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One can't begin to talk about branding without referring to one of the most valuable brands in the world, Apple.
An Apple iPhone is technically inferior to an equivalent Android smartphone (Sorry Apple fans!), but why does everyone (well, almost) rush to buy its newest incarnation when it comes out, even queueing overnight and hours before the stores open, just to be the first to get their hands on the latest model?
On the contrary, have you seen anyone fanatic enough to queue for an Android phone?
This is the power of branding.
Getting the branding aspect of your business right, and you can influence your market, hold your price and leave your competitors dumbfounded and hapless on how to catch up to you, much less beating you.
Conversely, if you don't get your branding right, you'll find it a tall order to survive and thrive in the market you compete in, especially if it is a highly competitive one.
At this point, you may think that branding is expensive and challenging, involving some complicated strategy and a mountain of resources to pull it off.
Or you could be thinking that it is just for the big boys and beyond reach of small business owners.
Well, nothing can be further from the truth.
Branding can be made simple and straightforward, if you know with clarity the principles behind it and the steps to get it right.
So, let's dive right in.
First things first, let's define what is a brand.
Is it a logo?
Or a website?
Maybe a tagline?
A brand can be all of the above, or none of the above. Having a headache yet?
Here's my take on it:
A brand is the result of all the actions and behaviours that a business exhibits throughout its interactions with its stakeholders, i.e. customers, staff and partners such as suppliers.
Simply put: a brand is the result of what it does.
What a business does or does not do, creates an impact on all its stakeholders, which influence the way they perceive the business.
That perception is the brand.
If your business enjoys a positive perception, it will be rewarded with more customers, sales and profit, more loyalty among staff and greater access and support from suppliers.
On the flip side, if your business suffers from a negative perception, your business may be deprived of all the benefits mentioned above and not make it through.
Branding is therefore the process that your business undertakes to achieve a desired perception in the market that it operates in.
To appreciate branding, let's delve into an illustration.
When you say you know someone, you don't necessarily mean their name and place of origin. Most likely, you could be referring to their character and behavior.
That's why you'll confidently say that you trust a particular individual and not the other.
What do you want your customers to say or feel about your business?
Your brand is defined every time a customer interacts with your business, through the marketing ads, the sales calls, the delivery of your products and services, as well as the post-sales service, and so on. The entirety of that experience shapes how your customers perceive your brand.
Branding is about making sure that the totality of the customer experience lands the way you want it to.
The branding process comprises a number of stages and various efforts and activities, each of which I'll dive into with greater details later down the guide.
Your brand is probably the most important asset of your business. Branding polishes it and unleashes its potential, thereby creating benefits that take your business growth further.
So, what benefits does branding bring to your business?
Brand awareness refers to whether your target customers recognise or know your brand or not.
It does not matter how good your products or services are. If your customers don't know how you are, they can't buy from you.
Strong branding is critical to making your business known and stand out from other competing sellers.
Brand identity is the character of your brand, encompassing all the tangible and intangible qualities that defines it.
Having a clear brand identity is extremely important because it helps your filter and recognise who are the right customers for your business and who are the wrong ones that should stay away.
The right kind of customers are those who share the same values as your business does, as well as the same understanding of what your products and service can or cannot do for them.
It can be costly and exhausting dealing with the wrong customers who have a very different expectation of what your brand can deliver versus your intended promise.
Branding helps crystalize your brand identity to automatically filter out the right kind of customers that your business should work with.
Brand recognition is how instinctively your target customer audience knows your brand without explicitly shown your business name.
Just like how most people instantly recognize Mcdonald's from its golden “M” arches.
Brand recognition goes in tandem with brand recall, which is how well your target audience can think of your brand without any visual or audio representation.
Strong branding helps your business get recognised more easily and effortlessly by your customers, and that creates familiarity.
And people predominantly buy from the brands they are familiar with.
Customers stick with a brand because of familiarity. And familiarity breeds trust.
When your customers trust your brand, it short cuts their decision making process and automatically defaults to picking you as their preferred vendor.
They do not have to go through an entire evaluation process again when picking a vendor because they already trust that you can deliver.
Your customers feel safe when doing business with you.
Brand trust is a highly prized asset to have in your business, especially in a world where less than 30% of people have confidence in the brands that they buy from.
When your customers trust your brand over time, they are less likely to switch to another provider.
These customers are also more likely to continue buying from you whenever you introduce new services and products.
Just like Marvel Studios and its fans who will show up for each new movie release.
When branding is well executed, it can turn your customers into loyal fans who will follow your business over a long period of time.
Going beyond loyalty, some customers may even share about how good your brand is with their circles of business associates, family and friends.
They've effectively become your ambassadors, helping you spread the word of your brand, for free.
In fact, they are paying you to help you spread the word, since they are still your paying customers.
And, as you know, word-of-mouth marketing is the best form of marketing there is.
Good branding helps your business create an army of marketers and promoters that share your brand to an even wider audience.
As I mentioned earlier, a brand is the result of all your branding efforts and activities.
Brand valuation is the commercial value of that result.
It is how much people would pay to have the same impact that you brand has.
A high brand valuation increases the overall value of your business, making it more attractive to investors who would gladly and readily hand over their money to you to help fund your growth ambitions.
If you have an exit strategy in mind and are looking to sell the business after a period of time, brand valuation is instrumental in determining how much you can sell the business for.
So good branding in essence, generates wealth.
To build a brand, you need to embark on a branding process.
The branding process is a series of stages that brings you closer to having absolute clarity of what your brand stands for, and the actions that need to be taken for its purpose to be actualised and broadcast to the target audience.
I encourage you to check out Simon Sinek's “Start with why” TED Talk video, as embedded below.
Inspired? Okay, good. Let's dive in.
