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Six Basic Rules of Branding

(updated 2021)

A dictionary will tell you that branding is the act of promoting a product or service by associating it with a particular brand, and “a brand” is a characteristic that identifies a particular product. Circular reference aside, it doesn’t really lend itself to translation from a definition on a page to the actual act of branding. 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. So, here are six rules that will help you overcome the shortcomings of lackluster dictionary explanations:

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

Branding includes the simplest business facets, such as a purpose statement, to more complex experiences, such as an experience at a sales center. A sales experience is typically referred to as a different area 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 also acts of branding. Branding is an action word, threaded throughout the strategic marketing process.

The Message
At minimum, branding will provide the consumer with answers to two questions:
  • Who are you; and
  • What can you do for me
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:
  • Why you (the consumer) 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 you
These questions are closely related; but, they are succinctly different. The first addresses your competitive advantage in comparison to other organizations. Perhaps you have economies of scope or scale that enable you to offer a better quality or lower cost product than your competitor. 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? Your message conveys 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.”

- Five Branding Mistakes to Avoid

The Connection
Now that you've been introduced, what keeps you at the forefront, with your customers? Yes, your product may be available on a shelf at local grocery stores waiting to be discovered, and perhaps customers report positive initial experiences; but, what will encourage a repeat performance? We are constantly bombarded with the claims of competing products and services, 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; but, 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, and less easily led away customer. People listen to their friends, family and acquaintances because they care for the individual’s well-being. Distant corporate entities do not convey the same intimacy. But, there are big brands that connect with their consumers very successfully. How are you going to accomplish this and become the brand your customer recommends to their networks – annihilating the competition, instead of the other way around?

Can you show your customers that you’ve considered their changing needs? How is your product or service serving their needs better, or differently than your competitor? What’s your commitment to social values? Are you environmentally conscious in material sourcing? What’s your slant? What’s important to your customers, and how are you striving to meet their needs, desires, and values? Evidence of consideration provides consumers a basis for buy-in, because they can see themselves reflected in your brand. It also provides talking points for them to gain buy-in with their friends and family. Essentially becoming brand ambassadors.

Customization, real or perceived, helps to bridge the gap between the corporate entity and the consumer. A company cannot connect with consumers on the same level as a best friend; but, you can definitely “reach out to the consumer,” establish a connection, and influence them to provide positive word-of-mouth to their networks.

The Visual Cue
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 buy-decision is made by the customer. So the visual cues help to remind the consumer about their experience during their 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;
  • Does the color green or brown elicit sentiments of sustainability;
  • Does the color black or purple convey elegance and luxury; etc.
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 Online Component
The internet and social media is here to stay. We have our email, social networks, written content, video content, and multi-media explosion. We cross-connect social with our work purposes on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, 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. Unless you are doing commercials, 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. Online, or digital, communications are an amazing opportunity to connect with current and new customers.

The Modus Operandi
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.

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