Branding: You Are What Your Customers Perceive¹

Branding: You Are What Your Customers Perceive

When you think of your company's brand, do you think in terms of logos, stationery, and signage? If so, you're off to a great start but a brand can and should be a lot more. The best brands are not only visually recognizable but also create an instant perception in the mind of potential customers. (Some marketing experts use the term "brand image" to refer to the mental and emotional response sparked in a customer.)

In short, your brand is how customers perceive you. So how do you create an effective brand?

Building a Brand: First Steps

Instead of thinking about colors, designs, and logos, begin by considering your customers. Forget how you see your company; think about the perception you want to create. Start with the basics:

  • What is unique about your core products and services?
  • What stands out about how you do business (quality, service levels, responsiveness, price, etc.)?
  • Who are your ideal customers? What are they looking for?

Think about it this way. For years Disney was considered a leader in family entertainment. If you as a customer wanted to find wholesome, fun, predictable entertainment, you could turn to Disney. The Disney brand was (and largely still is) family entertainment; Disney served that market.

What market do you serve? What do your customers want? What do your customers expect? How can you position yourself to meet those needs?

The answers form the basis of your brand. In many cases you'll already know the answers, especially if you have developed a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP. Your brand should reinforce that USP. Years ago the Federal Express slogan, and USP, was "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." Your USP should form an integral part of your brand.

Building a Brand: Practical Steps

Once you determine the image of your brand, it's time to extend that brand to visuals and other tangible considerations.

  1. Logos. Your logo should be clean, professional, and memorable. Keep in mind you will use your logo in a variety of places and applications; keep it simple so it stands out and is recognizable whether on a business card, an envelope, a sign or a shirt pocket. And keep in mind a logo doesn't have to be elaborate; the Home Depot is very simple, but over time has also become instantly recognizable.
  2. Business identity. All of your marketing and corporate communication pieces, whether print, web, or even PowerPoint presentations should have the same look and feel. Your goal is for every physical item that "touches" the customer to feel integrated into your brand. The ideal outcome is for a customer to pick up any of your materials and instantly know it's yours. (An easy and efficient way to maintain consistency is to create templates and standards.) Consistency makes it easy for customers to recognize you and want to do business with you.
  3. Use the right voice. Who are your customers? What are their needs? How will you communicate with them? If you provide professional services, your company's "voice" should be professional and slightly formal. A more casual and off-the-cuff voice may work better in retail or entertainment fields. Decide "who" you are and communicate (especially in writing) with a clear, consistent voice.
  4. Spread the word internally. Don't assume all employees understand your company's USP and brand. Every employee should understand your goals as well as how best to enhance your brand. Every customer interaction is an opportunity to build the brand: let employees know how to answer phones, answer emails, what to wear. Brands are built by people, too.

Especially keep in mind that the best-intentioned branding strategy will fail if you don't deliver on the promises implied within your brand. If your USP promises a certain level of service, you must deliver on that promise or the only brand you create is one of unreliability.

Maintain Your Brand

Branding is an ongoing effort. Your brand will not be established by a major marketing effort, a huge promotion, or an advertising blitz. Every customer interaction builds or tears down a brand.

Take a step back and consider your brand from a customer point of view. What are customers' first impressions when they walk in the store? How are they greeted? Do they receive the service you promise? If you position yourself as a low-cost provider, is that promise carried out?

Then look at all the physical ways your company "touches" a customer. Are logos, colors, and positioning statements consistent? Do your business cards, stationery, boxes, and even invoices and emails "feel" like they come from the same company? Every time a customer touches something from your company, you either reinforce your brand or lose the opportunity to extend your brand.

Think of your brand as one of your most important assets. A solid brand is like free advertising. If you need a tissue, do you automatically think, "I need a Kleenex?" If you have a headache do you automatically think "Tylenol"?

That's the power of a brand.