Recently I have come across numerous branding articles on blogs, community groups and other places throughout the Internet that I feel aren’t quite right. It seems today more than ever people are popping up all over the place with “7 steps” to a better this and that or “Sure fire ways” to generate whatever. The social groups and forums that people turn to for advice are being washed with information from people who quite frankly aren’t experts. Maybe they read a book and feel passionate about a topic or attended a seminar and want to share some findings. This is great for information sharing but as entrepreneurs we have to be careful on who we are following and what advice we are considering to be expert advice over general knowledge. Everyone has their own opinion on ways to generate results and they are entitled to them but you can’t ignore the fundamentals. As far as branding goes they’re vital to building your brand correctly versus executing on tactics that may generate limited results.
Branding is a topic dear and near to my heart. As an advertising professional I have spent the last 12 years building some of the top brands in North America such as LG Electronics, Colgate, Volvo and many more. Does this make me the Mr. Know-it-all about branding? No. But my experience has led me to gain a certain level of insight and knowledge that I feel can be a great benefit to most. No matter if your company is a multi-billion dollar company or a boot-strap start up the fundamentals are the same. At the core of a brand is a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) it’s your reason for being. It becomes the core building block for your brand. Without it people have no reason to believe in or motivation to engage with your brand.
Contrary to what some people may think, consumers buy your services and products based on emotional decisions. It’s a proven fact with tones of data to support it. (There are many emotional triggers that you can use such as: trust, fear, power, prestige or vice to connect with your consumers but that’s a whole other article.) So at the core of your brand you need an emotional magnet. This step is usually passed over by most start-up or small businesses because they are too anxious to get to market. They just want to get their website up and get their product or service to market. Then they wonder why after 6 months nothing is happening or it’s taking a really long time to gain traction in the market place. It’s because the most fundamental step in developing a brand has been missed.
So does having a USP mean you have a brand? No. It means you have the starting point for a brand. Once you have a solid USP you need to know what your objectives are. What do you want to do? What do you want to accomplish? It’s all part of a strategy. It’s what I consider your roadmap. Without it you’re brand is wandering aimlessly.
Most of the blogs, posts and other information channels that I’ve come across reference what I consider a tactic or a source for a brand message. No single tactic alone can build a brand. More importantly, if you haven’t established a USP these tactics will be limited in their success. There are four sources for brand messaging that can sum up the majority of channels for engaging with your consumers. These have been the staples of advertising and marketing for a very long time. Any marketer worth their weight will know these fundamentals.
Planned messaging – these are the traditional marketing messages – advertising, sales promotion, merchandising materials, publicity releases, event sponsorships and so on. These should all be working towards a determined set of communication objectives.
Product Messages – Every element of the marketing mix sends a message. Everything from product price to product placement sends an inferred message about your brand. For example customers receive one message from a $4,000 Rolex and a totally different message from a $30 Timex. When a product performs well consumers infer a positive message that reinforces the purchase decision. However if you have a gap between the products performance and the advertising message then you get a negative response from your consumers. Make sure “You do what you say and say what you do.”
Service Message – Many messages result from consumer interaction. This can take place anywhere from online to in a store. In most cases your service message can have a greater impact on your brand than any other message. People that receive poor customer service can often damage your brand, your product and your future faster with the many social networks available to them. Learning to deal with negative feedback effectively is a must in today’s market.
Unplanned messages – These are the messages that companies are often the last to find out about. They come in the form of employee gossip that spreads, news stories, comments by trade organizations or competitors, word of mouth rumours, blog posts, twitter etc.
Most tactics will fall into these four message channels. These channels are used to build brand equity, to engage your consumers and build brand loyalty with them. Simply posting a blog about your company or product is not building a brand. Simply putting up a website is not building a brand. These are single tactics of many used to help build brand equity. No one tactic alone can build your brand, you must use an integrated approach to your marketing efforts, make sure your message is clear, unique and carries fluently across all tactics. There are many elements that communicate your brand; your logo, your website, your business card, your advertising, your packaging etc. The sum of these efforts is what builds your brand loyalty and your brand equity not a single tactic alone.
Building a brand is a long and difficult process. There is no quick fix. There is no easy magical solution. Seek out the professionals; they are easier to spot than you think. Remember, when you are building your brand, your communication needs to be strategic, creative and collaborative.
I hope this will serve as a good guide for your business and your brand.