An important tool that’s essential to a company’s success, branding should be given priority from the earliest days.
Not just a smart logo or a clever tagline, branding involves every part of your business. A strong brand will help you:
1. Get noticed
A relevant and attractive brand is prominent amid the increasing clutter of competition for new customers.
“When I started out in the business,” says Jez Frampton, global CEO of leading consultancy Interbrand Group, “it was estimated that people saw 3,000 advertising messages a day; now, I’d add at least a zero to that figure. When companies are launching in a virtual world rather than with a high street presence, it’s harder than ever for them to stand out and attract customers.”
Differentiating and positioning yourself as unique is vital. Consider Guinness: a unique-looking product, with advertising that highlights distinctiveness and so appeals to consumers’ individuality.
“Branding is about engaging consumers with what you really stand for and persuading them to prefer you to your competitors,” says Philip Langford, executive strategy director at brand agency bluemarlin. “A really strong brand is brought to life through a single idea which unites a ‘product truth’ with an emotional benefit for the customer.
“Choosing a product is dependent on need, so the brand must be known for the things a customer wants”
“You need to own the emotional territory so people know your product and remember it’s yours – that’s when you’ve got them,” adds Langford.
Once the brand is encapsulated, wrapping it in appropriate imagery (logo, symbols, typography and other visual architecture) feeds in. If the brand is youthful – say the mobile network giffgaff – tone and feel should match that. An organisation such as Simpson’s-in-the-Strand restaurant in London needs more formality.
2. Build strong relationships
Products come and go, but a strong brand lasts because it engenders trust. It’s essential not to lie, spin or break promises. Honesty in branding – being true to brand values – keeps customer retention high, even when others undercut on price.
“Once you’ve attracted someone and they’ve seen that your product is sufficiently valuable to buy, of course the key is to make sure they do it again,” says Tom Adams, global head of strategy at consultancy FutureBrand. “Choosing a product is dependent on need, so the brand must be known for the things a customer wants. Businesses need to be in touch with the drivers of choice as these shift continually.”
3. Spread the message
When Interbrand’s Frampton was a junior planner at an advertising agency, he went to his boss and said: “Ads are all very well, but this WOM seems far more powerful – what is it?”
“The truth is word of mouth has always been the most powerful driver,” laughs Frampton now. “Avon with their door-to-door sales, The Body Shop, M&S – they never used traditional advertising routes. Customer satisfaction and advocacy were important tools then and they are now.”
Brands that are distinctive and keep their promises encourage higher sharing and advocacy rates on social media. This extends reach and can reduce the cost of marketing; talk is cheap!
4. Encourage employee loyalty
Strong branding is just as important for employees as it is for customers.
“If you think about a really strong brand it has a particular purpose, it has a goal and therefore individuals working for that company can know where that company is going,” says Stephen Cheliotis, CEO of The Centre for Brand Analysis (TCBA). “They feel inspired: they don’t come in and think ‘I’m just working for someone in order to maximise profits’, but maybe ‘I’m trying to do something more’.”
5. Balance the sheets
Having strong brand value attracts business partners now, and polishes your potential as a takeover target later. Many companies include it on their balance sheets.
“It’s about understanding how and where a brand makes money. You have to separate the drivers for demand,” says Frampton.
He uses the example of buying petrol and buying a car. Location is the key purchase demand for petrol, with perhaps only 12% – 15% of the decision being brand-led. However, demand drivers are different for car purchase. People buy a Ferrari to say who they are, what type of person they are, what they stand for; an estimated 75% of a Ferrari purchase is based on brand. That’s an important line in a spreadsheet.
6. Taking control
Start-ups and SMEs have so many competing priorities, but building the brand at the same time as building the business is far better than paying the price of realigning them later.
“As we see it, brand and strategy are inextricably linked,” says Adams at FutureBrand. “Brand should be the enabler of the business. So if the strategy is to increase share, brand can make you more attractive. If it’s to acquire more customers, this can be about new products or services, and, if the strategy is for a new market, the reputational component of trust and credibility is important. Brand is a lever to pull.”
All companies have a brand whether they’re conscious of it or not; it’s vital to take control of yours.