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When you think of your company's brand, do you think in terms of logos, stationery, and signage? If so, you're off to a great start but a brand can and should be a lot more. The best brands are not only visually recognizable but also create an instant perception in the mind of potential customers. (Some marketing experts use the term "brand image" to refer to the mental and emotional response sparked in a customer.)
In short, your brand is how customers perceive you. So how do you create an effective brand?
Building a Brand: First Steps
Instead of thinking about colors, designs, and logos, begin by considering your customers. Forget how you see your company; think about the perception you want to create. Start with the basics:
Think about it this way. For years Disney was considered a leader in family entertainment. If you as a customer wanted to find wholesome, fun, predictable entertainment, you could turn to Disney. The Disney brand was (and largely still is) family entertainment; Disney served that market.
What market do you serve? What do your customers want? What do your customers expect? How can you position yourself to meet those needs?
The answers form the basis of your brand. In many cases you'll already know the answers, especially if you have developed a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP. Your brand should reinforce that USP. Years ago the Federal Express slogan, and USP, was "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." Your USP should form an integral part of your brand.
Building a Brand: Practical Steps
Once you determine the image of your brand, it's time to extend that brand to visuals and other tangible considerations.
Especially keep in mind that the best-intentioned branding strategy will fail if you don't deliver on the promises implied within your brand. If your USP promises a certain level of service, you must deliver on that promise or the only brand you create is one of unreliability.
Maintain Your Brand
Branding is an ongoing effort. Your brand will not be established by a major marketing effort, a huge promotion, or an advertising blitz. Every customer interaction builds or tears down a brand.
Take a step back and consider your brand from a customer point of view. What are customers' first impressions when they walk in the store? How are they greeted? Do they receive the service you promise? If you position yourself as a low-cost provider, is that promise carried out?
Then look at all the physical ways your company "touches" a customer. Are logos, colors, and positioning statements consistent? Do your business cards, stationery, boxes, and even invoices and emails "feel" like they come from the same company? Every time a customer touches something from your company, you either reinforce your brand or lose the opportunity to extend your brand.
Think of your brand as one of your most important assets. A solid brand is like free advertising. If you need a tissue, do you automatically think, "I need a Kleenex?" If you have a headache do you automatically think "Tylenol"?
That's the power of a brand.
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