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Branding: Creating and Maintaining Your Company's Image



Make no mistake. The process of developing, implementing, and maintaining a brand is a full-time job and an important one for the success of your business. "Branding" means a great deal more than simply choosing a name for your company or service. When you brand your business you create an emotional connection with your clients and customers. You must be prepared to literally live the brand in order to preserve the reputation that is its life blood. The process doesn't occur over night and may require the sacrifice of short-term profits to cultivate. In the long-term, however, the highest market share and profitability accrue to brands that consistently deliver core benefits with which customers emotionally connect.

Major Factors in Building Successful Brands

Seven main factors are involved in building a successful brand:

Quality - If your customers know that your brand will consistently deliver benefits and services, they will respond to that positive reputation. Athletic shoes that fall apart when they get wet won't sell. Shoes that can stand up to any condition and have added benefits like style and a good price will sell.

Positioning - To a large degree positioning is a matter of customer perception and refers to the niche the brand occupies not just in the market but in the minds of the customer. Positioning is achieved through a combination of name, image, service standards, guarantees, packaging, and method of delivery.

Repositioning - Repositioning is an aspect of brand management and refers to changes in a brand's presentation relative to a change in consumers' taste or the maturing of an audience. Entertainers, for instance, must reposition themselves as they grow older. A teenage idol can't play to teenagers forever.

Communications - As an aspect of marketing, brand communication refers to the tailoring of all aspects of the company's promotional mix toward creating and sustaining customer perceptions. This includes creating awareness, developing personality, and constantly reinforcing these images.

First mover Advantage - In terms of brand development the phrase "first-mover advantage" refers to the advantage of defining the market. The first successful brand in a market creates a clear position in the minds of the target audience before the competition comes into play. Brands that have literally defined markets include Gillette razors and Coca Cola.

Long term Perspective - This is a mindset the business owner must develop. You must be as loyal to your brand as you wish your customers and clients to be. Good branding takes time but in the long run is one of the strongest assets you will ever have.

Internal Marketing - Each individual who is involved in your business must clearly understand the brand's basic values and the manner in which it is positioned in the market. This is especially true of service industries. Think about your favorite restaurant or motel brand and the things that set the service in these establishments apart from the competition. You can bet those companies have invested heavily in staff training to ensure the maintenance of their service standards.

Ten Tips to Achieve Strong Branding

In order to develop, cultivate, and nurture your brand, there are definite actions and qualities on which you must focus.

Never lose sight of what it is that your business seeks to achieve for your customers. Focus on that benefit(s) and your means of delivering it.

Own your brand. Of course you must pay attention to what customers need and want, but don't sway with every breeze that comes along. You control what you want your brand to mean.

You can't fake honesty. You must believe in your own brand. If you don't have faith in what you do or sell, you can't expect your customers to believe in you either.

Keep it simple. Find out what you can do well for your target audience and concentrate on doing it.

Be thorough. Constantly examine the internal systems and processes that support your brand and don't be afraid to make necessary adjustments.

Be consistent across all your services and products. Never leave your customers wondering if you do a thing well. Do everything well.

Keep your employees involved. Everyone connected with your business must fully understand and support the brand. There's no substitute for dedicated, enthusiastic employees with a commitment to seeing the company succeed.

Pay attention to your communications strategy. Every advertisement, brochure, letter, and business card handed out should reinforce your company's core message and image.

Set standards of performance and service and then work as hard as you can to not just meet them, but surpass them. A good reputation speaks for itself. A bad reputation is almost impossible to live down.

Actively manage your brand by being aware of what the competition is doing and monitoring changes in your target audience. Remember, sometimes it is necessary to re-position a brand to keep your client base.

Branding Checklist

As you work on developing your branding, ask yourself the following questions:

What are your company's values?
What is the target audience you hope to reach?
What are the good and bad qualities associated with your company and your products or services?
What are the practical benefits customers can expect from your company and your products or services?
How can you portray those benefits so as to create a positive emotional reaction from potential clients and customers?
What does your brand promise and how can you make good on that promise?
What can you do to generate trust in your relationship with your clients and customers?
What is your brand's personality and how can it be better tailored to reach your target audience?

Don't Forget to Keep an Eye on the Competition

It always pays to know what the other guy is doing. Make it a habit to study your competition.

What strategy does the competition use in their branding efforts?
How do consumers perceive the competition?
What are your competitor's strengths and weaknesses?

When you can answer those questions, turn the mirror around and re-examine your own branding program. How do consumers perceive you? What are your company's strengths and weaknesses? Determining and improving your competitive advantage is a major aspect of successful branding. Build a strong institutional culture within your own operation and develop a closely focused business strategy that capitalizes on your:

strengths

a solid program of communications
consistent presentation of your brand's personality and image
an understanding of your customers needs and values

Above all, be prepared to live up to the brand you create. Good intentions won't get the job done. Keep your promises or better yet, exceed them. Top-ranked brands deliver consistent quality and actively cultivate customer satisfaction. In the long-term, there's no better strategic asset.

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