When a business starts out, its owners may focus so much on the manufacturing, sales, and legal aspects of its work that it doesn’t set itself apart from its competition by a distinctive brand. Many owners feel as if the merchandise and services themselves will set the business apart.
Rarely so. If customers cannot find the product because it cannot remember the business’s name, its logo, or other distinctive characteristics, they may become frustrated and buy another company’s product.
Before the first products hit the shelf, before the prototype design becomes reality, a business needs to have a vision for what it stands for. What its products and services will do for its customers is half the equation; the rest is the image it wants to convey to its target customers—its promise to deliver.
As the startup experts at Entrepreneur put it, “It [your brand] tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’.”
A Brand Must Reflect the Heart of the Business
A brand should reflect who the business is. Its values—its reason for being in business in the first place. It should even reflect the types of customers that it wants to attract.
For instance, is your company an innovative, tech-forward business that wants to help like-minded businesses incorporate the latest technological breakthroughs? Or, is the company a conservative, traditional one that wants to stay in business for a lifetime and beyond, due to its dependable, attentive customer service. Is it trying to corner the market in discounted merchandise or services—or is it trying to attract a more elite clientele?
Here’s a checklist of tasks to help you pin down your brand identity:
- Define your business’s mission.
- Write down the features and benefits of your services or products.
- Ask some of your customers and prospective customers what they think about your products and services.
- Write down the values do you want people to associate with your business.
The answers to the questions stated above—and what you write down on the checklist–can help you formulate your brand image. Do in-depth research as you explore what should go into your brand. Don’t assume. Ask prospective customers what they think—not what they think you want them to say.
At that point, you can nail down the company’s brand image.
Choose a Logo that Conveys the Brand’s Image
The next step, then, is to choose a logo that conveys the company’s brand image. The right logo can make or break a brand. The adage, “A picture speaks a thousand words” goes double when it’s a logo.
Look at some of the logos for famous brands before the brainstorming process ever begins. Why are they so successful at conveying their company’s brand image? When you do that, you can start to put into words what you want in a logo.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a graphic designer on staff like the big corporations do. If you plan to have promotional material—packaging, wearable gear, or even business cards—the company to whom you outsource that work usually has an on-staff designer that will work with you to convey your brand image while staying under budget.
Design a Brand Strategy to Promote the Brand
Once you have the logo hammered out, work on a brand strategy. Brand strategy is all about positioning the company’s products and services, so the right people can find them. Targeted marketing, perhaps, is a better word.
Unlike untargeted marketing, a brand strategy chooses beforehand how the company will introduce its products, advertise them, and the places and ways in which it will do so.
Stay true to the brand voice—the company image. Think about where and how the company’s target customers would most often find new products and services. Think about how they would like to receive the information.
For example, a discount firm wouldn’t find many prospective new customers by advertising in Vogue—but on an online coupon forum like Groupon—it might find pure gold.
The message, too, matters. Language and imagery that conveys high quality, pricey surroundings, and luxury accommodations would be perfect to advertise a high-end bottle of wine. For a casual beermaker, fans cheering at a rollicking football game would be a better setting for its ads.
The more targeted and consistent the branding, the stronger the image the company’s brand etches in its customers’ minds. As the brand grows in reputation, the higher price its products and services can command, provided the quality matches the brand’s promise.
Influencers can Give the Brand a Needed Bump
Later on in the process, your company may want to enlist the help of influencers. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, these persons or companies don’t have to be celebrities or otherwise well-known apart from their niche.
For example, if you’re a saddle-maker who targets the equestrian market, you’ll get a bigger bump out of a Jessica Springsteen endorsement than one from her famous musician father, Bruce. Influencers only need to be change-makers within their circles. Famous relatives not required.
Once It’s in Place, Saturate Your Business with It
Once you have your identity, your logo, and your message, make sure that every aspect of your business communicates your brand. Integrate your brand into how your employees answer the phone, your email headers and signatures, your business cards—even what you and your employees wear at work and out in public.
Create a memorable tagline that encompasses all your brand stands for. Use it on all your advertising. If you can’t come up with one on your own, jot down some ideas and get a copywriter to pull those thoughts together into a catchy line.
Stay Seen and Stay Consistent
On the web, ensure that your brand gets seen by all the right people by optimizing your website, social media, and all your online advertising for search. Local targeting helps, particularly if your business is primarily limited to your region. In online advertising, narrow down your target audience to only those demographics that lend themselves to your products or services.
Finally, stay consistent. Once you’ve settled on a brand image, stick with it. Don’t expect overnight success. Once people become familiar with it, your brand will act as a signpost to guide people into buying your goods and services.