Strategic Brand Building, Advice From the Pros

by Tho Nguyen

"In the end, the successful look will be the one that balances indication of the most important aspects of your company in a subtle, yet meaningful way. . . How you use and support that logo contribute to your brand. The color, texture, and design of your business card, for example, all contribute to the image you project."
-Steve BonDurant

Who doesn't know that Snapple is "made from the best stuff on Earth", or that a Chevy truck is "built like a rock"? Many companies have spent big bucks trying to leave a permanent imprint on consumers. But do we really know what a brand is and what goes into building it? And can small businesses actively promote their brands, or is this strictly a game for the industry giants?

What's In a Brand?

When asked to picture Nike's brand, most people would instinctively conjure up images of that famous swoosh-and they wouldn't be totally correct. Although many of us think the logo is the brand, Karin Schaff Glazier of Pinpoint Positioning says, "A company's logo is the visual depiction of their brand. The brand is the overall personality, culture, tone, and structure of the entire company...that helps to create the personal and emotional tie between the company and its customer. The brand is more than just a logo-it's the sum of your advertising, customer service, product development, sales, and every other aspect of your business that touches the customer. " 

Whether a sponsorship is appropriate for a brand depends on whether:
-It fits well with the brand's goals and personality.
-It will allow the brand to reach its target audience.
-It helps the brand reach its goals.
-It's affordable.
-Sandra Beckwith

A company's brand is intangible and as such can be overlooked and become a secondary priority in the face of more pragmatic issues like revenue generation, billing, or daily operations. Business owners must keep in mind that their company's brand is a long-term asset that helps to generate sustainable revenue.

Steve BonDurant, president of Icon Graphics, says, "Branding is a business buzzword, but if dismissed as simply that, tremendous opportunity can be missed. When a company pays attention to its brand, potential customers have a means to make an intelligent buying decision...Your brand image gives cues about who your company is, what kind of service or product you offer, even what kind of customer you attract."

Communicating Your Brand Image
How a company is perceived, both internally and externally, relies heavily on cohesive, coherent, and consistent communication. Incongruent advertising can oftentimes leave your customers confused and unable
to sort out the myriad of messages they are presented with.

Sandra Beckwith, author of Streetwise Complete Publicity Plans, says, "In general, all communications efforts on behalf of the brand should carry the same message. Be clear on what it is you want the world to know about your brand, and get that information across consistently not only in your ads but in your press releases, your employee newsletters, and your annual report. If you aren't consistent, you run the risk of giving your brand a split personality." The goal is to have a multi-faceted brand, not one with multiple personalities. 

Your organization's brand is it's identity,
what could be more important than that? 

Brand Limitations
Ideally, a good brand serves to enhance a sound infrastructure with a solid reputation. Branding is not a magic wand; it cannot provide a quick fix to a company's problems or compensate for any shortcomings. Schaff Glazier states, "Branding will help very little if your internal operations and cultural personality are opposite what you are trying to convey to the outside audience. Your internal brand personality is just as important as the external message...The average customer is not going to purchase a product or service without feeling comfortable with the company offering it."

Consumers have become alert to the "fluff" in advertising. They are also on the lookout for companies that outright lie. When-not if- the public finds out it has been deceived, the company in question will have to deal with a backlash-and the damage may very well be permanent. Beckwith advises, "The best way to maintain good public relations during the brand building process is to run an ethical business. Public relations involve sharing information with the public, and that creates problems when you have something to hide. So...make sure you're not running your brand in a way that requires you to keep secrets from any of your publics-customers, employees, shareholders, and so on."

No matter how persuasive your ad campaign or how hard-working your sales staff may be, neither can move an inferior product, coupled by a poor image, off the shelves. If a company does not does not live up to consumer expectations, negative word-of-mouth will eventually be its undoing. BonDurant says, "An eye-catching logo that represents an uninspired company or a substandard product will be quickly sniffed out by savvy buyers. In this case, branding can work to drive customers away."

On the other hand, you cannot sell to people who do not know you exist...

Promoting Brand Awareness
An effective advertising campaign relies heavily on knowing who your target market is and reaching it at the proper place and time. Every company should have a brand strategy. Smaller businesses, with limited budgets, would greatly benefit from a detailed marketing plan. In addition to well-placed ads and commercials, Beckwith suggests sponsorship as a way to build brand awareness. "Affordable sponsorships can be good ways to introduce a very targeted audience to a brand via sampling. When negotiating a sponsorship of an existing event that has multiple sponsors-rather than creating your own proprietary event-make sure you get everything you need in the contract, including sampling opportunities, signage, a hospitality tent, etc."

You don't have to have a "Trump-sized" wallet to promote your brand. Small to mid-sized organizations should consider the following low-cost alternatives to brand building:

Network: Make your name known in the business community to create important contacts and build solid relationships. Non-profit boards/committees, Business Network International memberships, CEO roundtables, and civic organizations are great places to build your network. 
Go online: Certain segments of the population are now comfortable with Internet shopping. Design a good Website and they could very well be your next customers.
Create a publicity buzz: Did someone recently get promoted in your company? Why not send out press releases to the local media? Common publicity tactics used by the pros include: granting interviews, publishing newsworthy data/statistics, and getting involved with local events. 
Be a show-off: When customers have good things to say about your company, get testimonials and put it on display for everyone to see-both in print and online.

Make Sure Your Money Is Well-Spent
Ever see an ad that reads: "mention where you saw this ad and get 10% off your next purchase"? That is a promotion with a built-in mechanism to track returns on investment. But that's only one way of looking at ROI (Return on Investment). Advertising can produce other returns. Brand awareness, enhanced consumer perception, and position in the marketplace are favorable outcomes of targeted advertising.

"The key is to develop a way to measure results and then log them somewhere people can access them and see what tools, programs, and campaigns pull in the best results. ROI (Returns on Investment) planning should take place at the very beginning of planning for a marketing and sales program/campaign. Planning your ROI expectations will help you develop the right message and process so that you can get the results you need," Schaff Glazier says. Building a brand isn't fast, cheap, or easy. But your organization's brand is its identity-and what could be of more value?

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