What is a Brand, Exactly?
Do you believe that today’s marketing world has changed due to the dizzying pace of our shared digital realm and the fast and fickle nature of consumer attention spans?
That may be a bit of a trick question, and here’s why: Nothing has changed about the way we interact and digest information – especially promotional material – in the past 100+ years. It just seems that everything is so quickened these days because our technology has now caught up to our idiosyncrasies.
Perhaps the most exemplary proof of this truth in the marketing world is Branding. The strategy has been around for quite a long time. Ever heard of the beer Stella Artois? The company was founded in 1366 and created its first logo for promoting the brand in the same year.
With the advent of television, and the fact that it didn’t take long for them to establish firm residence in just about every household in America, Branding quickly became even more popular; and for marketers it was a necessity. But why was Branding so important, and why did it work so well with consumers?
The simplest reason is because Branding hastens consumers’ shopping process. Before the deluge of branded promotional marketing we see today, marketing was more of a brute-force and dragnet type of effort to gain visibility and impress customers. Getting catalogs into mailboxes, offering free samples, enticement and persuasion of the senses and even door-to-door salesmen were hallmarks of the marketing industry.
It was a tall task to influence consumers quickly and motivate decisions. Furthermore, it was easier before branding for a customer to drift from product to product or service to service without ever establishing any sort of muscle memory or loyalty to one particular company.
Branding changed all of that. Companies realized that, with an attractive, well designed Brand, they could quickly and easily stand out among competitors and vie for that coveted position of number one Name Brand. As Branding became a staple of marketing, customers embraced the subtle nuance of being able to quickly and easily distinguish products and services by Brand and establish memorable ties to their favorites.
So, even though today’s Gigabit internet speeds and powerhouse computing in our pockets often gets blamed for our hurried lifestyles; the truth is that we have always wanted things quick, easy and hassle free. And that’s what Branding accomplishes at its core foundation.
However, just because you have a Brand doesn’t mean it will do everything you want it to do for your company. You have to Build Your Brand first, and build it well. How do we do that? I’m glad you asked.
Brand Building Basics
You already have a business plan and a company just waiting to capture the hearts and minds of new patrons. Your first step is already out of the way! The next step before your marketing plans come to fruition is to build your Brand.
While there are quite a few tasks ahead to flesh out a fully realized, successful Brand, there are just a few key components to bear in mind as you get going.
Firstly, remember the function of a Brand. You want to stand out, establish loyalty and impress upon your customers memorable experiences and make it easy for them to distinguish your Brand as the superior choice in your industry.
Next, you’ll want to prepare for a lot of outlining, brainstorming, team-building and general business blueprinting. The stuff you put down on paper in the planning phase will eventually become the very lifeblood and framework of your company – often quite permanently. Plan wisely.
Finally, get honest and righteous about your goals, mission statements and guidelines you intend to keep and enforce as you conduct business through your Brand. Wavering on any of your ingrained promises to the public will doom your Brand for good. Your company, your Brand and your audience may evolve over time and that’s okay – just make sure your rules remain stalwart.
How to Build Your New Brand
We’ve covered some basics to keep in mind while building your Brand, but there is more to do! Let’s jump right in and take a brief look at some of the most important steps.
Before you can launch a successful Brand, (or any type of marketing) you’ll need to determine your audience. You can start with broad strokes and hone things down gradually. Eventually you should have a few different segments that help define niche areas of your industry and develop more specific strategies for various types of potential customers.
Developing ‘personas’ for your typical targets is a fantastic strategy both in the early planning phases and later on once you’re off and running. Creating these personas is a good brainstorming process to get things started, especially in meetings with your core leadership and marketing teams. By creating imaginary clients and pinpointing your desired demographics, you can start to grasp more realistic visibility of your audience.
Once you’ve got a target audience in place, it’s a good idea to start shifting gears toward the background basics of your company and its mission. A well-rounded mission will include your company’s mission statement, any business mottos you may have and your overall business goals.
