Building a Brand for Market Success

When people hear your name, they conjure up a set of impressions that influence how they think and buy. Those thoughts define your brand.

Your brand resides in your customer's mind as a result of all the impressions made by encounters with your name, your logo, your marketing messages, and everything else that people see and hear about your business.

Something as basic as your business address contributes to how your brand is perceived. For that matter, every time someone walks into your business and looks around, visits your Web site, meets an employee, or glances at your ad, that person forms an impression that leads to a mind-set about your business.

You can have a powerful brand without having a power brand

Levi's is a power brand. It's more powerful than Wrangler, Lee, or Guess. All are brands. All convey an identity and a promise. But one is known internationally and by all age and demographic groups, whereas the others have a more narrow influence and, therefore, less marketing power. The power of your brand comes from the degree to which it is known.

Your small business probably will never have a globally recognized "power brand" simply because you don't have (and for that matter don't need) the marketing horsepower that would fuel that level of awareness.

But you can be the most powerful brand in your target market. All it takes is

  • Knowing the brand image that you want to project
  • Having commitment and discipline to project your brand well
  • Spending what's necessary to get your message to your target market
  • Managing your marketing so that it makes a consistent impression that etches your desired brand image into the mind of your target prospect

Consistency builds brands

When your marketing communications create a single impression for your business, they build a strong brand. Stay consistent in your marketing by

  • Projecting a consistent look.
  • Projecting a consistent tone in your communications.
  • Projecting a consistent level of quality, demonstrated by consistent communications, consistent products, and consistent services.

Stick with your brand. Don't try to change your brand image unless you're certain that it's no longer appropriate for the market. (And if that's the case, you better be prepared to change your business — because your brand is the public representation of your business.)

Imagine how tired the people at Campbell's Soup must be of their label, but imagine what would happen to their sales if they abandoned it simply because a fickle marketing manager said, "Let's try something new."

Branding makes selling easier

With a well-managed brand, your company hardly needs to introduce itself. Within your target market, people will already know your business, its personality, and the promise you make to customers — all based on what they've seen and heard through your marketing communications.

Without a well-managed brand,you'll spend up to half of every consumer contact trying to introduce your business and make your case, while some well-known Brand X down the street can spend that time making the sale.

An essential online ingredient

Without a brand, you have to build the case for your business before every sale. Doing that is tough work in person and even tougher work online, where you can't be there to make introductions, inspire confidence, counter resistance, or break down barriers.

People are buying everything online — from contact lenses to cars — without the benefit of demonstrations or test-drives. Why? Because customers arrive at e-businesses with confidence in the brands they are buying. If they don't see a brand they know, the odds of the online purchase occurring plummet. But if they see a brand they know and like, then they'll check the price and terms, make their selection, and purchase the product.

Six steps to brand management

Good brand management follows certain steps.

1. Define why you're in business.

What does your business do? How do you do it better than anyone else?

Put into writing the reason that your business exists and the positive change you aim to achieve.

2. Consider what you want people to think when they hear your name.

What do you want current and prospective employees to think about your business? What do you want prospects, customers, suppliers, associates, competitors, and friends to think?

You can't be different things to each of these different groups and still have a well-managed brand. The brand image held by each of these groups has to synch into one identity — one brand — that people will trust and believe.

3. Think about the words you want people to use when defining your business.

Ask your employees, associates, and customers this question: When people hear our name, what images do you think come into their minds?

If everyone is saying the same thing — and if those words are the words you want associated with your name — you have a well-managed brand. If gaps occur, you have your brand-management work cut out for you.

List words that you want people to link to your business and be certain that you live up to that desired image. Then lead people to the right conclusions by presenting those characteristics — that brand image — consistently and repeatedly in your marketing communications.

4. Pinpoint the advantages you want people to associate with your business.

Figuring out these benefits helps you land on the advantages you want to communicate in your marketing communications. It also leads to your definition of the position you want to own in the consumer's mind.

5. Define your brand.

Look at your business through a customer's or prospect's eyes as you define your brand. What do people say — and think — about your business? Why do they choose your business and prefer to buy from you again and again? How would they define your brand?

• Boil your findings down to one concept — one brand definition — that you honestly believe you can own in the minds of those who deal with your business.

6. Build your brand through every impression that you make.

Clarity and consistency are key to getting it right -- each and every time!

A well-managed brand creates a strong emotional connection, and a strong emotional connection fosters loyal customer behavior. Protect and project your brand through every representation of your business in the marketplace.

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