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Branding Basics: Key Steps to Establishing a Successful Brand

Every business needs strong branding to succeed. In this detailed guide, discover the basics and key tips for building a successful brand.

A “brand” is more than a catchphrase or a company’s style choice. It’s the collective imagery, feeling, and reputation of a company that follows it everywhere. When built properly, your brand can help your company reach new heights of success. Conversely, poor branding can push customers away and make turning a profit nearly impossible.

It’s essential to have a solid marketing strategy and a thorough understanding of brand management. What do you need for the branding process, and how does your brand image impact the customer experience?

Understanding the Importance of Branding

Branding is one of the most critical aspects of any business, whether large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. But what exactly does “branding” mean, and how does it affect a small business like yours?

Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services and differentiates your offering from your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be, and who people perceive you to be.

Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option or the low-cost, high-value option? You can’t be both, and you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based, to some extent, on who your target customers want and need you to be.

The Foundation of Your Brand

The foundation of your brand is your logo. Your website, packaging, and promotional materials—all of which should integrate your logo—communicate your brand.

Brand Strategy & Equity

Your brand strategy encompasses how, what, where, when, and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering your brand messages. Where you advertise, your distribution channels, and your visual and verbal communication are all part of your brand strategy.

Consistent, strategic branding leads to strong brand equity, which means the added value brought to your company’s products or services that allows you to charge more for your brand than what identical, unbranded products command. A prime example of this is Coca-Cola vs. a generic soda. Coca-Cola’s powerful brand equity enables it to charge more for its product, and customers willingly pay the higher price.

Brand equity often manifests as perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes, hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it’s not just the shoe’s features that sell the shoe.

Defining Your Brand

Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming, and uncomfortable. It requires that you answer the following questions:

  • What is your company’s mission?
  • What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
  • What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
  • What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?

Conduct research to understand the needs, habits, and desires of your current and prospective customers. Don’t rely on assumptions—know what they think.

Your target audience is the group of customers most likely to buy from your brand. Determine your target audience by understanding its key attributes, such as age, gender, location, and more. The more you learn about your target audience, the better you’ll be able to market to them and meet their needs in the long term.

Because defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be complex, consider leveraging the expertise of a nonprofit small-business advisory group or a Small Business Development Center.

Implementing Your Brand

Once you’ve defined your brand, how do you get the word out? Here are a few simple, time-tested tips:

  • Get a great logo: Place it everywhere.
  • Write down your brand messaging: What are the key messages you want to communicate about your brand? Every employee should be aware of your brand attributes.
  • Integrate your brand: Branding extends to every aspect of your business—how you answer your phones, what you or your salespeople wear on sales calls, your email signature, and more.
  • Create a “voice” for your company: This voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated into the visual imagery of all materials, both online and offline. Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it ritzy? Be more formal.
  • Develop a tagline: Write a memorable, meaningful, and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand.
  • Design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials: Use the same color scheme, logo placement, look, and feel throughout. Consistency is key.
  • Be true to your brand: Customers won’t return to you—or refer you to others—if you don’t deliver on your brand promise.
  • Be consistent: This involves all the above points and is the most crucial tip. Without consistency, your attempts at establishing a brand will fail.

Designing Your Brand’s Style

The visual identity of your brand can significantly increase your brand recognition. Here are some elements to consider:

  • Logo design: Your brand’s logo should be unique, iconic, and related to your brand’s mission or what it produces. Incorporate some stylistic element of what your brand does into the logo. Hiring a skilled graphic designer can help create a stellar logo from scratch.
  • Color scheme and text fonts: Choose your brand’s colors and fonts carefully. These elements can draw people to your brand or push them away, depending on your industry.
  • Brand voice: Ensure your brand’s voice fits into its overall style. For instance, a B2B company should use technical, informative language to demonstrate authority and knowledge. For public-facing brands, simpler and more understandable copy is often more effective.

Spreading the Word – Ensuring Brand Continuity

Designing a good brand style is just the start. You need to maintain brand continuity in all marketing materials, including those made by freelancers or third parties.

  • Create a style guide: This should include details on your logo, colors, fonts, and brand voice. Distribute the guide to everyone involved in your marketing efforts.
  • Consistency is key: Consistent branding helps your brand become memorable and trusted. Inconsistent branding can confuse customers and weaken your brand’s impact.

Wrapping Things Up

Building a brand requires practice, experience, and patience. Continuously iterate on your brand identity and theme. As you learn more about your customers and their desires, tweak your brand until it reaches its ideal version for profitability. Good luck!

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