In the broadest sense, your brand is the image that is conjured up in the minds of people as a result of every impression of you they receive. Everything about you, your walk, your talk, your style, as well as your company, product or service contributes to your brand. Even your competitors can influence your brand. Do you remember the famous “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” advertisements? The brilliance of those ads was demonstrated in Apple’s success at branding their competition as well as their own products. Building a strong brand is about taking control of every element that shapes people’s perceptions of you.
In marketing terms, your brand is the image you project with promotional materials, or brand representations, you craft to define your products or services in the marketplace. The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers” (Wikipedia: Brand). Effective brand representations are clear and memorable. They foster an emotional connection between your clients and you. They call to mind your company and focus your customers’ attention on the most salable characteristics of your offerings. They remind people of why they want to do business with you.
Your Name. Your most basic brand representation is your business name. Many entrepreneurs dub their businesses with their personal names followed by words or phrases that identify their products or services (Rupp Electric, Randy’s Pizza). This strategy works well if your marketplace persona is strongly reflective of your individual character or personality. It also has advantages if you depend heavily on networking and referrals to build your clientele.
If your target market is local or regional, you might consider putting your location in your name (Triangle Commercial Properties, Cary Insurance Group, Sixth Avenue Bistro). A location-based name gives you an SEO advantage with customers who do location-specific searches on the internet.
Sometimes a company will use a name that promotes a distinguishing value in its product or service (Zerorez Carpet Cleaning, Rapid Refill Ink). Names like this can be powerful if the quality imbedded in the name is memorable.
Another strategy is to incorporate a term or symbol that is popular with your target market (Heritage Financial Services, Tarheel Mortgage). This approach seeks to leverage the emotional impact of a trusted emblem to foster attachment to your brand.
A name derived from an obscure source or association (Starbucks, IKEA) is a risky choice for a small business. Establishing your brand with such a name may require an extensive marketing campaign. (Of course there are always exceptions.)
The options available for naming your business are as unlimited as your imagination. Yet choosing the right name will require intelligent thinking with reference to a comprehensive marketing strategy.
Your Logo. Your logo is a unique representation of your business identity. It might be nothing more than your name in a distinct typeface and color. It might include complementary design elements. It might contain a simple icon like the Nike swoosh or more complex artwork like the Starbucks siren. A great logo makes an instantaneous and powerful impression. It’s impact will always be memorable.
Your logo should reflect the personality of your company. Do you represent exclusive quality or value-oriented goods? Are you formal or casual? Traditional or innovative? Aggressive or analytical? Different fonts, colors, and even shapes evoke different images. Your logo should convey a credible profile of your company at it’s best. If potential clients get a different impression from your people than they got from your logo, they’ll be conflicted about doing business with you. Be true to yourself; employ a logo that your people can live up to.
Most entrepreneurs should contract the services of a commercial artist to design their logos. This does not mean that you should passively leave the whole process up to the pro. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the elements of good design. Learn what shapes and color schemes best reflect your personality. Sketch out some ideas. Then choose an artist whose portfolio matches your preferences. A strong partnership between you and your design professional will produce the most satisfying result.
A Tagline. A tagline or slogan can be a great tool for communicating your brand. A powerful one captures your company’s spirit in a concise, memorable phrase, such as GE’s “imagination at work.” As you develop your tagline, keep in mind your company’s core values and deliverables. Consider what you want your customers to do when they read the tagline. A great tagline does more than get people’s attention. It motivates them to act by emphasizing the foremost benefit they will receive from your product or service.
Location. The location of your store or office can be critical in positioning your brand, especially if you customers come to your location to do business. What is the size and layout of your space? Is it functional and clean? Does it lend itself to the image you want to project. Is access from an interior hallway or from the street? What other types of businesses are located near you? What socioeconomic and lifestyle groups frequent those businesses? It’s a good idea to hang out near the space you’re considering and to ask yourself the question, “Would my target market want to do business here?”
Pictures. Pictures are crucial to good branding. Eye-catching photographs and illustrations draw people’s attention and enhance the verbal content of your promotional materials. Sometimes sellers make the mistake of posting many pictures of their products out of context. This is usually not the best way to project the value of your offerings. Employ pictures of your products being used in attractive settings by people with satisfied looks on their faces. If your a provider of in-home services, take pictures of your people serving in homes with smiles. Make sure they look like people that potential clients would want to invite into their homes. If you provide financial or medical services in an office, take pictures of clients inside your office. Most people are nervous about going into an unfamiliar space to have their health or financial needs met. Make them more comfortable by picturing for them an inviting setting. Remember, sell the experience; sell the lifestyle.
Descriptions. Writing out descriptions of your deliverables for promotional purposes is one of the most tedious tasks of branding. Yet this task is vital because you will deploy these descriptions throughout your promotional media, on your website, in brochures, through social media, and in emails. The more time you put into crafting your descriptions, the more interest you will generate in your products or services.
Always write descriptions of your products and services from the perspective of your clients. Let your customers know that you understand their reality. Paint pictures of their desired outcomes. Include useful information that makes them want to bookmark the page or save the brochure. Don’t try to impress them with irrelevant bravado.
Make sure you explain the benefits that your customers can expect to receive from your products? Let them know why your products should be preferred over your competitors’ products.
Organize your descriptions in ways that make it easy for your customers to find the information they are looking for. Use headings and subheadings. Use bullet points to highlight key benefits of your services. Use charts to compare the features of your products favorably with the features of your competitors’ offerings. Use outtakes to generate interest in longer paragraphs.
Associations. Using associations to strategically enhance your brand is smart if done wisely. Many retail websites display the FedEx logo on their sites because they ship their products via FedEx. Others display Google Checkout or PayPal. These brands have instant recognition and add credibility to your presentations. Citing well-known experts in your industry lets clients know that you take time to know your trade. Linking your website to respected sources of information in your industry connects you to a larger community and provides a tangible service to your clients. Sponsoring charitable causes is noble and fosters good public relations. Be prepared for backlash, however, if you allow your brand to become associated with a polarizing individual or organization.
Namedropping can be useful if not overdone but can be dangerous if employed inauthentically. One eager entrepreneur quoted a famous figure as saying that his company was “on the cutting edge” of social marketing. What he didn’t say was that the famous figure had made this statement to a room full of people who had paid to attend his conference. The entrepreneur had made it sound like he had received a personal endorsement when he had not.
Testimonials. Testimonials are powerful brand boosters. You foster them by consistently delivering a quality product at a fair price. You gather them by graciously asking your clients for them. Good testimonials can be live, on video, or in writing. Many people prefer written testimonials because they can scan them quickly. Listening to video testimonials takes a bit more patience. If you use video testimonials, make them short and sweet. When possible, go over the script with your client and ask him to focus on the value he received from your product or service. Hire a videographer who can edit and enhance the video if the testimony is from a well-known, respected person and you intend to use it long term. Don’t be afraid, however, to post a quick and dirty clip you shot on your ipod. Videos like these can project an air of authenticity when distributed through social media.
Your Brand Culture. Branding is art as well as science. In promoting your brand, you are designing an irresistible culture, portraying your product as an essential element within that culture, and inviting your clients to step into a new lifestyle. Further, you are reinforcing your brand through multiple representations so that when your clients feel their needs, your solutions come to mind. The strategy works; it’s why I’m still typing away on my MacBook Pro after four years. I don’t just use a Macintosh computer; I’m a Mac guy now.
Contact me today for a free consultation regarding your brand. I have worksheets that can help you navigate the process of creating a brand from scratch, enhancing your existing brand, and deploying effective brand representations within your budget.