According to Webster’s, branding is the promoting of a product or service by identifying it with a particular name. But, that’s not the whole of it. Branding is also the process of influencing certain thoughts and emotions in the minds of your customers—in other words, what message they receive when they learn about your business. How can you brand effectively? Here are some nitty-gritty steps:
1. Do your homework. Define your core values, mission, and goals. Analyze your audience and competition. Establish your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)—what makes your company stand out from the rest. Why would someone want to buy from you versus someone else who sells the same thing? Keep in mind the four “P’s” of marketing: Product, Place (location), Price, and Promotion in determining your USP.
2. Play the name game. What’s in a name? Everything. Now that you have your data, it’s time to come up with a name. Great brand names are memorable, personable, and emotional. They should roll off the tongue and be easy to spell. Take Nike, for example. Nike is the Greek goddess of victory, which is an excellent connotation for their products. Another great name is Roomba, the robot vacuum. Roomba, an invented word, kind of sounds like rumba, a Spanish rhythmic dance. So this vacuum basically “dances” around the room. What a pleasing thought from a vacuum cleaner!
Now, how do you find out if someone is already using the fabulous name you came up with? Check out the Trademark Electronic Search System and do some Google searches. To be absolutely sure the name is okay to use, hire a lawyer. Filing trademark applications can be tricky and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
3. Perfect your logo. Picture Coca-Cola and you see the bright red color and flowing script. Think IBM and it’s those bold, block letters with horizontal stripes. These logos were ranked no. 1 and 3, respectively, in the top brands of 2007 by BusinessWeek. And no wonder. Both follow the fundamental principles of well-designed logos: they are instantly recognizable, timeless, scalable, and perfectly simple. Make sure your logo has all these qualities and communicates your core values.
4. Set standards. All of your marketing materials including your website should have visual coherency that support your company’s mission and goals. Your materials should compliment your logo and share associated colors, typefaces and images. Many successful brands have developed standards manuals that clearly define logo usage guidelines, corporate colors, etc. Share these guidelines with your staff to make sure the visual components of your brand are consistent.
5. Package it up! Consider your identity pieces: business cards, letterhead, envelopes, notecards, promotional materials, etc. What do they communicate? Are they professional? If your company is selling natural, organic products, then slick, shiny postcards may not be the way to go. Perhaps using uncoated, recycled paper might make a better impression.
Always have your collateral pieces printed professionally. Yes, your customers can tell if you print your letterhead or business cards with your inkjet printer. With so many online printers with low overhead and expert printing technology, prices are cheaper than ever. It’s possible to order full-color letterhead, business cards, and #10 envelopes—500 of each—for less than $500 total.
6. Create demand for your brand. Now that your materials are well designed and represent your company’s ideal image, it’s time to get out there and market. You’ve already defined your audience, and now you need to be where they are. Try to find a good combination of reaching the largest numbers of your target market with the minimum amount of resources.
Grassroots marketing—writing articles, attending networking events, generating referrals, and getting celebrities as customers—is the most affordable way to start. Step it up a notch with online marketing such as search engine optimization, blogging, email marketing, and banner advertising. Finally, consider traditional paid advertising as icing-on-the-top-of-your-marketing-cake. Continue to reinforce your brand message and you’ll be well on your way to success.