When you think of the word “branding,” what comes to mind? Maybe you think of logos you associate with a popular company, such as two golden arches that create an “M” or a curved check mark widely known as a “swoosh.” If you guessed McDonald’s and Nike, you’re correct! Despite surface-level understanding of how powerful and recognizable large brands like McDonalds and Nike have become, branding goes far beyond logos and color combinations, and it’s just as important for smaller companies to prioritize their branding as it is for companies as big as Nike.
In this article, we cover what branding is, how to establish a strong brand for your company, why it’s important and more.
A Brief History Of Branding
Branding goes as far back as the 1500s and has gone through many transformations since its inception. It was first introduced when villagers needed to indicate ownership of their livestock; cattle were marked with burned wood in distinctive symbols representing their owner. Fast forward to the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries when we see the birth of the trademark, which consists of words, phrases, designs and colors that were legally registered as representing a company.
In the mid-2oth century, brands began taking extra measures to look and feel different from their competitors by including an emotional angle to their marketing strategies. Now, basic branding is a must for every company. However, pushing the envelope and standing out from the rest is more difficult than ever before and branding plays a huge role in businesses’ success and how consumers shop. Read more about the brief history of branding here.
What Is Branding?
Since its beginning, branding has been about standing out or expressing ownership. It’s grown to represent more than just a product, but the overall essence of a company and the story behind it. Branding creates a feeling for consumers who shop with your business and use your products or services. Its foundation is storytelling and a promise to your customers that what they receive from you is and always will be a reflection of your promise to them. This is what makes your company memorable and desired by consumers.
Your brand reflects all aspects of your business from its customer service to marketing materials and the quality of its services or products. For example, what do we know about Nike’s branding? We know they dominate their industry and their logo is easily identified. If you dig a little further, you’ll find that Nike’s mission is to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.” The asterisk says “if you have a body, you are an athlete.”
Nike is trusted by consumers, and although their products are great quality and have been around for years, their success is not because they are the best or the first. Instead, it is because they have branded themselves as a persona that resonates with consumers on an emotional level. They’ve built a community that millions of love to be a part of.
Nike is an outstanding example of great branding for a large company, but it’s undeniably important to establish your brand no matter what size your company is. In the beginning stages, a cohesive look and feel signals that your company is attention worthy. Building a customer base is crucial and must happen before you develop a strong reputation.
How To Establish Your Brand
So, how do you get started? First, it will be useful to label your brand type. Read about the different types of brands here. Entrepreneur also offers some tips for defining your brand that start with answering these questions:
- What is your company’s mission?
- What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
- What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
- What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?
You’ll have to conduct thorough research to understand what your customers’ needs and desires are. Knowing your current and potential audiences will require market research for trends within a demographic, a close look at your business’s analytics to date and knowing your competition.
When you’ve answered the most important questions pertaining to your brand, you can begin to research what visual elements best represent it. For instance, choosing the color or colors associated with your brand is highly important. Colors have psychological effects on consumers. Take red for example, which is known to be associated with love, power, energy, anger and danger. In marketing, it’s often linked to clearance sales or fast-food restaurants. McDonalds, Burger King, Chik-fil-A, Arby’s and Jack in the Box are a few of many fast-food restaurants with bright red branding, probably due to its ability to grab attention and promote feelings of excitement and energy.
It’s important to consider what feelings you want to elicit from consumers as well as what will represent your company best. Color isn’t the only element that matters. Developing a logo that is true to your brand is essential. You’ll want something that’s simple, clever and memorable.
When you begin creating marketing materials such as social media templates, advertisements, website pages and email signatures, your logo should be present. What key messages are you trying to convey about your brand? Make sure your visual elements embody that. You can’t control how your brand is perceived, but you can exude professionalism and cohesiveness with consistent and intentional branding.
Optics aside, voice is equally important in creating your brand. Whether you have a storefront or operate entirely online, how you present yourself to customers, clients, the media or anyone you communicate with in relation to your company must also represent your brand in a positive way. Do you want your brand to be friendly? Are you trying to present your company as a formal and professional one? Depending on which goal you’re trying to achieve, you can develop a voice – a way of communicating – for your brand. Articles for a friendly brand can be written from a very personal perspective. Instead of presenting the brand first, these articles can take the point of view of those behind the brand. The way you answer phone calls or the signature at the end of your emails should represent the same voice. The same goes for the tweets you send or Facebook posts you publish.
