Branding is a way of identifying your business. It is how your customers recognise and experience your business. A strong brand is more than just a logo; it’s reflected in everything from your customer service style, staff uniforms, business cards and premises to your marketing materials and advertising.
Your brand should reflect what your business stands for and what sets it apart from your competitors – it expresses the qualities, strengths and ‘personality’ of your business.
Creating a strong brand involves in-depth market research to work out why customers should be attracted to your business. A strong brand will help customers to remember your business and feel greater confidence that your products or services will suit their needs. Customers tend to be loyal to a brand they trust.
The type of brand you choose can help guide your business decisions, and should be incorporated into your overall business planning. Keep in mind that different types of brands suit different products and services, and will appeal to different customers.
Brands may be concept brands, designed to support and promote an idea, or commodity brands, which are associated with a product or service.
The following are a few examples of the many types of brands.
Attitude branding is based on the ‘feeling’, rather than the physical characteristics, of a product. The product may be promoted as making people feel free, energetic or powerful. This is commonly used for soft drinks and sportswear.
Symbolic branding is similar to attitude branding and it is often used for services, such as banks and phone companies. Symbolic branding uses the emotional aspects of a service, such as a sense of security, to attract and retain customers.
In some cases, the functional or physical characteristics of a product or service are more powerful than the emotional aspects. Functional branding promotes the reasons why someone should buy a product or service. These could be that it is unique or that it offers a better price or performs better than other products on the market.
Some businesses choose to give each of their products and services a separate brand. These can sometimes compete against each other, such as with different flavours of soft drink that are produced by the same company. Individual branding can also be used to keep different parts of a business separate, particularly if they span a number of areas, such as in a business that sells food as well as clothing.
Some companies also create new brands of the same product. They launch both products in apparent competition so that they can gain extra market share. This is usually done by large companies, and is risky if the new brand takes business away from the one that the business is built around.
Own brands, sometimes referred to as private labels or store brands, are brands that carry the retailer’s name. These are commonly used by large supermarket chains. Smaller businesses may also use their own brands – for example, a beautician may also have their own line of beauty products that they use and sell.
A strong brand can help your business attract new customers and retain existing ones. If you decide you need a brand for your business, it should be fully developed before you begin using it in advertising or on marketing material. A brand can give your business direction and it should be included in your overall business planning.
Conduct market research
Research your market and look closely at your competitors, consider the size of the market and who your potential customers are. Work out what will make your business stand out – this is commonly referred to as your competitive advantage.
Think about successful brands
Think about brands for products or services that you instantly recognise and why they are successful. An internet search on branding will provide numerous articles and guides on branding from business experts.
Consider your entire business
Branding is about more than just a logo – it should encompass every aspect of your business. Your brand needs to be reflected in your: business name, customer service style, staff uniforms, business cards, premises, pricing, marketing materials
Your brand should reflect the personality and values of your business. When you are developing a brand, make sure you are honest about what your business is like and who your customers are. Customers can be put off if their experiences with a business are different from what the branding promises to deliver.
Seek professional advice
While it might be tempting to design your own logo to save money, unless you have the required skills and experience, you will benefit from seeking professional help. A professional branding consultant or designer can work with you and develop a brand based on the vision for your business.
Keep an open mind
If you decide to hire a professional to help you develop your brand, it’s important to keep an open mind. While you will probably have a few ideas of how you think your brand should look, a brand expert might advise against some of these ideas based on their experience. You will still have input so you are happy with the result, but by keeping an open mind you are more likely to develop a brand that stands out from your competitors.
Make sure you are consistent in the way you use your brand. A good way of managing a brand is to develop a style guide or manual. This will include all the elements of your brand, from fonts and colours through to communication style. Numerous examples of branding style guides are available on the internet.
Once you have developed a brand, you can work on ways to build awareness of it through your marketing plans. You should have a well-developed brand before you begin using it in advertising, sales and marketing activities.
If your brand doesn’t attract customers the way you hoped it would, you may need to consider refreshing it, or ‘rebranding’. In these cases, you need to revisit your business plan and research your market again to see what’s changed. You will need to take similar steps to rebrand as you did to develop your brand, including looking at your whole business and your customers and working out the vision for your business.