When it comes to communicating your brand to your customers there are many techniques and issues that you will need to consider. You’ll also need to bear in mind all the aspects of your communications that convey your brand. This might include your logo & identity, website, signage, premises, livery, uniforms, stationery, packaging, advertising, literature and other marketing materials as well as the manner in which your staff interact with your public.
Storytelling through collateral
An established technique used in branding is to tell the brand’s story through the various communication elements it uses. This can be quite low key, but is used to paint a picture of the provenance of the company and its products, and imbue them with the positive values that its customers are looking for.
The credibility of your brand’s offer must be solid. The tone of voice, personality and visual identity must all back this up.
A great deal of branding is about defining and presenting a point of differentiation in the sectors you’re operating in; what makes your organisation different to others and, therefore, more appealing. Get this right and your organisation will stand out against your competitors for the reasons you want it to.
Engaging with customers
Part and parcel of creating differentiation is engaging with your customers or users. If you stand out from the crowd and your communications, along with your tone of voice, are credible, customers will look at what you’ve got to say and remember it.
Focusing on product portfolio
If you have a number of different products or services it may help to consider how you can streamline or organise them to make the offer clear and easy for consumers to understand.
Sometimes, the logic of internal company structures can dictate how a product offer is organised, but this does not necessarily make sense to an external customer. So think carefully about the best way to present what you do, even if it means setting things up differently from your internal organisation.
Rationalisation of products or services might also allow you to focus your investments more efficiently.
If your company operates in more than one sector (however you define this) you will have to consider how you present the business in each area.
Just how far you can ‘stretch’ your primary brand in this way depends on the core ideas, values and associations you have to start with as well as the inter-relationship between the multiple brands.
In some cases it may actually be more effective to develop a completely distinct brand for the different sectors you want to operate in, rather than stretch your existing brand to meet new markets.
Consider the associations you want your target audiences to have with each brand; do you want to keep the brands distinct from each other, with each having its own image, or would it be a benefit to have a clear relationship between all of the brands with each sharing an ‘umbrella’ image whilst maintaining some distinction between products?
A slightly more sophisticated possibility is to set up ‘endorsed’ brands. This is where you create a new brand in its own right, but allow the ‘parent’ brand of your main company to feature as an endorsement of the new brand.
Reinvigorating by reconsidering
Whatever sector you work in, you should reassess your brand’s values every now and then and look to keep your communications fresh, if only to make sure that you are keeping up with changes in your markets and staying ahead of the competition.
Using designers to help reassess your visual presentation, language or identity every few years should be seen as an ongoing investment in your company rather than a costly extra.
All successful companies revisit their brand and communications periodically, even the world’s household names, but reinvigorating your brand doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start from the very beginning, it simply means that you should look at the market, assess where you stand in it and where you want to be, and make adjustments as necessary.
If you’re happy with your company’s big idea, vision and personality, these things can remain the foundations of what you’re doing, but the implementation of your brand should be refreshed to keep things on track and ensure it remains relevant to your target audience.
Also, if your communications remain the same for years and years, you run the risk of appearing staid and old-fashioned, plus your communications will lose impact over time as people become over-familiar with your visual presentation.
Evolution or revolution
An important question when undertaking any reassessment of your brand is whether to go for small, incremental changes as a refresher, or to plump for a major overhaul of your company’s or product’s image.
Broadly speaking, evolution is preferable if you are already in a strong position with a solid customer base and you just need to keep up with a growing or developing market. Revolution, on the other hand, might be more appropriate if your customer base is in decline, the market has changed substantially since the inception of your current brand or you have no point of difference from your competitors.
To work through these kinds of questions it’s a good idea to consider hiring an external brand consultant to look at the current state of your company and explore possibilities for developing your brand. The word ‘consultant’ might conjure up pretentiousness and high fees, but this should not be the case. Choose someone who appreciates your needs and talks in plain English, without wrapping the process up in mystique. They will be able to ask the right questions to assess your situation and make suggestions from an objective standpoint.
Brand names are an important aspect in setting the tone and personality of your brand, as well as being a key element in marketing activity. Along with design and tone of voice, a name can be a means of differentiation and should reflect the overall brand strategy you’ve developed.
Choosing a name can be a difficult task in itself, but it’s made even harder because so many are already in use and trademarked. Be sure to check carefully that any names you’re considering for a company, product or service aren’t already in use and protected by law. Also, make sure that they do not have any negative meanings or connotations in different languages or cultures.
On the whole, a name falls into one of a few types, which can be arranged along a kind of spectrum of attributes. These attributes are:
- Descriptive – names which simply say what the company/brand does.
- Evocative – names which suggest associations to the brand but do not try to describe the offer precisely.
- Abstract – names that break sector rules and stand out. They make no clear reference to the nature of the business.
In branding and brand management a lot of importance is placed on achieving consistency, so that the same attributes and characteristics are evident in all areas of the business’s operations. Essentially, your ‘big idea’ touches and informs everything you do.
Some contemporary brands are less heavily ‘policed’ in this way. There is a growing trend towards encouraging customers to generate their own content or interpretations within a framework of branded elements or templates.
How branding applies to different business sectors
Branding for new businesses and start-ups
If you’re creating a brand for a new, or start-up, business, you’re in a unique position to operate as what is often called a ‘challenger brand’. This means that you can take a look at a market sector from the outside, assess all the players, opportunities or gaps in the market and then launch your product with a brand that challenges and shakes up the conventions of the sector. It’s hard to do this once you’re established as there’s more to lose, so think carefully about how brave and ‘rule-breaking’ your product or service can be if you’re about to launch to market.
