In today's highly competitive landscape where nearly every niche market is well saturated, carving out your share is harder than ever. Investing in the development of a strong brand is a key part of rising above the rest.
Yet, most business owners aren’t spending a lot of time thinking about branding, and if they are, those thoughts usually revolve around typical things like company name, logo, tag-lines, and other visual assets. However, the process of creating a successful brand should start long before hiring a designer or writing a design brief.
Leaving Your Mark
Successful brands emerge from a broad, strategic plan. These plans, when well executed, lead to improved brand recognition, trust, credibility, and loyalty, which in turn translate to an increase in sales and customer retention. Strong brands leave their mark by winning hearts and minds, making emotional connections and providing an experience for their customers. Truly great brands spread like wildfire making such a strong impact that customers become ambassadors or even evangelists, and take it upon themselves to spread the word to everyone around them. This is one of the most powerful forms of marketing.
Your brand is the sum-total of all your public facing efforts, resulting in how your customers perceive you. These efforts include not just your company’s aesthetic, but everything that shapes the overall customer experience. Successful brands consistently communicate their company’s culture, values, mission, messaging and aesthetic—across all touch points, wherever the customer comes in contact with the brand. This could be your website, ads, marketing emails, social media, white papers, product packaging, presentations, event materials, or something as mundane as a 404 error page or an order confirmation receipt.
From the Ground Up
Building a great brand starts by building a great company. Greatness in this case doesn’t mean hundreds of employees and billions in revenue, it means you’ve taken the time to identify your values, and you know what you stand for. These elements defining your brand should be worked into the foundational DNA of your company. This DNA should then instruct and guide the functionality, development, and growth of your company, providing strong cohesion between all customer facing efforts. What are your values as a company? Are your employees your most valuable asset? Do you run a carbon neutral business? Do you go above and beyond with customer service? Do you believe free-shipping is a basic human right? Your company values inform the company’s mission, and from there a brand strategy can be conceived. With this in hand, you and your team can confidently take the brand forward.
Know Your Audience
A branding strategy should be tailored for the market’s target audience. Stand-out brands, or even market disrupters, don’t rise above the the competition by shooting from the hip and forcing whacky ideas in the face of consumer expectations. They accomplish this by carefully recognizing and understanding consumer expectations and then working-in bold new ways to relate to their customers, that, as a result, provide exciting and meaningful experiences.
One of the best ways brands can relate to their customers is by telling a story. These stories can create strong connections making your company more human. If your company has a great story—tell it, loud and often. If not, figure out what is important to your market’s audience, how they spend their days, and make your connection there.
An ad hoc approach will not serve you well with branding. While almost all great plans benefit from adaptability, understand that branding consistency is paramount. Keeping your brand identity consistent and woven into everything you do will provide maximum impact. This may seem to be a daunting endeavor. But, if you’ve established a clear mission statement, developed helpful aids such as style-guides and voice/tone guides, and your staff is invested in your plan, then leading with your brand, across all touch points, falls nicely into place.