Branding Made Simple

4 important tips for creating a successful brand image

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What's the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks about your company or brand? Not sure? Then you may have an image problem.

Creating a clearly defined company or brand image is one of the chief concerns of our coaching clients. By now, most everyone understands that effective branding is essential to long-term success. The trouble is, for many small-business owners, branding is a mysterious and difficult process. But it doesn't have to be. Let's take a step-by-step look at how you can create an identifiable brand image:

1. Be uniquely valuable. The first step is to ask a series of basic questions, such as: What do we do that benefits our customers? What's our company's ultimate goal? How is what we offer unique?

You see, originality is the acid test of an effective branding strategy. It rests on defining how you can be uniquely valuable to your customers, and then communicating that unique benefit in a way that's easy to remember and clearly understandable. Ultimately, the relationship you build between your brand and your customers will be based on the value your company offers. And the bottom line is that perceived value is what creates loyal customers who will choose your product or service over others-even when they're tempted with cheaper offers elsewhere.

2. Stand out from the pack. So how can you differentiate from your competition? To help find the answer, it's a great idea to conduct a competitive analysis. It doesn't have to be complex. Just gather together the marketing materials from your chief competitors, including their ads and brochures. Examine the materials carefully and look for the key selling points and the basic "promises" they make.

Frankly, you're going to see a lot of "me too" marketing, and it may be difficult to tell one competitor from the other. That's because there's a lot of just plain bad marketing out there. For you to get it right, you'll need to decide what differentiates your company, product or service from this vast sea of competition. In all, what "promise" will your brand make?

3. Drive your core message home. Ideally, your core message may come down to a single idea, which will become the focus of all your external communications. Advertising, public relations, collateral tools and even the message you use when networking should all revolve around this central theme. For some companies, particularly those focused on consumer products, a single slogan may embody the essence of their brand.

Take, for example, the slogan "The slow ketchup." We recognize it as the slogan for Heinz ketchup because it's been hammered home in the company's advertising for years. Beyond that, consider how it communicates the brand's promise-and unique benefit-that Heinz ketchup pours more slowly because it's thicker, richer and tastier than its competitors.

4. Live up to your promise. Branding isn't just something that's achieved when a prospect encounters your marketing. It's about creating and meeting expectations, and its success rests on your customers' total experience with your brand.

It may surprise you to learn that each time a customer visits your website, he or she is undergoing a branding experience. In essence, your site is your brand, and everything they encounter there-from the site design and depth of products or services offered to their satisfaction with your online customer service and shipping policies-positively or negatively impacts your company or brand image.

Suppose "The slow ketchup" weren't slow at all, but thin, runny and tasted inferior to its competition? It would fail to live up to the brand promise. That's what happens when the quality, price or delivery of your product or service fails to meet the expectations raised in your marketing. If your company's unique promise rests on terrific service, but your sales staff fails to respond promptly to requests from customers, then all your branding efforts will be in vain.

For branding success, first define how your company and its products or services benefit customers in a way that's uniquely valuable. Then move heaven and earth to live up to that promise.

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