There's a lot of buzz in the business world about the importance of branding. Corporate giants have highly specialized teams and often multiple ad agencies plus time and money to manage and promote their brand. Fear not! Your company may lack these resources but that doesn’t mean that you cannot effectively create a brand that reflects positively on your company, resonates with your current and prospective customers, and strikes envy into the hearts of your competitors!
Think of branding like a relationship between you and your customers. The entire life cycle of that relationship from the company's side is where branding lives. Who are we as a company? What do we do and why? How do we provide value to the customer? Equally important, what do our customers value about us? All of the ways that a company communicates are part of branding, from logos to radio jingles to packaging to signage to websites. Then there are the overlooked spaces where branding is often most evident from the customer’s perspective, like “customer service”.
There are a host of gurus espousing branding guidelines and best practices: Do X, then Y and Z, then POW, the cash register will ring! In truth, the recipe varies from company to company, across industries, and especially across cultures (Remember the Chevy Nova? No va means no go in Spanish, so Chevy had to rename that model for Latin American distribution!) Nevertheless, a few components ring true:
BE HONEST. Tell your customers who you are and follow through with actions that prove your company is trustworthy. In branding, that means more than just delivering your product or service as described. Use language that makes sense for your brand and is consistent with who you are. Don't shy away from or worse still, try to cover up bad news that goes viral. If it's the truth, own up to it, take corrective action, and make sure everyone knows they can count on you to stand tall. Your ego may be bruised but your company can survive and even thrive after a non-fatal fall.
DO GOOD. As a brand, find every opportunity to highlight your benefit to your customer. Build solid relationships with a win/win mentality: your customers win by experiencing your service or product which in turn brings in revenue or broadens your network, etc. Think of these wins as building equity in your company-client relationships that will return more wins to you down the road.
BE DILIGENT. Spend quality-focused time on your branding regularly. You won't always get it right but the dedication and effort will show. Branding is your presentation to your customers. Make those presentations customer-centric, spotlighting how your product or service will solve their problems, return ROI, etc., from their perspective.
BE CONSISTENT. This may be the most important item of all. Whatever your brand is, reinforce it each and every time. Don't get lazy, don't take short cuts, and don’t be neurotic (unless that's your brand). Be the rock in the river and they'll remember you. That doesn’t mean don’t innovate; rather make sure your new message resonates with the customer and builds upon the good foundation you have already laid.
Take all of these rules into consideration, dive into your favorite search engine, and start researching the branding of companies you admire as well as your competitors. How do they measure up? Evaluate their strengths and weakness, then go through the exercise of defining your brand on paper. Come up with a strategy and then plan against that. Once that's done, apply your brand to every communication you have with your customers. Do more than just sell to them. Go out and engage them actively. Make them evangelists of your brand and you’ll covert others.
A parting gift -- good online resources for researching branding:
Advertising Age - www.adage.com Want to see what the big brands are doing? This is a great place.
FWA - www.thefwa.com Website focused awards page that's been around forever. Cool stuff goes here.
Harvard Business Review – http://www.hbr.org Some of the best writing on pretty much anything business, HBR has covered branding very well now and then.