29 October, 2008
To use another of the most famous examples from popular branding, Kentucky Fried Chicken’s logo is the ‘Colonel Sanders’ design — a smiling image of the face of the firm’s founder. In itself, this iconic branding doesn’t represent ‘chicken’, or even food of any kind. But it is remembered in association with the name of the firm, meaning that as a whole package, its branding successfully keeps the firm lodged in its customers’ memories.
Once the logo has been chosen, it should be used regularly and consistently throughout your branding strategy, in order to represent your firm or product wherever possible. You should combine the elements of your branding — firm name, slogan and logo — on each piece of correspondence you make or advertising space you buy related to your product. This means that emails, letterheads, business cards and invoices, and promotion and advertising, should bear the main elements of your branding. In doing this, your branding will be extended to the reaches of everything you and your products do, and will continue to spread the word of your growing success.
Bearing this in mind, it becomes clear why regularly fine-tuning your branding strategy to better suit the desires of your customers is absolutely crucial. This is especially true if your firm is in a particularly competitive market, up against several rival products or services which claim to do what yours does, and possibly even better, through their own branding. It is specifically your branding that will separate your product from the competitors.
To ensure your branding maintains a strong statement and to continue differentiating it from your rivals’, you will need to regularly assess the competition in your particular market. To perform what could be called a competitive analysis, you should keep track of your competitors’ branding by taking clippings of their advertisements, reviewing any PR coverage they have achieved, researching their online presence by analyzing their website, and even by trying their products or services — especially if they have introduced new products or branding strategies. Then you should decide what especially continues to make your product different — what sets it apart from the rest. It will always be this differentiation that allows you to create an image that remains in customers’ imaginations. Therefore, you should continue to be willing to realign your branding strategy to fulfill this fact.
Slogans can be just as difficult as names to create. Saying something powerful and original in a small number of words is a tough part of the branding process. In order to generate ideas for slogans to lead your branding, you should always stay focused on the potential customer. What are they looking for in a product such as yours? What values and aspirations do they expect from a firm producing it? Why should they buy your product in particular? What do the products and slogans of your rivals represent? The slogan you choose should attempt to take into account strong answers to each of these questions.
To help understand why this stage of the branding process is so important; think about slogans prevalent in popular culture today. The phrase ‘Just do it’, representing a proactive, energetic and no-fuss attitude to life, instantly recalls the branding of Nike. When seen, either on billboards or on Nike clothing itself, the customer takes in both these represented values and the Nike name, and comes more and more to associate them as a permanent combination. This is branding at its most effective, and is what anyone or firm choosing a slogan should seek to emulate.
Nowadays, ‘branding’ still involves distinctive markings, albeit ones representing products and services far more diverse than livestock. What does branding represent today? What was formerly and more literally termed simply branding in cattle-owning circles is these days described in terms such as ‘logo’ or ‘corporate identity’. But the core principles of branding: — differentiation and identity — remain.
An unnamed figure once said that: “Branding is the promise that you make to your customer.” Whichever way it is defined, branding is of utmost importance to firms producing goods and services wishing to gain an advantage over competitors. As competition within industries intensifies, maintaining a powerful brand allows a firm’s products to gain prominence, avoiding dangers like price wars that befall less distinctive products with less successful branding. Thus, a grasp of branding strategy is essential in order to establish strong products and product lines. There are several key elements to successful branding.
Like the selection of your branding itself generally, the selection of potential advertising locations for your branding depends heavily on the profile of your desired customer — a profile you will have gauged from the early steps of developing a branding strategy. Think about what your targeted customer does in their daily life. What do they read? Which websites do they visit? Where do they go? What films and television shows do they watch? Where do they eat and drink? Once you have a clearer picture of these things, you should start preparing advertising material and ‘message’ within your branding with which to target these areas.
Different advertising formats require different designs to be effective as part of your branding. You should analyze advertising you know to have been effective, and ask why. If you can afford it, specialists should be brought in to aid you with this stage of the branding process. Online, print, billboard and other locations can then be targeted with branding messages to your potential customers, letting them know that your product is available and persuading them that they want it.
An obvious example is closely integrating the web and ‘real world’ elements of your branding. Clearly, your online branding strategy — from your website’s main content to soliciting email responses — must be integrated completely with your offline, ‘real world’ branding strategy. This will enable you to deliver one, clear branding message, incorporating the same related logos, slogans and general design elements across a variety of advertising formats. This unified approach to branding is vital if you are to make the most of each of the elements of your strategy.
You should always be willing to fine-tune your branding strategy. This can be done most simply via self-assessment — straightforwardly analyzing what you are doing and thinking of ways in which it could be improved and made into more effective and successful branding. Your firm’s branding and communications should in effect be audited — is there money being spent on branding which is going to waste? Could resources be more effectively allocated elsewhere? In doing this you will constantly be improving and honing your branding strategy.
It could also be useful to gain customer input at this stage of the branding process — for example through ‘Focus Groups’ — to gauge reactions from your potential customers as to the desirability and suitability of your chosen branding. It is also crucial at this sta ge to think about how your name will work in an online context. Unable to pick up a product, and with thousands of similar-sounding sites to choose from, online consumers have very little to go on except for trusted and familiar branding.
On the web, a difficulty for firms’ branding is that there are no physical landmarks allowing customers to remember where and in which general area they can find you. In the ‘real’ world, if a customer has a favorite food store, he or she needn’t even know the name of the store, or be particularly persuaded by its branding, in order to get themselves to it and buying its products. Provided that they know the store has its premises at the corner of Main and Fifth Ave., they’ll remember that and always be able to find it. The fact that this advantage does not exist for firms online makes their choosing a memorable name and their branding strategy generally, all the more important.
Important, therefore, is to discover how well you really know and understand them and their aspirations. By thoroughly researching — through online forums, mail-out surveys, focus groups etc — and creating a clear portrait of what your customers want, you will be able to better focus your branding endeavors. Doing this will also enable you to send your branding message to the type of audience that will be most receptive to the original or unique elements of your product, again giving focus to your branding strategy.
However, in this stage of the branding process, it is important to bear in mind that you cannot please every customer in the marketplace. In fact, attempting to make you or your product ‘all things to all people’ will only result in a vague, diluted and rather weak branding. Whereas, clearly defined branding differentiation, based on what your most valuable customers desire, need and generally value the most will result in strong branding and sales.
Provided you do live up to your branding efforts in this way, the custom it will bring should enable you to succeed competitively, even become a marketplace leader. But this in itself brings requirements as well. To perform like a leader, and to suggest this is true in your branding, means making good on your new branding promises. This essentially requires innovation, leading the way in technologies in your industry and continuing to steal a march on competitors by releasing series of leading products. Customers want to purchase from the leaders in industries, and those who can proudly boast to be so, not usually from middling firms behind the times.
More than ever before, customers consider the wider-ranging experience they enjoy with products, and take this into account before making their purchases, particularly ones of significant cost to them. Consumers now look at multiple product reviews online, read in-depth pieces of information on competing products and pay a lot of attention to testimony from consumer-peers so they may feel confident that their purchase will live up to expectations produced by branding campaigns. In conclusion, this makes matching your branding strategy with real results ever more important. The delivery of effective product becomes branding in and of itself as customers compare experiences and breed more custom and loyalty to your brand.