that are focused on what you can do for your target audience. And back it up. Don’t just say: “Customers are our number one priority.” Deliver on it. Make sure everyone in your organization understands and believes that, and supports it in all that they do. Be sure you deliver on the promise you make in your value proposition. Also, recognize the vital role your employees play as brand ambassadors.

Get Employees to Help Build Your Brand

Your brand isn’t just about your latest ad or marketing campaign. Branding is embedded in every element of your business. Everything your customers see, hear and experience affects your company’s image: How all employees answer phones and greet customers, for example. Even how clean your premises are and how easy it is to park at a store. If the actual customer experience in dealing with your company is at odds with the image you project through your branding efforts, you’re probably nullifying all those efforts. Your employees should understand and believe in the brand and then be able to back up the brand’s promise with their actions.

Build a Strong Image

A strong image comes from a clear message and consistency in everything that the customer experiences. Promote your brand’s key attributes consistently in communications with all your audiences, internal and external.

Create an Emotional Bond

If you provide a good product or service at a reasonable price, your connection with customers might be positive, but purely rational. To succeed on a deeper level over a longer period, strive to create and sustain an emotional bond with your customers. This can build loyalty and drive long-term – or even lifelong – customer relationships. If your customers feel an emotional connection to your brand, they could even serve as informal brand ambassadors, promoting your company through word of mouth and social media.

3. Build Brand Equity (Inside Blog - Clickable drawer)

Brand equity is the value that your brand brings to your company. You can measure it in a number of ways, such as the price premium you can charge over a no-name product, or through long-term customer loyalty. You can strengthen your customers’ perception of your brand by applying the four-step Customer Based Brand Equity Model.

These steps build from a base to form a brand equity pyramid.

Step 1 – Identity: Build Awareness.

Begin at the base with brand identity. Build basic awareness of your brand. Make sure customers recognize your brand and see it in the way you intend.

Step 2 – Meaning: Communicate What Your Brand Means and What It Stands for.

Know what your brand means (“performance”) and what it stands for (“imagery”). Performance describes how well your product meets customer needs. Imagery refers to the social and psychological aspects of this. For example, a company that is genuinely committed to being environmentally responsible will build loyalty from customers and attract employees who identify with and support those values. You can develop greater brand meaning through targeted marketing, word of mouth and positive direct customer experience.

Step 3 – Response: Reshape How Customers Think and Feel about Your Brand.

Customers respond to your brand through judgments and feelings. Judgments relate to things like quality, credibility, how relevant your product is to customer needs, and whether your brand is superior to those of your competitors. Positive feelings could include warmth, fun, excitement, security, social approval and self-respect.

4. Create a strong visual brand (Inside Blog - Clickable drawer)

Image plays a central role in branding, including visual elements. Key to this is a logo and a clearly recognizable look and feel for all your marketing materials.

There are three key steps in visual branding:

Create a Strong Logo and Use It Widely.

An easily identifiable logo can have immense value that will continue to amplify when you use it widely and consistently. More than anything else, it can instantly convey your brand. Think about McDonald’s golden arches or the Apple logo as strong examples. But the logos alone don’t carry their brands. Their equity has been built over time, with smart, effective marketing and quality products and customer service.

Create Brand Standards for Marketing Materials.

Your logo should be part of a set of visual marketing tools that, when applied consistently, sends a strong non-verbal message to your customers. Create a brand standard that is applied universally for all marketing materials. Attention to detail and strict adherence to these standards will help to build strong brand equity. Your customers should never hesitate or be confused by any aspect of their experience with your brand.

Publish and Promote a Style Guide.

To make sure all employees, contractors and advertising and marketing agencies you work with follow the brand’s visual identity, publish and promote a company style guide. This should include visual styles that define precisely how your brand will look along with content rules that spell out how the brand will sound and read. Complete consistency in your brand presentation is critical. The style guide can be fairly brief or elaborate. Either way, make sure that everyone who communicates to the public uses it.

5. Establish your brand’s voice (Inside Blog - Clickable drawer)

Your brand should have personality and character. And a big part of that is a voice that is distinctive, authentic, consistent and reflects your brand. In creating your brand’s voice, there are a few key considerations to be mindful of:

Understand What Is Appropriate for Your Company and Your Customers

Your voice should reflect your brand. It should have the right tone, whether that is friendly and conversational or more formal and authoritative. It should be an integral part of your brand and promote a stronger bond with customers. And related to that is a tagline that is memorable and meaningful and concisely captures your brand.

Make Sure Your Brand’s Voice Is Authentic, Distinct and Consistent

Your customers should recognize your brand’s voice immediately and it should be applied consistently across all communication, such as marketing and advertising platforms. This includes websites, social media , traditional advertising and marketing channels, and the in-store customer experience.

Have Your Brand’s Voice Speak to Customer Needs, Concerns and Desires

If you know your customers, it will be easy to create an appropriate brand voice that speaks to their greatest needs and desires. This should come more easily from being authentic and genuine in your customer communications.

6. Be consistent (Inside Blog - Clickable drawer)

Once you have created a brand, be consistent in how you present the brand in all your internal and external communications, including advertising, on social media, and in all employee-customer interactions.

Create Brand Identity Guidelines and Branded Communications Templates

To make it easier to apply your branding consistently across all marketing channels, create a brand identification template. This can include details on a variety of things, including typography, brand personality , tone of voice and brand usage. The specific details in this template aren’t as important as being consistent across all customer communications.

Train Employees to Understand Their Key Role in Supporting the Brand

Train and manage the people who represent your brand. This includes all employees who have contact with customers, but especially your marketing staff and those working for marketing communications and advertising agencies. Train employees to understand your value proposition and core messages, and consistently adhere to your brand standards. Be mindful of the need for consistency on social media, including any company blogs.

Incorporate the Brand in Everything

Make sure you use the same company logo, images and writing style and tone across all communication channels. Consistency is critically important in branding. Any inconsistency in how customers perceive your brand could weaken their connection with your company.