Another benefit you may have as a start-up is that the business is likely to be small, responsive and adaptable, with no existing processes that have to be changed to create a new brand. In short: you’ve got one shot to do something exciting, relatively cheaply, so go for it!
Branding for B2B
The principles of effective branding apply to the business-to-business sector in the same way as they do in consumer-facing businesses.
B2B companies market products and services directly to other businesses rather than the public. They too need to use branding to differentiate and create a distinct personality, even if that personality is more corporate and businesslike in its tone.
Branding for the service sector
You should consider how your brand is reflected in the way in which your service is provided and how your staff interact with customers. Service brands are built on the people who deliver them, so staff need to be trained to understand the company’s culture, its ‘promise’ to customers and how they will put this into practice.
Whilst most companies and organisations are providing a service of one type or another, for some businesses customer service is the dominant part of the offer. For these companies, particular attention needs to be paid to how the brand (the big idea and all its components) are reflected in the way the service is provided and the way staff interact with customers.
All too often organisation’s assume that their employees will act in a way which is in accordance with the brand image. Our advice is “leave nothing to chance”; how often have you been to a restaurant where staff are surly or do not have basic social graces? If the owner had spent some time training the staff and telling them what is expected of them, the customer experience would be so much better and the brand image of the establishment would be stronger.
In this scenario, the human resources department is closely linked to brand management.
Branding for the public sector
Although all branding is about communicating a clear offer to your customers or users, branding in the public sector is not necessarily as concerned with maximum market stand-out, as it typically is in the commercial/private sector.
For public sector organisations, such as the police, health services and housing associations, the focus may be on clarity and access to important information. So, branding and design may focus on signposting this information or communicating issues clearly in order to change people’s behaviour – a Department of Health quit smoking campaign, for example.
Clarity can sometimes fall foul of the complex nature of public sector services, which are often run by a network of stakeholder organisations or partners. In branding terms, putting the logos of all such partners on customer-facing communications can lead to visual clutter, a lack of clarity and confusion. It’s important, therefore, to be clear when a brand or branded campaign is needed and to ensure that its identity is distinct and clear for users.
Your brand and your customers
Knowing what your customers want and how you can deliver it is an integral part of the branding process. You need to know what drives your customers, and what makes them buy. In most cases, it’s not only about price or performance.
Researching what customers want
Ask existing customers what they like about doing business with you and ask potential customers what they are looking for. If your brand values are in line with what existing and potential customers look for when they’re buying, you have the beginnings of a useful brand and you’re ready to start building on it. However, if they’re not, you’ll probably need to reconsider either the benefits you offer to your present customers or whether you’re targeting the right people.
For example, a clothes shop that has high fashion as a brand value can capitalise on it if its customers and potential customers want to buy the trendiest clothes. However, if its customer base is made up of elderly people, those brand values may not be in line with customers’ buying needs.
Communicating your brand to your customers
Once you have defined your brand values and your customers’ needs, you can start to build your brand by consistently communicating your brand values.
Remember that every possible contact you have with a customer or potential customer needs to reinforce your brand values, including your logo, business name and product packaging, and the way in which your employees interact with your markets.
If all these are consistently in line with your brand values, your brand will be strengthened, but if they are not, your brand – and your business – could be seriously damaged.
Get regular feedback from satisfied customers to check that your business is consistently delivering on the promises your brand makes. Ask dissatisfied customers or former customers for feedback as well – you can gain valuable, and sometimes more honest, information from them about how your brand is perceived.
You should remember that your customers can change too.
Your brand and your staff
As alluded to in the section on branding for the service sector, all of your employees will play a crucial part in managing your brand, because they can affect what customers and colleagues think of your business. Therefore, it is important to ensure that they understand your brand and believe in what it stands for. If they do, their actions will communicate this to other colleagues and customers.
Employees can become emotionally attached to brands, allowing for strong loyalties and even a sense of ownership. This can help maintain employee motivation and increase your sales, but it can also cause problems if you don’t consult them as your business grows.
For example, a jewellery company’s ‘Elegant’ range may be beautifully produced, stylishly packaged and glamorously advertised in glossy magazines. Its brand values could be ‘classy, special, and elegant’. However, if their staff are rude or unprofessional on the phone, customers won’t think about that jeweller’s elegance – they’ll think about their staff’s rudeness. As a result, the brand – and possibly the business – will be undermined.
Keep your employees involved by setting up a suggestion scheme, or regularly taking the time to discuss your brand and how your business is performing. Continually reinforce the message that what they do is important and explain why. Make sure they know that if they break the promises your brand makes to customers – even just once – this can damage the brand and your business.
What your employees should know
You should create a document setting out your core company values and benchmarks for how you want to operate and be seen to operate. It should encapsulate the purpose of your business and why you think you are different from your competitors. You should communicate this to your employees to ensure you are all working towards the same aims, and review it regularly.
The ‘big idea’ that forms the basis for your brand will almost certainly come from within your organization, as it is you that knows best what your brand stands for and where you need it to stand in the markets in which you operate. And, of course, it will be you who makes the final decision on your brand definition. Getting to this point and taking the brand forward might benefit from some external assistance; research, analysis and assessment can be out-sourced, as can the development of the brand in terms of its visual components, providing an objective, dispassionate approach and fresh ideas as well as allowing you to concentrate on strategic elements and internal factors such as staff training and motivation.
For a disciplined, creative approach to your branding requirements, why not give us a call?