Branding fundamentals are the same today as they were in 1999 - or in 1899
Our businesses face some unique challenges today. But I believe the true fundamentals of branding and marketing are the same in any economy. This, more than any other factor, gives me confidence that we will recover, grow, and prosper in the months and years ahead.
These basic laws come from human nature, not any particular economic, political, or technological source. In other words, people are people. The forces that truly impact our relationships with companies and products don't change. The tools to deliver these messages are new, broader, more networked and more powerful than ever before. But the basics are the same, and if we are to succeed in creating demand for our products and services, it's the basics that will get the job done, every time.
Fundamental #1: Your brand is your most valuable asset.
But what exactly is a brand?
A logo? A set of rules about exactly which color of red to use? It can include these things. But in fact it's much more.
A brand says "who you are." It's how your company perceives itself - but more importantly, it's how your target audience perceives you.
Here are some statistics that might surprise you:
|Brand||Brand Equity*||Total Market Capitalization|
|Apple||$14 Billion||$70 Billion|
|Microsoft||$59 Billion||$230 Billion|
|General Electric||$53 Billion||$136 Billion|
|Coca-Cola||$67 Billion||$142 Billion|
|Nike||$13 Billion||$21 Billion|
Among the world's largest companies, the value of the brand itself – separate from the cash, equipment, and everything else – can encompass more than half of the total value of the company.
*(By the way, how these numbers are derived is a fascinating study in itself – there's a fairly straightforward explanation of this process on Wikipedia).
So how does this apply to your business?
While we'd all like to have a market capitalization like Microsoft or Coca-Cola, there are simple things you can do to increase the value of your brand, and thus your company, regardless of your current size. I give a couple of practical exercises below, but if you'd like to learn more, please don't hesitate to contact me directly and ask for a free branding consultation.
More important than any of the details, is cultivating your own respect for, and awareness of, your own brand. The value you'll get back is well worth the time and energy required.
Fundamental #2: A brand doesn't begin with a logo, a color, or any other thing. A brand begins with an idea.
For as long as commerce has existed, people have formed personal relationships with the brands they consume. In 1899, 1999, or today, the value of a brand has begun not with a thing, but with an idea.
A company begins with a decision by its founders about that company's identity. If management is uncertain about the goals and purposes of the company, that uncertainty will communicate to the public and the crucial focus is lost.
On the other hand, a clean, clear-cut decision about what your company stands for will do more to create market share than practically anything else. How do your customers perceive your firm? How do you wish they would see you? Take the time to refine this idea into a statement that you can rattle off anytime, anywhere. The exercise below is one that I use to do just that.
Practical Exercise: Sharpening Your Brand Focus
Here are some questions I use to get ideas flowing with a new brand concept. Use them to focus on your branding message:
Who are you?
- What brand position do you want to occupy? Technological innovator? Cost-effective? Stylish and hip? Look over other well-known brands and let these guide you to the position that feels best. A great list is available at interbrand.com.
Who is your audience?
- What audience do you most want to connect with your product or service? Professionals? Teenagers? Parents?
- The more specific, the better.
Why would they be interested?
- What benefit do you offer your audience, that would make them spend their time engaging with your brand?
Why would they share your brand with others?
- Word of mouth is still the most powerful force in marketing. Now, that same force is driven out through a myriad of social networks as well.
- How would being your customer be a source of pride or enthusiasm on the part of your audience?
- Why would they want to join your page on Facebook, or Twitter about how they just visited your location? Would they be perceived as hip? Health-conscious? Educated? Discerning?
By taking the time now to develop a strong brand message, you can build the foundation for your growth in the future.
Fundamental #3: Consistent, high-volume, branded communication will bring in more sales than any other "tricks."
With a cohesive brand message, you have the opportunity to deliver a consistent communication to your audience. It's a noisy world out there. To really stand out, say the same thing, over and over, as loudly as possible. For example, Coca-Cola has utilized their classic script logo and red color for over 100 years. It debuted in 1885, the same year the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor.
Some immediate techniques to implement consistent messaging:
Have a great logo, and include it on everything.
A great logo guides the visual design of everything you create. It defines an aesthetic – such as modern, trendy, hip, traditional, or some combination – and also a color palette. Invest in the development of consistent materials, and use a designer. It doesn't have to cost a lot to look great. On the other hand, remember those brand values I mentioned earlier – the return on investment for those companies is incalculably large.
Write your branding statement and post it prominently in your work space.
I actually attach mine to the bottom of every single email I send, so before that communication leaves my desk, I can ask myself, "is what I'm sending consistent with the core values of my business?" If not, I rewrite it.
Never stop communicating.
As we get pummeled with bad news of every imaginable kind, we have a tendency to pull back, to worry about costs, staffing, and other immediate challenges. While these things do need to be addressed, it's vital to continue to push your message out to the world. There are tons of inexpensive ways to do this, which I'll be discussing in future issues. But here's one of my tried-and-true favorites:
Practical exercise: Getting the word out
Compile a list of your twenty best customers, who don't currently have anything on order.
Write a note to each that includes:
1. A greeting that re-establishes contact:
Hope your New Year is going well so far. It was a real pleasure working with you on the 5th Avenue renovation.
2. Some good news about your recent successes:
We've been busy with quite a few new projects – did you happen to hear about the new floor we added to the Grand hotel downtown? It was the only part of their remodel that came in under budget!
3. An offer that has real value:
To help you continue to expand in challenging economic times, I wanted to personally extend an offer of 90 days interest-free financing on your next project. Please feel free to give me a call anytime if I can help in any way with your needs.
San Diego Renovation Co.
Ensure you include your logo, and focus the offer and the successes around your marketing message. If your position is "lowest price," then talk about how you saved a customer 20% vs. the competition. If your position is "the ultimate in personalized service," you might tell a story about how you rescued a customer with a rush job that made their day.
In the history of my company, I have never failed to receive at least one new order every single time I do this exercise. I wish you the same success with it!
A final remark: your attitude matters more than you know
We are living in some new and interesting times. Frankly, I'm glad to be a business owner today. I like to control my own destiny, and I believe that our current economic turmoil creates opportunities for us to find new market share while our larger competitors struggle to slash costs and handle the credit crunch.
Perhaps even more basic than the fundamentals I've outlined above is a commitment to the success of your brand - and a positive attitude toward the future.
Stand by the core values that define your enterprise, and promote them widely to your customers and your own staff. Practice them in everything you do in your business. And be open to new opportunities that arise in this climate of reorganization.
Disruptive change at a broad level doesn't have to mean bad news for your business. It might be the best news of all.