Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What does your company stand for? How to create a branding toolkit

It is easier to do business when you have a recognizable brand. Think about BMW or Pizza Hut, for example. All you need do is mention the names and millions of people throughout the world have an immediate perception and expectation of what that company stands for. There's an emotional connection between the customer and the company name.

With a strong brand, you don't have to sell nearly as long or as hard. Customers know what you stand for before the pitch or proposal.

Here's how to give your company the kind of brand identity that will help drive sales. Here, too, are tips for customizing a brand personality toolkit that will keep that brand alive and growing.

Define Your Personality

A brand is the promise you make to customers combined with the customers' judgment about how well you deliver on that promise. A successful, brand becomes an emotional bond that builds customer loyalty. A brand includes your logo, color scheme, taglines, slogan, design elements and more.

Think of branding as the personality of your enterprise. Define that and the logo and other marketing messages will follow.

To build your brand, begin by thinking through exactly what it is you sell and why customers choose your product or service. Identify the promise you are making to your customers.

For instance, you may manufacture vacuum cleaners, but what you're really selling is a better way to clean house. You must also define what makes your product more desirable to the customers you're targeting than that of your competition. Sell benefits, not features.

For help in creating logos and taglines, you might meet with one of the many nonprofit small business advisory groups, or a local Small Business Development Center, often located on university campuses. Both usually offer free advice. Gather family advisers, staff, or friends to brainstorm about taglines. And don't forget to survey customers. You want to leverage the way they see you.

Build Recognition

You want the company personality to be easily identifiable at every customer touch point, from word of mouth to final sale. Make sure that every bit and byte of packaging, presentations, communications, and marketing speaks with a brand-consistent look and voice.

The same branding should appear on your entire range of advertising and promotional options, not just stationery or sales brochures. That includes press releases, e-mail signatures, trade show displays, store or office signage, banners and highway billboards, print ads, posters and marketing for sponsored or charity events — in other words, everything.

Appoint a Brand Cop

Educate everyone on staff, from assistants to the CFO, about your brand and its tools as well. Otherwise, each employee, including the all-important sales team, could create their own version and confuse your customers. Once you assemble the brand toolkit, every employee can then access it and draw upon whatever is needed.

Even so, over time, logos tend to shape shift. Someone adds a shoreline to the water's edge that floats your sailboat logo. Someone else re-draws the boat so the prow faces into the sun. Pretty soon, your little sailboat is sinking.

To prevent this, appoint a designer or staffer to police the brand toolkit, especially if you work with outside vendors. Keep track of who accesses the toolkit and which consultants or vendors use it for what marketing channels. You want to track all branding appearances and changes.

Brand Power

Many business owners pooh-pooh branding because they're busy chasing sales, impressing investors or recruiting talent. "Who has time for such stuff?" they say. Yet success comes from differentiating your offerings in the marketplace and rigorously serving your best customers. If you take the time to brand — that is, figure out how to articulate who you are, what you sell, and which customers to target — all your marketing efforts become more focused.

Finally, honor what your brand symbolizes. The greatest tag line in the world won't get customers to come back if you don't fulfill your marketing promises.


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