What does your brand image say about your business?
In today’s crowded business environment it’s no longer enough to market your business, you need to be actively “branding” as well. The question is, what is branding, and why is it so important?
Creating a brand for your business is a long, focused process and it doesn’t stop when your brand is recognizable. In fact, the best brands with the most longevity are constantly changing and evolving to suit the needs of the market. Building a brand image that will grow with your business is challenging, to say the least, but it can be done with a little creativity and a lot of pre-planning.
Below are several absolutely crucial steps in creating a brand that will last the life of your company, and maybe even longer (if you do it right!)
Start With an Umbrella
That is, a branding umbrella. The hardest and most critical part of branding are the first few weeks and months when you really decide what your brand’s going to be. Here’s where it’s important to think extremely “big picture” and create a brand that you could see representing the company if you grew from a single brick-and-mortar location to a network of global outposts. In essence, you want to create a brand image your company can grow into.
The logo is an important part of branding as is your company name itself. You should put thought into a tagline (do you need a tagline?) and into the color scheme you’ll use. Choose visual representations that are relatively easy to reproduce, read, and recognize and are more professional than they think you need to be. A few years down the road, your business will thank you.
Specify Who You’re Branding To
The next step (which sometimes begins before the initial branding phase is completed) is deciding who your brand is speaking to. Obviously you want your brand to be as global as possible but you’re always going to be more widely accepted in some spheres than others. For example, if your brand has a witty tagline and an all-lowercase logo you’re likely going to appeal more to a younger, hipper demographic. Consider the brands you like and those that seem to have headway in the markets you’re aiming for.
It’s important at this step to consider not only your current customers, but the customers that you think you’ll want to go after in the future. Maybe you’re not planning on marketing specifically to women now, but if you decide to in the future, is your brand female-friendly? Think of these things before they become an issue.
Clearly Define Your Brand Voice
Every brand has a voice. The brand “voice” of Taco Bell, for example, is irreverent, humorous, and decidedly unserious. The New York Times brand, however, is staunch, professional, and trustworthy. Consider the ways you want your brand to be perceived by clients and the general market then figure out how you’re going to portray those attributes through your brand voice. Maybe you want your brand to feel welcoming, casual, and warm. Descriptive words like these will help you figure out the fine nuances of your brand itself.
Brand voice comes in when you actually start presenting your brand to the public. Every single time your brand meets and interacts with people it’s speaking the brand “voice,” from a Facebook status update to a sponsorship of a local 5K. Your brand voice should always match the core ideals you and the marketing team decided the brand stood for early on to avoid muddying the waters.
Decide Where Your Brand Lives
Now’s the time for marketing to really ramp up. Your brand isn’t an island – it’s only going to create buzz or make impressions if it’s out there, doing things. So, what can a brand do? It can head numerous social media accounts, star in commercials, be featured in radio ads, or be represented by people handing out samples at a fair. Deciding which places it’s most beneficial for your brand to have a presence in is the hard part.
Where your brand lives has a lot to do with where your target market hangs out. For example, if your brand is aimed at young moms, Pinterest, daytime TV commercial spots, and coupons are great places to be. Media buying and advertising are, of course, functions of the marketing department but these activities do not happen independently from the function of branding! To maintain a focused, clear brand it’s crucial that all elements of your marketing and branding campaigns be in sync.
Always, Always Stay “On Brand”
One of the worst things you can do to your brand if you want to create something that’s got staying power is to send mixed messages to the public. The strongest, most identifiable brands never, ever waver from their brand voice even if it means facing potential blow-back from doing so. For example, Chick-fil-a recently went through a very public turmoil when the brand’s anti-gay marriage views were shoved into the spotlight. Though the brand took knocks from those who were opposed to the message, its core audience appreciated and applauded the brand staying true to its traditional voice.
One way to ensure the brand stays on target is to only allow a few key people to be involved in brand messaging. This includes everything from creating ad campaigns to talking to customers on social media. The more focused and intertwined you can make your companies marketing and public relations efforts, the stronger the brand image is going to be, for better or for worse.
Continually Take the Pulse of the Brand
As discussed, your brand does not function in a vacuum. It’s true that sometimes it’s “hard to see the forest for the trees.” It’s absolutely essential to consistently check up on the progress of your brand and to find out what your target market as well as the general public think of your brand as a whole. Never, ever assume you know how your brand’s being perceived. It’s impossible to be objective about your branding efforts when you’re so entrenched.
Focus groups (proctored by a neutral party) are a great way to get a feeling for what people think about your brand. It’s also smart to hand out in-store surveys or to ask online visitors to tell you how you’re doing. In general, any feedback is worth having, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Learning something new about the way your brand’s being viewed is how you make changes to the brand that keep it strong.
Reevaluate Every Few Years
Some brands have been around for decades, even centuries, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed at all. In fact, all brands periodically make changes, some visible, some not so much, that attempt to shore up the brand’s loyal fan base while bringing in a large contingent of new followers. Look back 30 years, for example, at the Apple brand’s constant reinvention. Not only has the brand’s logo changed, the brand itself has taken on different characteristics to appeal to different groups.
Don’t be afraid of change. The good brands are always the most flexible and the more you stay on top of how your brand’s messaging is being received the easier it is to make small tweaks rather than earth-shattering changes. Never make changes to the brand image or the brand voice without first doing a lot of research about what’s going on now and what’s likely going to happen in the future in your industry.
Branding is half art, half science, and it’s become inextricably linked with a solid marketing campaign. Branding isn’t something you have, it’s something you do, time and time again. In fact, branding never stops as long as the doors are open!
Depending on the size of your business, it’s always a decent idea to bring in some outside help when needed. Branding consultants are available all over the country and there are plenty of branding firms that will take over the entire process for you. A word of caution, however, is to make sure plenty of the in-house team is also involved in the branding process to ensure the brand never gets too far from the actuality of the company.
If you’re not sure if branding is really necessary just ask Coca Cola, Hershey, and Google. Companies simply can’t exist without a brand; whether you like it or not, your business is going to have one. The trick is defining your brand for your business before someone else does.
What does your brand image say about your business?
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