In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, companies can really benefit from unique branding as a way to stand out from competition; especially since 50% fail in the first year and 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs don’t make it past 18 months.
Businesses, now more than ever, need to be smarter about branding. Branding has the power to elevate a product or company, but it also has the ability (if not done right) to confuse the public and leave you blending in with the crowd.
Here are three essential do’s and don’ts of branding that will help you connect with consumers and increase your chance of standing out among competition.
1. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong brand
The biggest mistake I see business owners make is that they don’t pay enough attention to their brand. This is typically because the definition of “brand” is misunderstood. Brands are not simply names, logos, or websites. Brands are valuable business assets, and these assets need investment, expertise, and constant attention. A brand is your relationship with your customer. If you keep it healthy, it will help you build loyalty.
Strong brands also have tangible business benefits. They allow you to charge a premium, get customers to ask for you by name, increase trial of new products and services, and inspire word-of-mouth marketing. Strong brands can also provide more slack in terms of forgiveness when you mess up. And let’s face it, all brands—even Apple— make mistakes from time to time.
If you find yourself constantly trying to improve your brand by re-doing your website or wasting lots of hours making little changes to your copy, chances are you haven’t done the more fundamental work of defining your Twist or what you offer that’s powerful and unique.
2. Do use your brand as a filter for key business decisions
Once you’ve defined your unique brand promise—or, what I like to call Twist—your brand can serve as a great framework and filter for all the thousands of decisions that businesses need to make on a daily basis. Some of these decisions include: what new products and services are we going to offer, what will we charge customers, how can we effectively use social media to drive our mission, and how can we best present ourselves at meetings. Strong brands can help you make these important decisions quicker and with more confidence. And strong brands bring their Twist to life at every single brand touch-point. Starbucks doesn’t just say it’s about community—and not just coffee—it proves it. Enter a Starbucks and you can feel the Twist brought to life. From the green-aproned baristas, the specific “Tall, Venti, and Grande” sizes, to the free Wi-Fi and comfortable leather chairs. Right away, you can feel that you are in not in an average coffee shop.
3. Do take off your brand blinders
As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you are more than likely walking around with “brand blinders” on. This is when you spend so much time following the branding and marketing rules of your category that you end up completely blending in. Look at the marketing of your nearest competitors. Is there anything that you really admire or really stands out? Chances are no. In fact, if you printed out the home pages of five brands in your competitive set and crossed out all of the logos, would you be able to tell who is who? If you looked at all these printouts would most of the imagery look the same? Is there a predominant color that everyone is using? Are the key messages identical? If so, then you need to step away and take off your brand blinders.
Let me give you an example. Close your eyes and think about any bank you know. Think about their logo. What color is it? Chances are strong that it is predominately blue and red. (Citibank, Bank of America, HSBC and Chase all follow this rule.) Then imagine there was a section on the website talking about saving for retirement. Close your eyes again. What’s the image you see? When I ask this question in my Brand School workshops, everyone immediately blurts out the same image: “Stylish couple in their 60s who are fit, dressed in white, and usually walking barefoot on a beach. They have short gray hair and piercing blue eyes that look off into the sunset with longing. They appear to have confidence in their financial future.”
Try this again using websites for health coaches. There will probably be lots of logos with sunrays, waves, or overlapping concentric circles, plus women in yoga poses and rocks piled up on top of one another.
Why is fitting in a problem? As a business owner your potential customer is not just living in a world where your brand exists. As consumers we are overwhelmed with choices — Belch & Belch estimates that we see 1,500-4,000 ads a day, but remember only 76 — so standing out becomes critical.
Julie Cottineau is founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy, and creator of Brand School Online, a premier learning program that teaches small business owners, entrepreneurs and non-profits how to create more distinctive, more powerful and more profitable brands that break-through in crowded markets. She is the author of the best-selling book Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands.
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