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6 Basic Rules of Branding

Branding is broadly defined as “promotion of a product or service by identifying it with a particular brand” and brand can be defined as “a particular product or a characteristic that serves to identify a particular product.”

But what does this mean to the small business owner and their branding efforts?

Is it enough to simply choose a name, products, and services? Will customers then connect the dots between their need and a name, a product, and a logo? Absolutely not. Business owners must execute branding efforts to help customers connect those dots.

Definitions of branding do not belie the fact that branding is truly an action word, requiring extensive action on the part of the small business owner. Here, we’ll discuss six rules of branding that can help small business owners overcome the shortcomings of dictionary explanations.

Branding should be thought of as the introduction to your organization as well as a reminder of the sales and marketing objectives of your organization. It conveys what your organization is about, and with each interaction it becomes the internalized billboard for what the stakeholders should expect from your company.

Branding includes the simplest business facets such as a purpose statement, to more complex experiences, such as an experience at a sales center. Yes, these are generally referred to as different areas of marketing, such as customer service; however, we should be cognizant that these are “particular characteristics that will serve to identify a particular product” and thus they are acts of branding. Branding is an action word, threaded throughout the strategic marketing process.

At a minimum, branding will provide the consumer with answers to the following questions:
  • Who are you
  • What can you do for me
Yes, we’ve already stated that this information is not enough, but it is the beginning. Answers to these questions are essentially your mission statement – the reason why you exist. The next critical part of your message is the branding refinement, which answers the question -
  • Why you should care
Which can be further refined to two questions:
  • Why I can do it better than my competitors
  • Why I am the best choice for your organization
These questions are closely related; however, they are succinctly different. The first questions addresses your competitive advantage as it relates to other organizations. Perhaps you have economies of scope or scale that enable you to offer a better quality or low cost product that makes your product better than your competitor’s. The second question connects your competitive advantage directly to your consumer’s need – what does industry and market data tell you about preferences and current expectations, and how are you meeting these preferences? Overall, your message/ your brand will convey why your product is the best option available.

What may initially feel like a “fail” could indeed be the beginning of the next big win.
5 Branding Mistakes to Avoid

Now that you've been introduced, what keeps you at the forefront with your customer? Yes, your product may sit on a shelf at the local grocery store waiting to be discovered, and perhaps the customer had a positive initial experience, but what will encourage a repeat performance? We are constantly bombarded with the claims of competing products and we are easily influenced by the opinions of friends, family, and acquaintances. There’s not much that can be done to prohibit exposure to competitive influence; however, you can assert influence of your own. 

If you make a connection to the consumer, as opposed to passively sitting on a store shelf, you’re more-likely to keep an engaged less easily led away customer. People listen to their friends, family and acquaintances because it is presupposed that they care for the individual’s well-being. The business translation for this is asking the following questions, at minimum:
  • How do your needs resemble those of your neighbor or competitor
  • How do your needs differ from that of your neighbor or competitor
  • How can we satisfy your common and individual needs
Evidence of consideration of these factors is the signal that we care to note the subtle differences and to fill the void, as necessary. Customization, real or perceived, helps to close the gap between the inanimate corporate entity and the real live person. There’s no way that an organization can connect on the same level as a best friend; however, we can certainly “reach out to the consumer,” establish a connection, and hopefully influence the consumer to provide positive word-of-mouth influence to their networks.

The logo, color schemes, packaging, and slogans are what we most often see and associate with branding efforts. They serve to maintain the connection that you've worked hard to establish.

It could be weeks, months, or even years before the next physical encounter with the customer, especially for small businesses. So the visual cues help to remind the consumer about what they experienced and how that felt during their prior last encounter with your brand: 
  • Does the strong font and bold colors of the branding make consumers feel confident in your capabilities
  • Does the curly font and softer colors of the branding make consumers feel you’re sensitive to their needs
  • Do the crisp lines and simplicity of the branding remind consumers of the elegance of the service environment
Colors, fonts, and slogans are not meant to be a purely subliminal exercise. Visual cues are meant to be an overt trigger to a memory - a reminder of your product or service. 

The internet and social media is here to stay. We have our social networks, written content, video content, and multi-media explosion. We cross-connect social with our work purposes on linkedin, facebook, twitter, and beyond. We’re defining parameters for measurement, we're bench-marking, we're correcting, and we're improving our online marketing efforts. This is a space that’s changing the manner in which we interact with one another, changing our perception, and changing our expectations.

This online component makes it’s easier to engage with customers; and businesses take their branding efforts to this space because it is the new expectation. Traditional marketing efforts are infrequent, static, and fairly devoid of personality, e.g. the occasional postcard. Online communications are more frequent and more fluid. They tend to reveal more of the brand’s personality, especially on social networks.

Ultimately, we want consumers to think of our product or service as the best solution to their problem. Verbal and visual cues assist in establishing a brand, building consumer recognition, creating consumer expectation, and encouraging customer loyalty. The effort is ongoing, serving as a constant reminder of your brand and your desire to serve the changing needs of your target market.