Image may be one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in branding.

The perception of your image has marketing implications that are significant and important to the success of your business. Strongly branded organizations maximize their value through effective management of their brand and image. Companies that succeed build relationships with stakeholders that transcend products and services. The stronger your brand, the clearer the position it occupies in their minds.

What is image? Image is created –

  • Through the presentation of your company, its products and services to the market through advertising and promotions
  • Across your portrayal of your organization through your corporate communications, publicity and public relations efforts
  • By the actual package, product or service design and delivery
  • In the course of your actions with employees, community, public affairs and your customer service

Your image is basically shorthand for your brand and what your company is all about to your audiences. With all the volume of competing images, you need to have something that strikes a chord with your stakeholders in a simple, concise way. Your brand creates a belief about what your company delivers to them.

The purpose of branding is to articulate your brand’s promise – your promise to your company’s stakeholders. It is a way to differentiate your company, products and services from competitors, and to highlight a personality that is both unique and appealing. It is a multifaceted, multilayered process and discipline. It’s much more than simply marketing slogans and icons.

Well-focused and consistent attention to branding is the most effective way to compete, to rise above the noise and become a factor in your industry. It has taken on a greater significance as companies now see their brands as assets – as valuable and as tangible as their factories and patents. It’s the cornerstone upon which brand equity is built.

Managing your identity so it is an accurate reflection of your company’s image is an ongoing process. Brand management has sound disciplines that make significant differences for how well a brand is protected and presented. It means focusing on the big picture – the brand’s essence, mapping out competitors in your brand’s category, identifying new obstacles or opportunities to ensure building your brand’s value. Brand management is the ultimate protector of profit margins.

Developing and reinforcing your brand takes four steps –

Identify your brand – All the distinctive elements associated with your products and services must be identified. Why customers care or should care about what it is you offer and what makes it different from your competitors. This is the identity that you are creating for your customers.

Build your brand – After the distinctive elements are identified, it must be framed in succinct messages that people can understand and relate to. This will reinforce your brand.

Promote the brand – What good is a message if no one hears it? Your company must make a strong pledge to consistently market its products or services, and, over time, to solidify its identity in customers’ minds.

Be your brand – The message is chosen; marketing, advertising and public relations campaigns are busy promoting it. The entire organization also must be living it. There must be a direct connection between your brand and the customer’s experience – when he / she walks in your door, talks to your sales team and purchases your product or service. A strong brand identity that creates your desired image is essential for success, no matter what the size of your company.

Powerful and consistent branding has a unified look, recognizable image and concrete messages that communicate key aspects of who your company is and what it is doing.

Brand development starts with clearly defining your brand position via a unique value proposition. Your brand’s promise of value should create an emotion in a person and build value in their mind.

Positioning a brand relies on strong research surrounding your competitive landscape and your target market’s needs. You must clearly uncover and define the attitudes and preferences surrounding this need. Understanding your brand opportunities is very important. Only with clarity, will you be able to fine-tune your brand’s position to capture the best marketplace opportunity that your company can attain for its products or services.

Your brand slogan is key to your brand positioning. It should clearly define – what business your brand is in, what makes it different and why customers should value this difference and remain loyal to your products and services. It must be a strong promise of value to encourage customers to buy your brand and not go with a competitor. Your slogan must communicate your value story in a few words or phrase. A strategically positioned brand becomes known for the business it is in and its unique value.

Your brand logo intrinsically symbolizes this value. Once your brand is established and you have a well-defined and known brand position, your logo standing by itself will symbolize your unique proposition of value.

Your key messages or brand story should bring your unique value proposition to life. Your messages should make your brand name and slogan believable and easily understood by your stakeholders. Typically, it is a distinctive, one-line umbrella statement supported by few other sentences that create a picture of truth in the minds of your target audiences. Your brand story will be used in many mediums – online and offline – such as press kits, press releases, sales materials, marketing collateral, Website, blog, social media, e-mails and other communication channels.

Whatever time and effort is required to complete the evaluation of your image and brand process, it is well worth the effort. Your image, supported by your brand, is critical to your market positioning strategy and its success. The image projected must convey the competitive posture of your company. To assure that your current strategies and communications clearly reflect your company’s goals, get feedback and input from your various audiences. Do their perceptions and interpretations reflect the image you had intended?

You need to continually assess and monitor your image perception on a regular basis, identify trends and changes over time and the influence of any new efforts made to alter your image in the marketplace.

Your organization’s image is critical to your company’s long-term success. Make sure you know who all of your audiences are and how to appeal to them. Prioritize your audiences in order of need to know. Select the most appropriate means of communicating with each audience, keeping in mind key differences.

Communicating your corporate identity as envisioned by top management must begin within the organization and should involve employees in a team effort.

Deepening your brand and extending its reach takes proactive, ongoing management of your brand and image. You should put in place good planning, incorporating sound actionable strategies for enhancing and adapting your corporate image to meet your long-term goals. If you do, you will be well on your way to aligning your brand toward the image that you want others to have of your company, its products and services.