The First Step to Developing a Strong Brand Is Uncovering Your Current One
Do you know what your company’s brand is? Can you describe it in three seconds? Would your president, your receptionist, your intern, and your sales team all describe it the same way? If all of your company’s employees don’t have a uniform vision of the company’s brand, your customers won’t either, and you’ll lose the benefits that a strong, recognizable brand provides.
It’s important to note that your company has a brand whether it’s being managed or not. If it’s not being actively managed, however, it may not be what you think it is—or want it to be. A good sign that it’s not being managed is if your employees don’t have a consistent answer when asked the question “What is the company’s brand?”
Developing a strong brand—and managing it—takes planning and commitment. It begins with understanding what your current brand is, then identifying what the brand should be, and finally, developing effective tactics for repositioning or managing it. To uncover what your current brand is, you’ll need to conduct some research. But first, you’ll need to understand what “brand” really means.
What is a Brand?
The term “brand” is commonly misunderstood. If you ask your company’s team members the question “What is our brand?” you may get a few puzzled looks. They may answer by quoting the company tagline, describing the logo, or suggesting you look at the Web site. While these are components of the brand—called touch-points—these are not the brand itself. Rather, the brand is the collection of perceptions in the minds of the customers, and it’s also the promise a company makes to its customers—its claim of distinction. Touch-points (all the ways people come in contact with your brand) such as logo, tagline, marketing materials, and customer service, are the ways in which that promise is communicated.
A strong brand will make a claim about the company that is both important to customers and that sets it apart from the competition. It will answer the customers’ question: “why do business here instead of with the other companies that offer this product or service?” People experience a brand in different ways—in how they use that brand’s products or services, how it makes them feel, and what it allows them to do or become. A strong brand will build a relationship with its customers using their experiences with the brand, to build brand loyalty—which has a multitude of benefits.
Why is Brand Important?
A properly planned, executed, and managed brand will build relationships with customers, building brand loyalty. Brand loyalty results in customers being willing to pay a slightly higher price for that brand’s products, because they have learned to trust and value them. For the same reason, a company with a strong brand enjoys more business opportunities because customers will be more open to trying new products. A strong brand also earns customers’ forgiveness—one or two negative experiences will not reverse the positive perception they have of the brand. In addition, the company will be less vulnerable to challenging market conditions or threats from competitors because of customers’ loyalty to the brand. The benefits a strong brand gains are valuable, but they can only be earned through proper brand planning and management.
What is Your Brand?
You may think you know what your brand is, but you will be surprised to learn that your vision of your brand may not be how others view it. It’s necessary to conduct research to uncover just how your brand really is perceived, and it’s important that this research be objective. You must poll a cross-section of those who come into contact with your brand: employees, customers, prospects, community members, vendors, and others. And to ensure your results aren’t biased, you can’t just gather feedback from those who would provide you with a glowing account. You need to ask those who may have a different perception, such as past employees, ex-customers, potentially even competitors’ customers. Questions to ask can include:
- Do you think the company has a positive reputation? If yes, what contributes to that positive reputation? If no, what contributes to that poor reputation?
- What do you like best about the company? The least?
- What differentiates the company’s products or services from those offered by their competitors?
- What three words best describe the company?
- What are the major weaknesses of the company?
- What do you think the company’s main message is to its customers?
- What do you think the company’s purpose is?
These can be hard questions to ask—and answer—but they’re necessary to assess the strength and relevancy of your brand. Look for consistencies in the responses. Do they contain similar words, express similar emotions, or highlight similar experiences? Write a one or two sentence summary. Next, consider if this aligns with what you want your brand to be known for. To assess whether this is an effective brand, and if it accurately reflects the company, ask the following questions:
- Does it match our company’s personality and culture?
- Will it motivate customers?
- Does it communicate what differentiates us from the competition?
- Can the company “own” it or is it vulnerable to competition?
If the answers are “no,” consider taking some steps to improve the health and effectiveness of the brand, such as rebranding or utilizing better brand management tactics. If the answers are “yes,” the next steps will be to assess all of the company’s touch-points to see how the brand is being effectively communicated—and to develop tactics for further managing and leveraging it. For more information about branding, or for help managing your brand, contact the AVS Group or learn more about our branding services.