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By Julie Chance
How clear is your image in the minds of your potential customers? How can you bring that image into focus? Defining, developing and maintaining a brand identity is the key.
The word “branding” is frequently tossed about in the marketing and advertising world by marketing professionals and customers alike. Many times, what is being referred to as branding can be more accurately described as logo development or corporate identity programs at best. While a logo and corporate identity certainly are part of a branding program, they are only one piece of the puzzle. And when companies start their branding program with development of a logo or corporate identity package, they are getting the cart before the horse.
So what exactly is branding? In doing research for this article, I came to the conclusion that branding is very much like what has been said about pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”
I define a brand image as being the picture that appears in a member of your target market’s mind when they see, hear or think about you, your company and your service. In this sense, your logo and print materials become the symbols representing everything you and your service stand for, much like the letters of the alphabet are symbols that when combined form words and sentences with a common meaning to everyone who understands the language.
We often think of branding as being something that only big corporations must attend to. However, a strong branding program is as critical to smaller businesses as it is to Fortune 500 companies. And smaller businesses are challenged with building our brands without the mega resources of the huge corporations. So how can a business with limited resources, develop an effective brand image? Here is a step by step guide to steer you through the process.
Step 1: Define your desired brand image. What is the picture you want your target market to develop in their minds when they see, hear or think about you, your company and your service? The more clearly you can see the image the better able you are to communicate it to your prospective clients. Start to define your brand by answering these questions in writing:
• What do we stand for?
• What are we passionate about?
• How are we different from other businesses that provide the same or similar products or services?
• What are our strengths?
• What is our specialty?
• What are our values?
• What do our clients most value about what we provide?
• What are we trying to accomplish?
• What problems do we help our clients solve?
• What do we want to be known for?
• Do we have any “quirks” that we can incorporate into our brand image?
Step 2: Develop your logo. Only when you have the picture clearly in your own mind that you want your target market to have of you is it time to begin the process of logo development. And this is an area to invest in some professional help. Don’t use a clip art logo or down-load a free logo from the web. Answering the questions above in detail will make the logo development process not only more effective, but also more efficient from a cost perspective.
In developing your logo and designing your print materials, think about what lines, shapes, typestyles and colors represent the image you want your target market to develop. If you coach people in developing the leadership skills necessary to reach the executive suite, you probably don’t want to use primary colors in your logo. On the other hand, if you help people bring more joy into their lives by discovering their inner child, primary colors may be perfect. If you assist people to organize their lives, you would not want a cluttered business card. You would want a very clean and understated look. If you help people bring out their hidden creativity you could use a fancier, more elaborate typestyle and incorporate flowing lines or curly queues into the design.
Step 3: Begin communicating your brand identity to your target market. Everything you say and do -- from the way you answer your telephones to the specialty advertising or promotional items you give your prospective clients – should reinforce the brand image you want to develop. Use your logo and colors on everything. Develop a tag line that conveys your message and use it on all your printed materials from your letterhead to your invoices. Your website should have the same general look as your letterhead, business cards, e-mail newsletter, brochure, and direct mail pieces. Continuously look for ways to incorporate your logo, colors and tag line into everything. Be creative. I know business partners who drive bright yellow Volkswagen Beatles to match their corporate colors. Almost daily I find an opportunity I’ve been missing to incorporate my brand image into my materials – and I do this for a living!
Step 4: Maintain your brand identity. Once you have begun to develop your brand identity, resist the temptation to make major changes or to even do too much tinkering. About the time you start to become bored with your look, your target market is just beginning to recognize and identify with it. Consistency over time is critical. Not only does it build awareness, it also develops credibility. In this respect we need to learn from the masters. While Coca Cola® and Betty Crocker® have updated their looks many times over the past 100+ years the basic elements have remained consistent.
What picture develops in the mind of your target market when they see, hear or think about you and your service? Is it fuzzy and out of focus with pieces of the puzzle missing? Is it inconsistent and ever changing? Or is it crisp, clear and in living color?
Julie Chance is a strategic marketing consultant who provides a unique combination of consulting, coaching and training to help clients improve the return on their investment in marketing and promotional activities. For more information call 972-701-9311 or visit our website at www.strategies-by-design.com. Be sure to sign up for our free newsletter and take our assessment to determine the strength of your marketing foundation while you’re there.
© 2004 STRATEGIES-BY-DESIGN. May be reprinted with credits and contact information.
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