Bigger than advertising, more comprehensive than marketing, branding lies at the heart of lasting business success. Despite this, it’s something that many business owners feel they know little about. Most haven’t the first idea where to begin in developing their own brands; they also find it difficult to tell whether or not they’re really likely to get their money’s worth when paying other people to do it for them. There’s an aura of mystery about it, but really it’s a lot easier to learn the basics than you might expect.
What is a brand?
To put it in simple terms, a brand is the reputation attached to a company or to a set of products and services that it markets. Every company has an overall brand; if it isn’t developed deliberately, it will develop organically. Strong brands help companies to get a lot more attention, however, and developing a brand consciously and deliberately from the outset makes it possible to impress the right sort of customer.
Elements of branding
There are several key elements to branding:
- Imagery – every company needs a logo that sums up its character. This should be distinctive enough to stand out but should also suit the general character of the trade in which the company is involved. It’s important to consider how it will work in different contexts, such as on letterheads, on business cards or on a website. Company colors – no more than three, which work together to complement the company’s image – should be selected alongside it. You should also decide on company fonts.
- Language – the type of language to be used in promoting the brand should be decided early on. This is about choosing and defining its character. For instance, long words of Latin or French origin might suit a luxury brand, while playful, gossipy language might suit a company marketing fun products, and easily accessible but strictly formal language might suit an accountancy brand.
- Communications – it’s important to set out a strategy for the company to use in communicating with customers, both actual and potential. This includes everything from your social media “voice” to your approach to helping customers who visit your premises, and your complaints handling policy. It’s about the recognition that customer experience sits at the heart of how your company is perceived.
- Products or services – quality is the most important factor here, though pricing is also significant. Remember that the price you charge sends a message about more than just affordability; it tells people whether or not what you are selling is aimed at people like them. You should also think about how it’s going to be photographed and what context you want to place it in – conveyed by things such as backgrounds and accessories.
Everybody wants to create a brand with the power to survive over the years, but it’s important to be aware that those years may not bring more of the same. A successful brand has the flexibility to weather cultural and political changes. For instance, in Bacardi, Cuba has a brand that has survived civil war and revolution, retaining its selling power throughout. Although it’s good to find a niche, don’t focus your brand too tightly, and always have secondary markets in mind. Think of your brand as a story with a narrative that can be adapted to reflect how people respond to it. You should engage in ongoing market research to keep track of how your brand is faring.
Branding and the internet
Traditional approaches to branding have had to adapt to suit the internet, and have subsequently had to change as it has changed. For instance, webpages have had to change to work well on mobile phones, and social media practices have changed as new forums have emerged. A common mistake people make when managing their own brands is overreaching themselves on social media. Facebook is essential for any brand these days, but where other forums are concerned, not having an account is at worst a missed opportunity – registering one and then neglecting it will actually damage you. Different forms of social media are suited to different types of brand – for example, Instagram is popular with young people, and Pinterest is great for products with strong visual appeal – so elect two or three things that can work for you and focus on those, aiming to build up strong customer relationships.
As you develop your brand, you should find that it speaks to you and every member of your team, that it becomes a personality you can assume as needed. A strong brand will make you feel all the more passionate about what you’re selling, and then you’ll know you’ve got a winner.