As explained in Simon's video, people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
The goal of any business is not to do business with everyone and anyone who needs what you have.
Rather, the goal is to do business with those who believe what you believe.
To create a brand, you need to first understand why you want to create it in the first place.
Make money? Sure, but that is the result.
The why is the purpose, the motivation, that drives your actions to achieve the result that you want.
Most businesses when asked will say that they sell to anyone who is willing to buy.
If that is your answer as well, you don't have a target audience. And that's not a good thing.
The Chinese have a saying “商场如战场”, which means that the business environment is just like a battlefield.
And in war, to achieve your goals, you need to identify which specific targets to attack for maximal efficiency and impact.
If you start attacking everyone and anyone, you will spread your resources too thin and leave yourself exposed to be overrun by your enemies (competitors).
Similarly in business, if you adopt a spray and pray approach to try and appeal to any customer that comes along, you will find that it will consume much more of your time, energy and resources, yet produce less effective results.
So what you really want to do, is identify 1 or 2 key customer groups that represent the best opportunity for your business to capture.
But, here's the thing…
The biggest customer group size does not always translate to better business.
As I mentioned earlier, you want your customers to share your common beliefs, so that they naturally identify with what your business does and why it's doing it.
The best brands in the world have one thing in common:
They are perceived to be very good at solving a particular problem, regardless of what said problem is.
The problem can be a literal one, e.g. stains on your carpet.
Or it can be a psychological - even emotional - one, such as lacking a sense of adventure.
Whatever the pain point is, people generally want to get rid of it at the earliest possible, whenever the budget allows.
It could lead to impulsive buying behaviour. Or it could motivate the person to dive into some buyer research on the internet.
Either way, someone is looking to buy, and the brand that best illustrates that it is the best one solution to solve the problem, seals the deal.
To do that, your brand needs to be very clear and precise on the exact pain point it is solving.
Too often a time, businesses fear missing out on potential customers and therefore try to cast as wide a net as possible, using vague statements such as “catering to a broad range of problems”, “whatever your needs are, we can solve”, or “we serve all customers and all requirements” among others.
The irony is, going broad is the surest way to lose focus and dilutes whatever position your brand stands for.
If you can't be clear and precise about what exactly you're offering, people won't know for sure what they are buying into.
A majority of businesses also fall into the trap of thinking that more is more.
You may be thinking that the more products and services you promote, the bigger your chance of generating more revenue.
Unless you have sufficient financial firepower and resources to market each of your product or service line, it is best to just stick to 1 or 2 key ones.
From a branding perspective, it is much easier for your target customers to remember your brand for 1 specific product or service, rather than a bunch.
When it comes to branding, you definitely want to be known as an absolute expert or authority on one subject, rather than be seen as a jack of all trades.
Now, here's what becomes interesting after a while…
Once your brand is sufficiently perceived with authority for one product, every other new one that you introduce to your target audience enjoys the benefit of that perception as well.
So, the initial objective is to get your brand to a point where it is widely perceived to be a dominant presence for a niche subject before expanding your branding and marketing efforts to other products and services.
In the digital age that we live in today, if your brand is not visible on the internet, it simply does not exist.
More so in the new norm that we live in now, with physical movements and activities significantly reduced, the only channel for exposure and awareness for any brand is going to be online, whether you like it or not.
To have a strong digital presence, it starts at the very foundation of your online existence: your own website.
There are still people who insist that their businesses can do without a website.
Don't listen to that nonsense.
Yes, you can generate brand awareness and exposure on other channels such as social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and the likes, as well as online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.
But make no mistakes about it; you don't own those platforms and therefore don't control them. Any change in their usage terms can render useless months and even years of hard work poured into those platforms.
Your website is the only brand platform that you have absolute control over on the internet. And this is where you should invest the heaviest when it comes to building up your brand assets.
For your website to achieve a strong digital presence, it needs to have high visibility on search engines, namely Google.
Over 70% of all searches take place on the Google search engine. If that is where all the potential buyers are, your brand needs to be there, and it needs to be at the top of those search results.
This is where SEO comes in.
SEO, the common shorthand term for search engine optimization, is the process of getting your website optimized for search engines so that it will show up high on search results whenever someone searches with a keyword or search term related to what the products or services you provide.
The broad objective when it comes to SEO is to rank for as many relevant keywords on the first page of Google as possible.
Having a strong SEO performance for your website is a very powerful boost for your brand because people generally are psychologically wired to perceive that the brands or businesses that appear on the first page of Google must be reputable.
If your brand is perceived to be trustworthy, it is more likely to attract more customers and sales. It's that simple.
As with every business investment you make, you need to know if you are making progress and getting results with the money you spent.
It is not different when it comes to branding, although it can sometimes be a bit challenging to measure accurately, as branding is after all, an intangible asset, and the results may not be straightforward or obvious.
But measurable, it definitely is.
If branding is performed properly, it will also have a causal effect on your acquisition outcomes, be it traffic, leads or customers and sales.
For example, if your objective is to raise brand awareness, it really means having more people in the market know that your brand exists and bother to take a look.
As such, the best way to look at whether you've done a good job promoting it, is to track the traffic that is coming to your website, especially those that come from branded search, meaning traffic that comes to your site because people search for your brand or company name in the search engines.
Ultimately, a good branding effort should result in a positive growth in customer acquisition and sales. So definitely watch how many new orders and customers your business is picking up.
In addition, if your brand is well defined, clearly identifiable and relatable, your customers tend to stay with you for a long time and it shows in your repeated sales from existing customers. Having a good grasp over this metric will give you an understanding of how well perceived your brand is.
Many businesses are lost about branding and how to go about doing it, but when broken down to its essence, it's really just about getting the fundamentals really, really right, and don't deviate from them.