101: Branding Basics

By Gregg Schoenberg Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“Build your brand.” “Develop your brand strategy.” “Branding is everything.”  We’ve all heard advice along these lines when it comes to running our businesses. But what exactly does it mean, and how are we, as small-business owners with limited resources, supposed to build valuable brands?

Because there tends to be a great deal of confusion around the topic, let’s start with some basics definitions. Your brand is both a promise to your customers and a reflection of your company values. And your brand strategy represents your tactics for raising awareness of your brand. That strategy can include marketing, advertising, PR, and the like, but before spending a dime on any of that you’ve got to answer the question: What is my brand?

If you don’t know what your company’s brand is, or if you think you know but you can’t articulate it in a single sentence, then it’s time to engage in some good old-fashioned brainstorming and a bit of soul searching in order to come up with the answer. Start by gathering your most trusted colleagues in a room and asking them to join you in spending twenty or thirty minutes writing down as many answers as they can think of to the following questions.

  • What does your company stand for?
  • What is its mission?
  • What problems are you solving for your customers?
  • What images do you want people to associate with your company?
  • How do you want people to feel when they hear your company’s name?

After this exercise is complete you should have the raw materials to help define your brand. Spend as much time as you need sifting through the results and picking the winners, and engaging in more brainstorming sessions until you’ve got a clear vision for your brand, remembering that it needs to reflect who you are and what your promise to your customers is.

Once your brand concept is rock-solid, your next challenge is figuring out how to articulate that brand in a way that resonates with customers. To do this you’re going to need a few things:

  • A voice. How you speak to customers, both verbally and in printed and online materials, matters tremendously. The voice needs to reflect the brand and appeal to your core customer base, and you need to make sure that all of your customer-facing employees are able to speak and write with that common company voice.
  • A look. All of your company materials should have the same look and feel; pick a color scheme and a font family and stick with them.
  • A logo. Your logo should be everywhere, from your website to your walls, so take this job seriously and get professional help if you need it.
  • A tagline. While not every business does this, when you stop and think about some of the great corporate taglines out there, like Nike’s “Just Do It.”, you realize just how powerful a few words can be. So take the time to try and come up with a short snappy phrase that reflects who you are and what you do, you’re much more likely to leave a lasting impression on customers that way.

And most importantly you’re going to need consistency in all of the above, because it’s impossible to build a recognizable brand without a consistent message from the company that stands behind the brand.

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