Branding a corporate or personal identity has no hard-and-fast rules. That is to say, you never know what slogan, logo or ditty will catch public interest. And you never really know in advance what marketing route will be the most successful. In fact, branding can be done in almost any way you imagine, as long as you keep a consistent message and get your name out there. There are probably thousands of ways to promote brand identity. But one that is quite persuasive and very popular today is gaining exposure through the use of credit cards, rewards-points cards, and pre-paid cards.
In the past, companies only had their own credit cards if they were large enterprises and had consistent numbers of customers, typically department stores who saw millions of people yearly in their stores. Then MasterCard® and VISA® created their own general cards that could be used all over. Banks jumped on this strategy and now, every bank has a MC or Visa with their name and logo all over the card. As the banks’ exposure became more powerful through their branded credit cards, companies like Capital One® and MBNA emerged. And when that happened, it became much easier for other companies to brand their own cards whether they were conglomerates or small businesses. (As a side note, MBNA is the largest supplier of credit card co-branding in the US and Canada.)
Today, department stores have merged their cards with other companies. For example, customers can opt for a plain Sears Card® to be used only at Sears stores, or a Sears® MasterCard® issued by Chase™, that can be used anywhere in the world MC is accepted. Think of the exposure that Sears now has because its card can be used almost everywhere. On top of that, customers rack-up points which are redeemable for goods at the store. So when customers purchase, they are thinking about what they can buy with their rewards. Branding with credit cards coupled with reward systems reinforces the businesses’ names to consumers. The cards are always in their wallets just waiting to promote the various brands.
Even for businesses that are not so large and may not have customers that purchase regularly like at grocery and department stores, they too, can strengthen their brands through credit cards. Credit card companies have set up a mechanism where once their brands are in the system, potential credit card customers can choose which brand they want to carry as their credit card. An excellent example of this strategy is universities. They promote their brands to their alumni and encourage them to apply for credit cards with their names and logos on the face of the cards. Smaller businesses can do the same. Customers are not necessarily shopping at the company or charitable organization represented, but they are promoting the brands, nonetheless.
Often, business owners understand what a brand is, but have no idea how to get started creating brand identity. And to be honest, that is expected since brands take a considerable amount of time to permeate the interests of the public. Plus, consumers can be fickle, and as a result, many brands do not take. Consumers do not accept them or do not identify with them, making them duds in the marketplace. And since branding typically involves all aspects of a business from the very beginning right through its mature stages of development, it might be better to consider brand consulting or more specifically, what can a consultant do for you?
One of the key issues with branding that most business owners do not recognize is that branding is a life-long endeavor. If you look at companies that have been around for over one hundred years and even those as young as fifty years, everything they do speaks about their brands. All of their decisions take into account their brands, not only the name of the company, but the brand names of the products. Everything works in tandem to continue the brand that is known to consumers.
What is difficult for new startups is understanding and actually acknowledging the longevity of a brand. Branding is not just about creating a name that some people know. It is about making decisions that affect the long-term viability of a brand. Most business owners cannot see this far ahead. And that is not a criticism. It is a fact that they are trying to get their businesses up and running and then keep them afloat. Do they really have time for branding? So, the first thing that a brand consultant can do for you is look at the bigger picture.
The branding consultant can spend the time doing the legwork and creating your long-term plan. She can arrange meetings with people that she knows can produce artwork, logos, and other creative material that will be important to your brand. She will organize the bids on projects and make the final short list for your review. So, the second thing that a consultant can do for you is free up your time to work on the meat and potatoes of your business, while understanding that you do need someone working just as hard on your potential brand.
Building a brand which will last through thick and thin is one of the most difficult things a company can do. Because brand is not just about quality products, excellent customer service, and how much money you have to advertise, even if you are a successful company, you may not be known as a brand. A brand’s qualities can be physical and are also perceived. It is the perception or value that is hard to develop and maintain.
For a brand to propel itself into daily consciousness, it should reflect several basic traits. It must take on a personality of its own and exhibit qualities of trust, sincerity, authenticity, staying power, mass appeal, uniqueness, and it must have some meaning of importance to its users. All of these qualities are the mark of an excellent brand. The logo alone and fancy advertising will not make the product a brand. So recognizing that growing a brand is more than visual appeal, let’s examine seven brand management basics.
- First and foremost, your brand needs a problem and solution statement much like a mission statement. You need to create a problem and in turn show how your product fixes that problem. Your statement must be well-defined, clear-cut, and you must understand the market to which you make your appeal. If your product is a luxury yacht and you are selling the lifestyle, you are not going to find your customers riding on the bus.
- Your brand must be unique. You cannot appear to copy ideas from other companies. You must be different in appearance, and although you may fix the same problem as another company, your message clearly needs to be your own. Identity is everything when branding.
- You need to understand the importance of being first at something when your brand is new. This is similar to being unique but if you can say you were first at launching a product, your brand will be the one remembered by consumers.
- Everything that is associated with your brand must be consistent. The same slogans, the same tag lines, the same logo, and the artwork in your office. Package recognition is crucial. Everyone needs to be on board and “walk the walk”. There is no room for conflicting or confusing messages. There is only one message to communicate. And you cannot change that message. Take the recent example of Starbucks Coffee®. They were a “yuppie-type” establishment serving expensive coffee. Then, to get a larger market share, they launched an instant coffee. What does this say about their brand and what does it do to the message?