Think carefully and honestly about your company’s Mission, as it will tie into your business as you build it, eventually taking root as an integral part of your Brand. Keep things simple, tenable and flexible as you build out your Mission. Remember that you may need to adapt to lots of changes in the years to come, but you never want to go back against the virtues of your origins.
At this phase of the process, it’s time for an exercise in good old fashion information gathering. You will want to start learning everything you can about your industry, the markets it serves, how your competitors and audiences engage and hypothesize a realistic view of how your business and your Brand will operate in the space you’ve chosen.
There’s no hard and fast rule to govern how much of your time this will take, as it varies widely for everyone. However, you should consider the Research phase a crucial investment worth your due diligence. If you have enough people and the right coordination, you could (and probably should) continue researching throughout the entire Brand building process, thereby allowing you to tweak and evolve along the way with more precision.
You’re now approaching the halfway mark of your Brand Building process and the real fun is about to begin! It’s time to start looking at what everyone else is doing in your marketing space – that is – watching your competitors. You can’t hope to build a successful Brand without conducting as much competitor analysis as you can.
There are myriad methods by which you can gather data about what your competitors are doing (and how successful they are in their endeavors), and tons of resources on the subject exist on the web. Some good, tried-and-true examples include:
- Determine the competitors’ service areas and overall reach
- Notate any direct overlaps between competitor audiences and your own
- Look at competitor websites, how well they rank in search engines
- Check competitor portfolios, read testimonials and review case studies
- Read the information they’re publishing in press releases and news articles
- Peruse their blog articles if they have them, learn about their reader base
- Search for white papers, web presentations, podcasts and buyers guides
- If they are e-commerce, find out where they sell products online
- Look for as much customer feedback and reviews about them as you can find
It’s a good idea to document your competitor analysis processes here, because this is one step you should continue as an ongoing role for your marketing team throughout the life of your business. Create templates, guides, standard operating procedures and stay up to date on the latest best practices and strategies for competitive visibility as your company grows.
We have now arrived at the point where you should begin to sculpt your Brand identity. As with any competitive marketing pursuit, you will need to master the art of Standing Out. You cannot hope to rise through the crowded masses of any industry without a unique offering, originality in your marketing messages and a Brand that defines your business and sets you apart from the rest.
You’ll want to invest plenty of time fleshing out your Brand ideals and the uniqueness of your business model and its products or services. A great way to start is by thoroughly answering the question “Why should our customers choose us?”
You may find yourself conducting quite a bit of research during this phase as well (which is certainly well worth your time) simply for the purpose of ruling out ideas that are too similar to those already in existence. By empowering your business with strong uniqueness and originality, your Brand will yield rewards such as greater customer attraction and engagement.
Not only could you garner greater success with your audience, but with proper identity building, you may even find that competitors being copying your ideas and strategies. And as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Keep that up, and all those copycats will likely help you even more by indirectly reaffirming to your client base that your Brand is a winner.
By now, you should have a strong and comprehensive framework laid out for your Brand and your business strategies. You’ve been in the trenches, pored over tons of data, rolled your sleeves up and gotten down to the nitty gritty. So it’s time for a little creative outlet.
This phase is where you’ll finally start to craft the bond between your Brand and your audience through clever Design themes. This usually includes creating a Brand logo, color schemes, stylized marketing materials, interior design for your business (if clients are invited on-site), slogans and maybe even a company mascot.
This step is one of the more fun and appealing parts of the Brand Building process and it’s best to involve as much of your team as possible. Not only is Branding Design an imaginative and inventive process, it is a superb team building exercise. Plus, more input with more original innovation will go a long way in developing inspired and prolific designs for your Brand.
Everyone has, at one time or another, heard the old idiom “it builds Character”, usually in reference to something difficult or arduous, yet personally fulfilling and rewarding. In this phase, we are building your Brand’s Character. Much like the old idiom, it could indeed prove to be a tough task but will yield invaluable rewards for your company if developed effectively.
