Small business BIG growth®
Words by Marilyn Raju, BIGthink! General Manager
I thought about starting with a dictionary definition, but you already know what a brand is, and of course, you know your brand particularly well, right? Your brand is your business name, your logo, all of your marketing materials and your website… But there’s obviously more to it than that. Here’s how I like to think about brand:
Your brand expresses what your business is all about and, ultimately, your brand is defined by the experiences of everyone who interacts with your business.
Not just the experience of your customers or clients, but all the stakeholders in your business – suppliers, staff and other associates. That’s the bottom line and it ultimately defines what your brand is all about. Obviously, what other people think as a result of their experiences is outside your control but you can manage the impact your brand has by focusing on 5 key things.
Defining your brand values
Be clear on the values associated with your brand. Brands have evolved to a level of existence way beyond the logos, colours, symbols and sounds. Brands represent implicit values, ideas and even a personality. Think of your favourite brand. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What signals does it send about what’s important to you? Now turn that around for your brand and think about how people respond to it. Is it sending the right signals? Is the message clear and consistent? What does your brand represent? Is it reliability or fun, a unique view of the world or a particular approach to business? Think about how that message is being conveyed every time someone interacts with your business.
Clearly defining the values of your brand – and of course living up to them – helps people “get it” on a much deeper level. Just as our personal values are formed through our interaction with the world and change over time, our brand experiences shape our perception of what that brand means to us.
Focusing on brand integrity
Integrity stems from the consistent application of values. People are said to have integrity when they can apply their values even in situations where it might be easier to be swayed by convenience or short-term benefits. Brand integrity is much the same. Does your brand live up to its stated values, even when it’s not easy to do so? Interestingly, it’s the impact of experiences in these defining moments – an unhappy customer making a complaint for example – that tend to stay with people the longest and contribute either to brand loyalty or brand dissatisfaction.
Giving your brand life
Sure, your logo is important and so is your website, but don’t get too hung up on these from a design point of view. If you’ve designed your website around all the things that are important to you (flashy graphics and nice music) but it doesn’t hit the mark in terms of your customers needs (helping solve a problem or maximising an opportunity) you’re only a click away from losing business to a competitor.
Your brand comes to life through your systems, processes and perhaps most importantly, your people. Your people need to convey the personality of your brand in every interaction with the world. This is an easy thing to do once or twice, but the challenge is to do it well every time. The foundations for success are clarity of vision, well defined brand values and well structured systems and processes to drive consistency.
Managing your brand
Manage your brand like any other asset. The goal is to maximise brand equity, the total value of the brand to you as its owner. When a brand is instantly recognisable and people automatically know what it stands for, it has the potential to add significant value to your business.
Think of some of the major brands that come to mind easily – Coca Cola, Nike, Boost Juice and iPod. Is it reasonable to say that brands like these demand a certain level of respect and that people will go out of their way to be associated with them? If you have teenage kids, you didn’t have to think about that question for very long. Just try presenting your fifteen year old daughter with a pair of no-name sneakers or a less than ‘popular’ mobile phone and you’ll develop a sudden appreciation of the power of a brand to drive consumer behaviours.
Managing your brand involves controlling access to the elements that make it up. Protecting your brand assets is crucial in building the value of your brand and in turn your business. The intellectual property you have developed as you’ve grown your business – that knowledge of “how we do things around here” – is also part of your brand and needs to be protected. Registrations, trademarks and patents are all part of managing and protecting the brand asset you’ve worked hard to build.
Getting your brand out there
Make your brand accessible and give it as much coverage as you can. Write articles. Take up opportunities to speak at meetings or conferences that relate to your business. Find out who the journalists are that write about your industry and make yourself known. Be available for comment on hot issues. These are just a few ways of giving your brand the profile it deserves.
The best looking, best feeling brand in the world is not much use of people don’t know about it. The objective is to achieve a “critical mass” of recognition in your market, however broad or narrow that may be. When a brand achieves this, it really starts to break away from the everyday. The advantages are obvious. People will select the brands they know and trust more often, they will bypass competitors and in many cases pay more for the perceived brand benefits – all of which contribute to a better and more valuable business for you.
Keeping it fresh
Whilst its important to keep the physical aspects of your brand up to scratch – a revised logo, redesigned website etc – don’t lose sight of your core values and what you’re really delivering to your customers or clients. Even the most recognised brands have evolved, matured and redeveloped over the years. It’s critical to revisit your brand values regularly and make sure they still reflect the needs and desires of your market.
Your brand is after all, the heart of your business. It can make a huge positive difference to the asset you are building so it deserves to be nurtured and supported.
Having worked with some of Australia’s largest corporates as a business process and communications specialist, Marilyn has a broad range of skills to assist small businesses with their growth goals. Marilyn also has experience with business operations, project management and brand development.