Branding is vital to any business, big or small, retail or B2B. A strong brand strategy gives you a competitive advantage in today’s market. “Branding” means what? How does it affect your small business?
Simple: your brand is your customer’s promise. It informs them about your products and services and sets you apart from your competitors. Your brand is who you are, who you want to be, and how others perceive you.
Are you an industry maverick? Or the seasoned pro? Is your product high-quality but expensive, or low-cost but high-value? You can’t be both, and you can’t please everyone. Your identity should be shaped by your target market’s expectations.
Your logo is the core of your brand. Your brand is communicated through your website, packaging, and promotional materials.
Branding & Equity
Your brand strategy determines how, where, when, and to whom you will communicate your brand messages. Your advertising strategy includes location. Your brand strategy includes your distribution channels. Visual and verbal communication are also part of your brand strategy.
Consistent, strategic branding builds brand equity, which allows you to charge more for your brand than unbranded products. In the most obvious case, Coke vs. a generic soda Coca-Cola can charge more for its product because of its strong brand equity, and customers will pay that price.
Brand equity adds value in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike links its products to famous athletes, hoping that customers will feel the same way about the product. For Nike, it’s not just about the features.
Defining Your Brand
Defining your brand is a business self-discovery journey. It’s difficult, time-consuming, and uneasy. It requires you to at least answer the following questions:
- 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.
A nonprofit small-business advisory group or a Small Business Development Center can help you define your brand and develop a brand strategy.
How do you spread the word about your brand? Here are some tried-and-true tips:
A great logo. Put it anywhere.
Make a brand message list. What are your brand’s key messages? Your staff should know your brand’s 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.