I’d be remiss in telling you that this is the single most important step of the process, as the reality remains that all of the components are equally imperative to strong Brand Building. However, you should consider the Character building process a keystone of sorts as it can potentially make or break your successes in the long run.
Think of your company’s Character less as a persona and more as a fluid set of standards and virtues to which you will commit to adhere with strong permanence. Also bear in mind that simplicity works best in this scenario, as you will likely build Character traits as your company grows and your customers engage with you. Don’t overextend trying to represent a slew of different ideals, as it is widely known that “you can’t please everyone”. You would soon find yourself overwhelmed otherwise.
Once your company’s Brand Design and Character building is well underway, it’s time to ramp up towards the blueprints that will eventually become your company’s marketing standards and strategies. Creating the Brand Messaging involves compiling all of your previous Branding work into the promotional material for your marketing outreach.
Your message should include components of your Brand’s design, character, mission, uniqueness and of course your products and services. You’ll also apply what you learned in your research and competitive analysis phases and distribute it according to your findings in the ‘Audience’ phase.
While it is best to remain consistent and stalwart, adhering to your Brand’s tenets, your messaging doesn’t always have to be anchored to your Brand in the same way as your Mission and Character should be. This means you can be more flexible, test and revise your tactics and evolve with the ever changing industry dynamics and marketing best practices that may arise along the way.
Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? You may not be an ex-mercenary tactician of A-Team lore, but you’ll certainly want to tie all of your Brand building efforts together as though you were on the most important mission of your career. That’s exactly what this step is all about.
You have worked hard thus far to build a Brand destined for success, and your company is poised to pursue those precious profits. It’s time to put all the pieces together and design a fully completed business Branding marketing model. Through this process, you are outlining all the ins and outs of how your Brand works, both internally and externally.
You will infuse your Design, Character, Mission, Messaging and analytical data together wherever they should be connected. This is also a time for discovering any missing gaps in your process, revising any components that don’t quite fit and learning what parts of your Brand work well with others, and which parts might need tweaking to get the best fit.
We’ve come to the pre-launch phase now, and it’s time to determine your marketing Channels. With your Brand ready to make its debut and your marketing materials primed for promotion, it’s time to sit down with your marketing team and all of that juicy data you collected during the Audience, Research and Competition phases.
Remember, figuring out your marketing channels doesn’t just answer “where” to promote your Brand, but also “when” and “how”. Choosing where to market should actually be the easiest part, although you might want to conduct some intensive searching to find undiscovered channels that you (and hopefully your competitors) may not have thought about before.
Choosing when to market your Brand is also a crucial factor in outlining your Channels. Is your audience full of night owls or early birds? Are there any seasonal or holiday advantages you could leverage? Are your competitors missing out particular timings and leaving money on the table for you to pick up? Answering questions like these will help you refine your channel targeting.
Finally, the how of your channel choosing process may be restricted by budget, manpower, assets, technology and many other factors. You may opt to choose marketing methods that are ‘no-brainers’ at the outset.
Here we are at the launch pad, at long last! You’re ready to launch your Brand. You’ve done an awesome job Building your Brand and it’s time to Promote. You’ve got everything in place, and now your channels are well defined. All that’s left to do is put your Brand, your stunning logo, your virtuous mission, the engaging message and superior products and services in front of as many people as possible. But it doesn’t stop at putting your Brand in front of people.
You could start putting your Brand right in their hands! But maybe we’ll save that for another article.
Of course, the nature of Brand building is inherently dynamic and incredibly fluid. No single strategy or process represents a ‘turnkey’ system, especially if you really want to tackle the uniqueness and character building aspects of Brand building. Consider these steps as core guidelines to help you on your way, or reach out for tailored Brand Building Help and get some expert coaching.