Understanding Branding

business brandingTo develop and implement a branding strategy, you must understand what branding is and is not. Branding is often confused with marketing, advertising or even logos. But branding isn’t part of a marketing strategy, and it isn’t just your slogan. Your brand is the image of your product or service in the minds of your customers. It is “all the meanings that all your possible audiences carry around about you in their heads and in their hearts.”

John Lewis is a British department store. When they hear its name, people who are familiar with the brand associate it with “quality, service, value, partnership” and the “middle class.” Even though its customers come from a variety of backgrounds, they all distill the same meanings from the brand. The Nike swoosh also evokes a shared set of associations, including “achievement, sport…fashion, quality…high-profile sponsorships.” Nike’s brand creates an aura and personality Nike cannot achieve through its products alone.

Why Brand for your Company?

Consumers don’t base all their purchasing decisions on analyzing features and benefits. Often they rely on their emotional connection with a brand. Whether they are purchasing a car or a cup of coffee, a brand association with a set of meanings streamlines their buying decisions and turns them into repeat customers. Without a brand, your product is merely a commodity. People patronize your brand because it aligns somehow with their needs and feelings.

Connect the concept of branding with a deeper meaning by considering two brands you like. Write down five ways you find their meaning significant. Then compose a list of the meanings of your firm’s brand. Strong brands share certain traits. For instance, they are “compelling, authentic and relevant.” The members of your target market, be it a neighborhood group or a national constituency, know the brand and associate it with similar connotations. They recall its name, logo and slogan. A well-branded business doesn’t have to constantly explain itself.

Strength is not the only characteristic that determines a brand’s image. The public may widely recognize and understand your brand, but it could still evoke negative associations.

How to Analysis your brand

A analysis of your current brand can help you create the basics of a brand strategy and understand the qualities of your business that you can brand. Create a grid with four columns and eight rows. Say, for example, that you want to open a coffee house. Head each of the four columns with one aspect of that task, such as “location, style, customer type and business emphasis.” In each of the eight rows, write possible options for each heading. For instance, under location, you could include “mall, city precinct, business district, sidestreet, mobile van, college campus, village” and “seaside.” Once you complete your grid, consider all the various permutations. Determine which ones resonate with your original idea, offer new possibilities or connect to you emotionally. Decide which combination of options you want to explore further.

Your values humanize your business. However, labeling yourself as honest or reliable doesn’t mean much because such values are too broad and all businesses claim them. To define meaningful values for your brand, create a new grid of any size and write one value that matters to you in each box. Analyze each value’s applicability to your brand to see if it is “genuine,” “compelling internally,” meaningful to consumers, unique to your business and easy to communicate. Ask yourself if you “would fight to preserve this value.”

Another exercise nicknamed “the six-leg spider” will help also you better analyze your brand. Draw a circle in the middle of a large piece of paper, with six lines radiating from the center. Label and complete each line by answering these questions:

  • “Product/benefit” – What is your product or service? How does it benefit customers?
  • “Desired positioning” – How do customers perceive your brand relative to your competition’s brand?
  • “Style” – How does your brand interact and connect with your customers?
  • “Mission” – What is the purpose behind your product or service?
  • “Vision of the future” – Where do you want to be in the long term?
  • “Values” – What are your company’s values?

Once you have your brand

Remember everything you do either reinforces or negates your brand image. You interact with customers through a variety of vehicles called “touch-points,” which make people feel as if they’re having either a positive experience – thus enhancing how they react to your brand – or a negative experience, which accomplishes the reverse. Rate how well your brand performs in “general communication, online experience, packaging, branch experience, follow-up experience” and in handling complaints.

Your want your employees to become fervent supporters of your brand since they represent it, so communicating effectively with them is as important as communicating with your customers. Follow four general guidelines to encourage your team to support your firm’s brand strategy:

1. “Talk” – Reach out to employees in good faith and with enthusiasm.

2. “Listen” – Seek out and pay attention to what your employees think and feel.

3. “Empower” – Make your employees understand what your brand means to you.

4. “Respect” – Always honor your employees’ ideas and emotions.

Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.
Warren Buffett