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In Depth
What You Must Know About Branding
By Ahmed@techmatrix.com, Technology Matrix Group - Copyright 2001
There are many important things you must do to get your business going, and many others to keep it going.  Branding, by definition, is an ongoing activity, that may morph to accommodate your growth strategy and business environment changes but can never stop because it has achieved some stated goals. This is where the metaphorical sentence "we live and breathe this stuff" is very appropriate. It starts with you from day one (check "Your Domain name, Your Online Brand!"), and continues with you for the life of the business.

There are two major tasks in your branding activity. The first is the underlying business that you want your brand to communicate, and the second is communicating it.

Your Underlying Business

Your brand is not only associated with the product (or service) alone but also the price, quality, availability, and convenience factors.   Convenience factors include the way the product gets delivered, and all associated activities such as your website's reachability, "feel", customer service, support, and warranties.  Your focus should be on the total bundle that is associated with your brand because it is how your customers will evaluate your brand.

Customers, and specifically your customers, need to believe that they are getting the best total bundle of factors mentioned above.  It is the perception that counts... your customers' perception that is.  The total bundle must take into consideration that different factors are weighed differently from one customer group to another.  This is why it is critical to make sure that you have identified your customer group (niche) during the planning phase before attempting to create your business model.

Not only do you need to identify the factors with the most weight in the customers' minds, but also which ones need your attention.  If you sell books online, for example, one of the most important factors in the minds of shoppers for the latest Stephen King book is the book itself.  Since branding the book itself is something that both Stephen King and the publisher have already done, and continue to do.  Your job is to worry about the other factors critical for your customer as you build your brand.  Focusing on the product in this case is not only fruitless but may be self-destructive as well.

Note that the message you communicate cannot differ significantly from your underlying business. If it communicates a different total bundle not only will it negatively affect you brand forever, but depending on the magnitude of variance, it can be illegal as well.  You will not be able to deliver to the people interested in your brand (who will end up abandoning you), and your message will not interest the customers who are looking for your business... a lose-lose situation!

Communicating your brand

Communicating your brand will largely depend on what you are offering, your customer niche, and the way you want to position yourself in their minds. Success is achieved when your message is correctly communicated to the customer who cares about the bundle you offer.

Words matter: Make sure the words you use fit your offer, the recipient, and the times.  Talking to a 5-year-old differs from talking to a Fortune 500 executive.   Needless to say, all demographic factors come into play from age and sex to ethnic background and geographic location.  Also, communicating a Caribbean cruise offer to the executive should differ from a message involving computer security software.   One of our customers changed his banner ad campaign after the September 11th attacks from leading with the word "Alert" to "Important Note" as many people felt that "Alert" was too provocative for the times.  Now you may choose a message that provokes your customer group, and that is OK as long as you know what you are doing and the message fits your customer and your offer.

Medium issues: A message on TV should differ from that in print, on the net, or on the radio, even if the targeted audience is the same.  For example, an ad on the net can generate an immediate response, but since it is dynamic, it cannot be retained as a print ad.

Communicating important factors: Not all the features in your bundle will be of equal interest to your customer.  You must be selective since we tend to remember only one or two things about a given brand.  Stressing such features will prove more effective in your branding than trying to showcase everything you can offer.   The latter will dilute the customers' attention and you will end up with all the rest of the generic brands.  On the other hand, stressing one or two main features will position you well in the customers' minds and encourage them to explore your bundle more thoroughly when they are evaluating it against other bundles offered.  While you want to stress a unique feature, sometimes you do  not have this luxury since your customers are looking for the one and only feature that seems relevant to them for the given product or service.  In this case, you are well advised to stress that feature (even though many others are stressing it too), but you can give yourself the edge by using catchy words to communicate your message.

Don't define your brand too vaguely:  Outcome branding is great as long as YOUR average customers understands what it means... What does Xerox's new tagline "the Document Company" mean?  If their niche customer understands it then that is all that matters, if not they need to work harder.  Taglines are merely intended to remind the customer with the brand, and are not the brand itself.  It is part of the branding process and therefore they may be vague as long as the desired outcome is clear in the mind of the customer.  Xerox's "the Document Company" has yet to help the struggling company.  That in part, has to do with the fact that Xerox was unable to generate the desired outcome in its customers, either because of the ubiquity of the classic Xerox brand "the copier company", or the new identity was just as vague as the previous tagline.

"All brand all the time": As mentioned above, you need to "live and breathe this stuff".  From your business card and clothes, to your car license plates and chats in the elevator you should be working to brand your business.  Instead of wearing a free T-shirt with Microsoft's logo, wear one with your logo and web address.  You got the Microsoft T-shirt for free because you are paying them each time you wear it... Buy YOUR brand!  Another opportunity to brand your business is the trivial chitchats we all have everyday.  If you are excited about your business and believe in it, why not share it with your friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors and anyone else who will listen? 

If you are not that excited about it then why do you have it to begin with?  If you know any new parents you will know exactly what I am talking about.  They talk about all the cool things their babies do... including things like diapers, spit, screams, etc.  I am not suggesting that you bore people to death but I am highlighting that people excited about what they do tend to share it with others. The only time they do not share is when they are not really excited, or they are inhibiting their excitement.  If you are the former, get excited or get out of business, if you are the latter then you are missing out on a great opportunity.

Talking to others help you sharpen your vision, increase your positive view of your business, and can possibly generate new ideas and acquire new customers.  Again, don't be obnoxious and start "cheap selling" to people, but don't be shy to let people know about your business and the good things you offer.

  Testing the outcome of your branding

There are some questions that you need to ask yourself to be able to decide on the best course of action and to test the effectiveness of your branding activities. Since we agreed that this is an ongoing process, you will need to ask yourself those questions repeatedly and adjust your strategy if there is any change in your responses.  You will also need to change your strategy if it is not appropriately generating the desired branding effects.  Ask yourself:

  • What do I want my customer to think of when my business is mentioned?
  • Why should the customer buy from me?
  • Why should the customer buy this product?
  • Why should the customer buy this product from me?
  • Will the customer come back to me? Why?
  • Will the customer tell his friends about me? What will he say?
  • Why can't someone else do the same thing?

Ask yourself: What would the customer do if I go out of business today?  Will I be missed?

While one may try to answer these questions objectively, often times our answers tend to be biased with what we want them to be not what they really are.  It is a very good idea to let a friend, spouse, or anyone close enough to you to answer those questions do it, provided that they will not feel intimidated if they give you honest responses.

Finally, the biggest and dumbest marketing expense is remarketing.  While it is inevitable that you repeat your branding message, each message should build on the one that preceded it as opposed to starting from square one. The only possible way to do this is to be consistent, tenacious, and believe in your brand.  You will save a lot of time and money by creating and nurturing a brand with the utmost focus and dedication.   Once your brand means something in the minds of customers, you can add to the message with minimal burden on the customers' minds. That will give you the stability and distinctability of your brand in your target customers' minds.  Don't save on marketing... Save on remarketing!

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