We’re not going to lie to you, branding is illusive. Perhaps that is why we love it so much. Achieving “brand recognition” is the sign that your company has truly arrived. Getting to that point is not as easy as one would think. While there are plenty of tips and tricks to get you there, perhaps the most difficult element of branding is knowing exactly who you are, what you offer, and how you plan to offer it. Any inconsistencies in this trifecta and it will be virtually impossible to develop a brand.
What is a brand anyway?
Well, in boring terms, “A brand is a ‘Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers’.” That’s the technical definition straight off the American Marketing Association website. But, in our minds, a brand goes much deeper, more mysteriously and more to the heart than that.
Fill in the blanks:
“Like a good neighbor, _______ ________ is theeeeeere.”
” _____________: Eat Fresh.”
“__________: The breakfast of champions”
These are slogans for famous brands: an insurance company, a grocery store chain, and a cereal. Odds are, you were able to fill in the blanks on at least one if not all three. When you filled in those blanks, your mind was filled with images and connotations associated with the entities. Perhaps State Farm conjures images of red-white-and-blue, or a feeling of a reliable grandfather figure. Subway conjures up visions of endless sandwich possibilities (and fast food alternatives), while Wheaties will put you in mind of bright orange and your favorite athlete of the week. The fact that one slogan, or company name, can conjure images, feelings, and associations is proof of what good branding can accomplish.
The process of branding serves your customers (and you, of course) because it:
- Cultivates a trustworthy and reliable image
- Makes the purchase process easier – consumers know what to expect
- Entails the sense that you’re on the consumer’s side
- Sets you apart from your competitors
We Love the Idea of Having a Strong Brand Presence – But We’re Small.
We’ll start by reminding you almost every huge chain started out as a small company. However, the reality is that most small businesses aren’t going to be Fortune 500 players. Even so, that doesn’t mean you should give up the dream of a brand. Your brand will still set you apart, and the more you do to strengthen your brand, the more you will increase your sales because you become the default business of choice in your market.
In order to develop your brand you want to:
Know who you are. This is so vital to the branding process and yet it is the most complex part. You may realize you aren’t really sure who you are. Perhaps you’ve been using tactics like bottom-level prices to sell your product, even though that’s not how you see yourself. Maybe your logo was created by a cousin, and you hate it but don’t want to hurt her feelings. These are microscopic examples of the wrong way to go about branding. Get to the heart of who you are, what your long term goals are, and let your customers help you by sharing what they like most and least about your products, environment, services, marketing etc. When these aspects have been sussed out, your branding path will become more clear.
Honor who you are. Never sell out or veer from who you are to make more money. This is the epitome of inconsistency, which is the death of any brand momentum. In his article What Great Brands Do, author Alan M. Weber interviewed branding genius Scott Bedbury. He’s the guy that turned Nike and Starbucks into multi-billion dollar businesses and household names. Bedbury mentions a time when Starbucks was approached by a major liquor brand to partner on a coffee-liquor product. This branding strategy is common. Heck, Starbucks did it themselves when they got United Airlines to serve Starbucks coffee on all their flights. But, as much as the profitability was attractive, the Starbucks execs said, “No, Thank you.” Why? Bedburg says, “We just reached inside and asked ourselves, “Does this feel right?” It didn’t. It wasn’t true to who we are right now.”
Think in the long term. Branding is a long-term, cumulative series of events, actions, and decisions. It is not about making quick profits now. Your reputation takes time to build. Use that time to honor who you are, revel in what you do best, and make plans to strike out and take risks every once in a while.
That’s why we love brands. In the end, they’re all about authenticity and who doesn’t want a little more of that in the world?