Why Is Branding Important?
All the elements of your branding: your mission, your color scheme, your voice and other qualities integrated into every aspect of your company create its personality. But what is it all for exactly? An article from Hubspot shares that: “Branding can be the deciding factor for consumers when they make a purchase decision. In a 2015 global Nielsen survey, almost 60% of shoppers said they actively buy from brands they know, and 21% said they bought a product because they liked the brand.” The following are just a few more reasons why branding matters:
- It supports your marketing efforts! When your branding is integrated into every part of your business people become familiar with your brand – and familiarity is a huge driving factor for purchasing. According to Forbes, “If you’re advertising without solid branding, you’re missing out on a lot of great opportunities to create an effective campaign.” Even if someone isn’t immediately ready to make a purchase, cohesive branding will stay in their mind longer than if your branding is unpredictable and disorderly.
- It distinguishes your products or services from similar companies. The promise that your branding makes to consumers is something for them to better connect with or relate to in some way. If your brand is conspicuous, it is likely to be chosen over its competitors.
- It will simplify media relations. You’ll be able to have a visual style guide ready for online publications if needed. The idea here is to avoid having to explain the details about your brand and how it should be presented.
- It is great for your employees. Forbes notes that, “A company with great branding will have an easier time getting employees to feel like they’re involved with something more than just a job.” Investing in aspects of branding that keep your team motivated, such as branded merchandise or apparel, can promote a sense of unity and yield positive results in the workplace.
Now that you’ve done your research you know exactly who your target audience is and what they want, you’re familiar with your competitors and have put your unique characteristics at the forefront of your branding and marketing tactics and you’ve outlined your mission and the details of your visual branding. It’s important to reiterate the value of consistency here. If everything is not tied back to your company and reflecting your brand in a positive light, your efforts may fall flat. In addition to being consistent, Business 2 Community also suggests that flexibility will help you too. This means being open to “creative campaigns, amending tactics that no longer work, and new ideas that can continue to help you differentiate yourself from your competition.” These things will help you stay fresh and relevant in a competitive and dynamic market.
From here, as you build a customer base and execute marketing campaigns, focus on driving your community. You can target consumers who share the same values that you’ve chosen for your company. Similarly, you can find employees who do the same. Growing a community association with your brand will promote brand loyalty among your desired audience –a big indicator of long-term success.
How To Rebrand
Branding can be complicated without the right experience. In some cases, it’s possible you will need to revisit your branding for a refreshed look or a competitive advantage. After all, innovation yields profitability. Here are some tips from Three Girls’ CEO, Erika Taylor Montgomery, for how to rebrand like a professional.
- Get feedback. Talk to as many people as possible. Speak with customers, employees, partners and anyone willing to take a second to give you honest feedback. The great thing about talking to people is that everyone has an opinion, so it becomes a matter of sorting through your feedback and determining which ideas are the most important to your rebranding efforts.
- Study the enemy. You can never do too much research. Check out what other businesses are doing that is making them so successful and why. Also, think about what your business is not doing or doing wrong and how it can improve. There is nothing wrong with taking a page out of a chain’s marketing playbook, but as a small business, stay original and define yourself by those things chains cannot afford to do.
- Determine your goal. Once you have gotten your feedback and have determined which areas need new focus, clearly define the goals you want to achieve with your brand. Are you correctly targeting your core audience? Does your name, logo, collateral and website reflect that?
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is not a time to be coy. If you are going to make a change to your business, keep all communication channels open. Make sure your new brand is clearly and effectively communicated to all parties, internal and external. This includes current clients, potential clients and colleagues. Communication is verbal (how you present and talk about your business) as well as visual (logo, collateral and website) and should be carried through your entire online presence, including social media.
Similar to starting your brand from scratch, you need to do thorough research about your customers’ perceptions of your company, know the market you’re involved in and know your goals to accomplish a successful rebrand.
Don’t underestimate the power of branding! No matter how small your company is, your branding is the foundation of your business. Developing your identity as a company and staying true to it will position you well in a market that is more saturated than ever before.
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