Branding Your Business for Success
Guest Post by Sharon Wagner
The term “branding” is used to describe the way prospective customers identify your business. It’s a unique combination of images, colors, slogans, and messaging that sets you apart from your competition in a memorable way. Branding goes hand-in-hand with a comprehensive marketing strategy, and while there are some elements you can manage on your own, there are specialized areas where professional help can be a wise investment. Here are some branding best practices.
When it comes to developing a brand strategy, it’s wise to start with market research. You want to know what customers of your type of product or service identify with, and to also look at other similar businesses in the market to ensure you don’t resemble one another.
Branding is essentially a theme carried throughout everything you do and is often built around a logo design and color scheme. It’s then used on all of your marketing materials and becomes representative of your business. To give you an idea of what branding looks like in practice, think of golden arches, facial tissues, and Clydesdale horses. Can you immediately identify the companies associated with each? That’s good branding in action.
Establishing Your Brand
There’s a lot that goes into branding, including thinking about not just the image, but the attitude and perception you want to create around your company. For example, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and an upscale restaurant may both serve cheeseburgers; however, the hole-in-the-wall will not have a menu written in elegant script on parchment paper, and the fancy eatery will not have a flashing neon sign with a smiling burger bun and dancing french fries.
The same goes for the language used in branding. If you’re selling inexpensive items, terms like low-priced, cheap, and budget-friendly are your go-to buzz words; high-class verbiage would include terms like elegant, upscale, and exclusive. Branding is essentially about cultivating your business image.
Developing Your Brand
Establishing your brand is a key component of a robust and comprehensive marketing strategy. It will inform what you do in terms of website design, social media management, and design of marketing collateral including signage, business cards, packaging, and promotional materials. Ensuring everything you do meets your brand guidelines will help create a cohesive and recognizable message that will help you grow your business.
It’s smart to conduct focus groups and surveys on occasion to make sure your branding works – if customers find the brand confusing, unmemorable, or mistake you for a competitor, you may want to switch things up. Multiple marketing messages can be beneficial in this regard, especially if you’re tracking and measuring outcomes from each massage.
How Branding Professionals Can Help
Branding is a niche arm of marketing, and as such, investing in professional services to develop a brand can be a worthwhile investment. This is especially critical in the startup phase where you’re working to establish your business and firmly cement your company in a professional, cohesive, and memorable way.
Brand pros can also aid in marketing research, which will aid in developing a brand that’s representative of your business and is designed to help you reach your specific demographic. Once you have brand guidelines and essentials in place, you can share them with other marketing professionals you hire, as well as use them in DIY marketing and advertising efforts.
When to Use Other Professional Services
Even though startups operate on tight budgets, there are some high-level professional services that are worth the investment. These typically include logo and website design, technology investment, especially around creating branded social media and email marketing campaigns, and photography and videography.
Even if you simply hire pros to get you set up and operational, it can go a long way toward creating a polished and professional look that will get your business well established from an image standpoint. Consider having annual consultations with your outside counsel to ensure you’re staying on track and meeting goals and objectives, and have them help you make adjustments as needed.
Even with pro support, there are a number of branding practices you can and should become comfortable implementing yourself. For example, according to the Branding Journal, you’ll want to establish protocols for how brand standards are used in everything from your email templates to signature blocks on emails and colors and fonts in PowerPoint presentations.
If you have promotional merchandise you use at exhibitions and conferences, your booth design and give-aways should all represent your brand – keep in mind, the goal is for customers and prospective customers to remember you, to pick you out of a crowd, and for your company to establish itself as the “go-to” business of choice. Consider creating a branding guide for your business and include a brand overview as a form of employee onboarding.
When to Change Your Brand
There may be a time when you need to change your branding strategy. Perhaps you see business tapering, or people confusing you with another company. Maybe you conduct several focus groups and find that people don’t “get” the message you’re trying to convey.
According to the Consumer Financial Institute, sometimes companies find changing societal perceptions force a rebranding. Think about a well-known fast-food chicken restaurant that decided to rebrand using only the company initials as a way to combat the perception of being unhealthy by using the word “fried” in its name. Some companies rebrand after a scandal or accident as a way to create a new image.
Rebranding can be a major undertaking, and there’s a potential for losing customers. There is equity in an existing brand, so while it may need to happen, it’s not a task to be undertaken lightly.
Branding is a critical component of a winning marketing strategy that will help you attract customers, as well as top talent. It helps you set yourself apart from the competition and makes you recognizable in an often crowded marketplace. While it’s an investment to utilize pros in the process, you’re likely to find you get an exceptional return on your investment.