Smart branding helps to build strong connections with customers.
By Brenda Haines
What prompts a customer to choose one company over another? For many companies, the frustrating answer is price. To avoid competing exclusively on price, companies must build a strong emotional connection with customers and prospects. Effective branding will help them look beyond price and see that your company is not the same as your competitors.
What is a brand?
Many people confuse a brand with a logo. While a logo is one part of a brand’s identity, a brand is more than just that. At its core, a brand is the emotional response a company evokes in a customer’s or prospect’s mind. If you’re skeptical, try this exercise. Consider these three national brands and note what comes to mind: Starbucks, Target and Best Buy.
Did Starbucks bring to mind a comfortable, welcoming place to hang out? Does Target evoke a feeling of being hip, cool and fresh? For Best Buy, do you think geek, as in, “Thank goodness there’s a geek here who can help me figure out what I really need?” If this is the case, the companies’ efforts have paid off. Emotional responses are not random; great brands decide what they want to be and then build their organizations to support that vision.
Determining a brand
Large or small, national company or local, family business—how your company is branded matters at any size. In fact, you already have a brand, whether you know it or not. Every interaction is a chance to make a customers happy, sad, joyful, frustrated, angry or thrilled. If someone asks about your company, the response will start with that emotion: “Company X made me so mad,” or “I love Company X.”
An effective brand is based on what customers value and what you are already doing that they like. A common myth is that brands can just be invented, but a real brand is unearthed, like a great find in an archaeological dig. If you ask customers, “What do you tell other people about our company?” some themes may emerge. These themes constitute your brand.
Writing and living it
Once you’ve determined what your customers want—and what you’re good at providing—you can build on that brand. It’s a good idea to develop a brand statement that can be used as a measuring stick for decision making. An effective brand statement will fit on the back of a business card so it’s quickly memorized, and your team can easily understand it.
Let’s use a tent rental company as an example. They adopt the effective brand statement, “We provide the backdrop for beautiful memories.” An ineffective version of that would be, “Through innovation, engineering, design and project management, we develop custom tent rental solutions to fit each customer’s individual needs.” The first one works because it is brief and specific. It paints an image of a beautiful memory in the reader’s mind, and provides an easy way to measure success. You can ask the question: Does this [business process] create a beautiful memory? If the answer is no, you have work to do.
Powerful brands constantly refer to their brand statement, aligning every part of operations with it. From the sales manager who takes calls, to the installer in the field or the accountant who sends invoices—all are a crucial part of the brand. Training can help employees who aren’t living the brand; likewise, the brand statement can be a part of employee evaluations and compensation.
Facilities, sales and marketing materials, website and social media also reflect a company’s brand. Most importantly, the actual product must be consistent as well. Using the sample brand (“We provide the backdrop for beautiful memories”), look at ways your people, places and products are helping create beautiful memories. Employees who excel at customer service and problem solving on customers’ behalf are rewarded; those who do not are offered training to address the gaps.
The company’s office, logo, website and social media are designed and updated to showcase the beautiful memories the company creates. Beautifully installed tents (or awnings, graphics or whatever your company sells), as well as the smooth handling of the permitting and installing process, complete the beautiful memory for every customer.
One surefire way exists to make sure your company is doing all it can to live your brand: ask your team. Because they see your company from different perspectives, they are a great source for ideas, and their ideas can help ensure that your company’s brand is consistent across all areas.
Individualize the message
Consistency is crucial, but it’s still important to acknowledge differences among your customers. If you serve both corporate and residential clients, individualize descriptions for the way you create beautiful memories; a beautiful memory for a bride, for example, is different from one for a corporate event planner. You need to demonstrate the value to each audience individually or they won’t see it as a value at all.
For a bride, you might describe the design work and beautiful, elegant backdrops you create with the products in your inventory. For the corporate meeting planner, you may describe the efficiency with which you manage the permitting process, installation and takedown. Each statement creates value and is true to your brand.
A strong brand will create such positive experiences for your customers that the resulting word-of-mouth marketing will drive growth. Measure the success of your brand building with brand-specific questions in customer surveys, and by simply asking prospective customers how they heard about you. For service-oriented companies, 60 percent or more of their business comes from word-of-mouth. Note where new business comes from to see how well your brand is working. Measurement is the analytical finish to a process that starts with emotion. Keep this emotion at the core of what you do and you’ll be on your way to developing a strong brand.