In this new era of business where everything is centred around productivity and instant gratification, it seems easy to see why branding should take a backseat. After all, why should businesses focus on branding when there are a million other things that they can focus on? Sales for example.
Think of some immediate actions a company will take to increase profits. Investing in IT, hiring more staff or blasting numerous ads might be some obvious solutions. Work hard and work smart.
How about taking on a branding project?
Not so much, wouldn’t you think so?
It is a known fact that branding takes time for the effects to be seen. And more than that, branding is expensive. Surely something that is expensive and takes a long time to materialise must be a ‘good to have’ for the business instead of a ‘must have’?
To answer this, we first need to understand what is branding.
What is branding?
Branding is about creating an identity. It is what sets one company apart from another. It tells us what we can expect from that company and what perception people will have about the company. The brand sets the direction, the positioning and the goal of the company. Without a brand identity, the company is akin to a ship sailing in open waters with no destination in mind. Doing so will result in the ship sailing wherever it deems fit and if a huge wave or another ship were to come along, you won’t know how to respond or why you should even respond in the first place.
Your brand is the sum of all individual components that makes the company work: logo, packaging, colours, customer service, reputation, pricing strategy, etc. Every single touchpoint communicates a message; every single message tells a story about your brand.
Branding is what creates customer loyalty, it is what keeps customers loyal and buying repeatedly. Branding is what helps a prospective customer think of your company when it comes to purchase decision. When all the prices are the same, it is the brand that is the deciding factor.
Because every single touchpoint is an area where the brand is showcased and is a potential way to alter the brand image, it then means that altering a company’s brand doesn’t necessarily have to be costly. For instance, it isn’t expensive to greet to a customer but yet it strengthens the brand image. They key here is not so much in what a company is doing but how the company is doing it and if it sends a consistent message.
Why should small businesses care?
The challenge for small businesses is to get customers to think of them when they have to make a purchase decision. However, in a world of infinite choices, it is easy to be lost in customer’s mind. When customers see a list of competing companies, you will want your company to be associated with positive factors that make it stand out, and branding does exactly that.
Once a company starts running, every action and behaviour will affect its brand image. A danger that a start-up might run into happens when it does not allocate sufficient effort into branding and when situations call for branding to become the deciding factor, it is too late or too difficult to change. First impression counts and image takes time to build. Once it is built, and built wrongly, changing the image becomes a huge hurdle. However this is not to say that branding is a replacement for sales and other marketing campaigns but that it reinforces sales and marketing efforts. More than that, it also reinforces internal operations and HR efforts because branding is a representation of the company. Once you can figure out who you are, everything else comes easily. The brand guides the rest of the actions needed. When all the actions are consistent, this creates a consistent image in the minds of consumers.
So how do I get started?
The first step to create a brand is to understand the purpose of the organisation. There might be many out there that are doing the same things you do, but why are you doing this? It could be an emotional reason or a desire to make a change or to add value to the community. Whatever it is, there needs to be a reason. If there isn’t one, it might be good to think about what would give the company significance.
Then you need to define what sets you apart from others and how you are different. In what way is your company different from others and what is the main promise to customers? If there are a few things that customers can count on the company for, what would these things be?
From there you can understand the positioning of your company – how your company stands in a market with others. Then finally, identity your main target market that you are trying to reach out to. Don’t try to win the whole world, it will never work. Identity who the company wants to be associated with (internally and externally) and craft the marketing plan along with all other operational plans based on this strategy. Remember, the keyword here is consistency.