Your company, and your products, should
have a distinct identity for your customers.
By William J. Lynott
Take a moment and think of one of your favorite brands. Whether it’s a professional product for use in your business or a favorite personal product, chances are you chose it because you’re comfortable with it; you have a mental image of that product and the company behind it. That’s what brand identity is all about.
Leading businesses go to great lengths to build and protect a unique image because they know the power of a positive brand identity, especially in a difficult economy. However, building a brand identity isn’t just for big business. Every business can enjoy the extraordinary marketing power of a strong business image.
A brand is more than a logo on a business card or a sign in front of a building: It represents the promise that a business makes to its prospects and customers. It identifies the ways in which a company’s products and services stand out from its competitors. Simply put, a brand is the image that a business projects in the hope of developing customer loyalty.
Your brand is your business personality. It can be a powerful marketing tool, or a potential drag on your sales and profits if it’s not working as designed. It’s critical to take control of your brand identity. When you develop a strong and positive image, your target customers will develop an emotional attachment to your products and services, and you’ll move to the top of the list.
It isn’t usually necessary to create a brand image that will be recognized worldwide. It is necessary, however, to create the kind of image that will dominate your piece of the specialty fabrics world—local, regional or national.
These seven simple steps can help you to build the kind of brand identity that will boost sales and profits on a permanent basis:
1. Separate yourself from your competitors.
The first step in creating a strong brand identity is determining what makes your business unique. Analyze your major competitors: Look for their strong selling points and pinpoint ways that you can differentiate your business from them and other competition.
Then evaluate your own strengths and combine them to form a unique identity—a marketable image for your business. Perhaps you’ve been in business longer than any of your competitors, or maybe your employees are well-trained specialists known for their dedication to skill and accuracy in production and service. Perhaps you have highly knowledgeable salespersons who take pride in their knowledge of specialty fabrics and how they can best serve their customers’ needs. Perhaps your manufacturing facility is a model of state-of-the-art efficiency and sustainability.
Identify all your marketable strengths, study them, and determine how you can combine them to separate yourself from your competitors. Once you’ve sold yourself and your employees on why you’re the best choice for customers who require the utmost in quality and service, focus your marketing efforts on ways to promote this image to your customers and prospects.
2. Take action on something that most of your competitors only talk about.
Custom manufacturing with specialty fabrics is a people business; you sell your products to people, not to target audiences. All the Harvard Business School expertise in the world is no substitute for an understanding of that basic business principle.
The most effective—and least expensive—branding technique for any manufacturer is an uncompromising commitment to customer satisfaction. And when the job has been delivered, follow up regularly to make sure that satisfaction is continuing. If every one of your customers has a positive experience with you, you’ll turn those customers into walking advertisements. Word-of-mouth is still a strong marketing technique.
3. Employ strong visual elements.
A major part of brand image is visual recognition. As humans, we remember what we see far longer than what we read or hear. That’s why those major brands that are favorites of yours probably have a highly recognizable visual image.
A basic visual image for your business calls for an aesthetically pleasing logo, which may or may not be a stylistic rendering of your company name. The logo itself is not your brand, but serves as the anchor for the visceral image that is part of every successful brand identity. Once created, your logo should be used on all business cards, invoices, letterheads and envelopes, all with a consistent visual image. You can extend these essentials to include a website, a brochure or any other professionally designed pieces. To embed your brand identity in your market area, use it consistently in every visual item you produce.
Make sure that all of your visual elements are unique to your business and will not be confused with those of a competitor.
4. Make it personal.
Successful brand images have a large emotional content. While it’s important to make solid use of the purely rational in developing reasons why prospects should choose your business and your products, remember the power of personality. Science tells us that emotion is a more powerful system in the brain than is reason. It’s important to try to influence as many positive emotions as possible at every step in building your unique brand image. A note of warning: humor can be effective, but can also backfire in spectacular ways. Be careful.
5. Remember the power of repetition.
Repetition is an important part of building a strong brand identity. Marketing experts say that it takes six or more “impressions” for potential customers to remember and connect with a business. That’s why some TV ads are repeated ad infinitum. Consistent and repetitive use of your visual materials will help to build an enduring and powerful brand for your business. Simple efforts—having employees pass out business cards or brochures at every possible opportunity, and always asking satisfied customers for referrals—can have a large impact.
6. Go the distance.
Once you’ve created your brand image, it needs to reach your prospects and customers where they are. Options are almost limitless, but for a small business in today’s economy, cost is often a factor. Advertisements in local media are fine for those who can afford them, but for businesses on a limited advertising budget, there are effective alternatives: regular emails to people who have logged on to your website, occasional post card mailings, a presence on social media such as Facebook, and asking satisfied customers to spread the word. Donating your company’s services for a community project can garner free publicity and local good will.
7. Live up to your new image.
Once you create and support your brand identity, it will work for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week—if you live up to the promise you have created. The time and effort that you’ve invested in branding your business will be wasted unless you and your employees remember that branding is about meeting expectations, or exceeding them, not just creating them. Stay in touch with your customers before, during, and especially after the job is finished.
Learn as much as you can about your customers and prospects, before you create your brand and while you’re maintaining it. Keep your database current and use it, even if it’s simply to send out a hand-written note saying “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulationsl” It’s not stalking. It’s marketing. And it’s good business.