No Such Thing as Neutral Branding
Obvious as it may seem, many businesses continue to face challenges when it comes to branding. Why is that you ask?
A company’s brand (reputation, positioning, etc) is influenced, created, reinforced, and/or damaged (Perception or experience) through all stakeholder touch points and therefore all functions and personnel are key drivers of a brand’s standing. Often personnel, even marketing, are too busy with their daily business activities to realise that by not ‘living up to’ their brand promises, they are doing damage to their businesses. In your target market, your brand represents all the perceptions, experiences, and information connected to your company. This includes values, ideas, quality, positioning, personality, service levels, and many more. In other words, your brand both creates and reinforces, associations, and expectations. A brand, therefore, has value and that value can change.
Branding traditionally includes tangible components such as your logo, slogan, fonts, colours, collateral, stationery, signage, packaging, web site, e-mail signatures, etc. But, more significantly, it also includes intangible components such as service levels, staff attitude, skill levels, telephone etiquette, etc. which are at least as important and, depending on the offering, sometimes more important.
“Your brand is what other people say about you, when you are not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos
Even if you do nothing, your brand will suffer. There is no such thing as neutral branding. So, every time an external person interacts with a business, though any touch point, the associations, and expectations connected with the brand are either being reinforced or weakened.
Branding, and attention to branding, are super important. Life is about branding. The breakfast cereal you ate this morning, the car you drove to work, even the mobile phone you made the last call on, were not selected on a purely rational basis. They were most certainly influenced by your brand awareness of these products. To the extent that the associations and expectations connected with a brand are positive, the brand’s value increases. This brand value creates benefits for the business in the form of reduced marketing costs, increased word of mouth activity and improved client satisfaction. If the brand is being weakened due to inconsistent use, bad service levels or lack of staff training, etc. it typically results in increased marketing costs and reduced market share. You see, every time a business interacts with any external party, it is in effect investing in the value of its brand, and therefore contributing to, or weakening, the future success of the business.
“If your understanding of a brand, is restricted to that of your image then I’ve got some bad news for you.” – Ed Roach
Where do businesses start? Branding is more than a name and symbol. A good place to start is with the business’ value proposition. Determine, and capture, the nature of the services, products, features, benefits and/or innovations that are intended to make the company attractive to specific customers. Then determine how you want the company to be positioned in the minds of the customers, whether this is based on perception or interacting with your company (or both). Once you have done this, you compile the keywords that encapsulate your company’s core message Use this as the basis for the content for all communication. Then address the visual components (This includes your logo, fonts, design look and feel, marketing material, etc. even your quotes) in a similar fashion, and lastly, you align all the behavioural or human interaction aspects with your core message, value proposition and desired positioning. The company, the staff, the offerings, and the service levels must ‘live’ the brand. Achieving a consistent visual theme, content, and interaction across all mediums and touch points, always, is key. This may necessitate the user of service providers such as copywriters, graphic design companies, training specialists and even change management consultants.
Beyond just a memorable logo, good branding increases the value of a company, provides employees with direction and motivation, and makes acquiring new customers easier. It improves recognition, creates trust, supports marketing, and builds financial value. Most profitable companies, small and large, have a single thing in common. They have established themselves in a sprcific industry by building a strong, recognisable brand which consistency depicts their desired positioning.
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” – Henry Ford
Final word – stick to your branding strategy. Remember you might get bored with your brand, but your market does not.