- You need to be credible and sincere. Your target market needs to see that your focus continues and that the brand remains what you said it was. Decreasing quality, changing themes, and gross deviations from the norm will not endear your brand to loyal users. Just think about the “New Coke” debacle and you will instantly understand this basic premise to brand management.
- You must be persistent, continually researching the target market, understanding existing customer preferences, and even monitoring competitor reaction to your product.
- You must be solid when talking about the brand. You must have conviction that it will suit your customers’ purposes and that it is the ideal solution. And you must be willing to put that theory to the test. You must deliver.
Indeed, managing your brand is a huge undertaking but it is essential to long-term branding. Success is found from understanding and committing to brand management basics.
One of the biggest dilemmas of a company, especially a new endeavor, is how to fit branding into the total promotional and marketing strategy. Ideally, the company needs sales in the beginning and most likely cannot afford to devote resources to branding. But if branding is not considered right from the start, there could be issues down the road since the company did not have a well thought out plan. So the question remains, what focus should be given to branding and specifically, “what position should branding hold in the marketing mix”?
Indeed, everyone wants to be or own the newest buzz word or gizmo. Everyone thinks that their ideas are the greatest thing and they can sell billions of “whatever”. And while some of them may be right, a brand can only become a brand if it has sales. Focusing on a brand alone is done at the detriment of revenue. Major corporations have the resources behind them to launch new brands without seriously impacting their structure. But for smaller companies and start-ups, finding a revenue stream is crucial.
A couple points that need to be remembered when addressing issues about branding is that getting a brand really known could take years. Branding is a long-term strategy. It is also not always quantifiable. When bigger companies come knocking with offers to purchase your product or company, you basically know that you have become a brand, but how do you work on marketing your product or service while at the same time trying to develop the brand?
Answering whether brand marketing is still important in the 21st century or not really depends on a company’s or individual’s focus. In short, yes, brand marketing is important but to understand the complexity of the question, let’s look at a few other questions that define the worth of brand marketing in the 21st century.
Does the individual want to make money or be famous? A lot of entrepreneurs really just need and want to make an income. Having a brand is the furthest idea from their minds. Plus, brand marketing is a lot work especially if your service is regional. A plumber doesn’t really care whether someone knows his name 300 miles away from where he lives and conducts business. The basic necessity of earning a wage makes brand marketing unimportant but there are still plenty of people who dream of reaching higher heights which makes it undoubtedly vital.
Brand marketing creates a legacy for one’s heirs and pushes the business into perpetuity. For those individuals who have children and grandchildren to support, successful brand marketing is the key to ensuring the life of the business or product. The brand may become very lucrative and even after the creator or founder is gone, it may continue to support other family members.
Brand marketing can mean a lot of money if bought out. When a product or service develops an identity or personality of its own, it is worth much more as a brand, then when someone is just selling a business that depends solely on herself. If you own a design agency and you create all the designs for clients, you could sell your client list, but the business is not worth much without you. But as a brand, it has intangible value which can be quite appealing to a potential buyer. Even having the license to a brand is profitable.
I wrote a page about the various pros of outsourcing your sales force. I'm a big fan of outsourcing as much as possible in any online business - especially SEO and online marketing, haha! ;-)
Think about some of the television commercials that quickly come to your mind. Do you remember them because of the products involved or do you remember them because of the messages of the commercials? In most instances, it is because of the commercials. You find the ads to be neat or cool. But they fit the products perfectly. That is the purpose of a branding campaign. To make the advertisement mean something to you, while at the same time to promote the product or service being sold.
Some of the oldest commercials for investment houses and banks used (and still use today) branding campaigns to push consumer deposits. When trying to get their clients to buy different pension products, the deposit mechanism was second to the lifestyle that the client could enjoy. “Invest your money for thirty years and live like a king when the time comes to retire.” They showed pictures of people lying on beaches in the Caribbean being served fresh fruit and cocktails. The ads portrayed seniors as carefree souls traveling about the world with no worries in sight. The investment was secondary. This is a branding campaign, and it works because people buy into the sales pitch. They imagine themselves on that yacht!
A brilliant example today of a complete branding campaign is Fido cell phones. Most people know that Fido is a dog’s name. And all of the company’s literature, slogans, print ads, website, billboards, and television commercials clearly show a dog. And not just the same dog. They use many breeds because they are making the point that customers are different. Also, by using different dogs, they appeal to a greater number of people. The brand is not associated with one type of dog, therefore, the phone is not stereotyped. Further, the customers are called “Fido Owners”. The logo is the word “fido” sitting beside a yellow doghouse. And when they show someone giving a Fido telephone as a gift, there is no phone in the box, a dog peeks out. Everyone knows you are not giving a dog and that the telephone is the product, but the cell phone is not the focus of the ad. Indeed, this is an excellent example of a branding campaign. Everything ties together in symmetry.
Indeed a branding strategy is important when marketing your product. You need to have a clear idea of what your brand represents and to whom the brand is most important. One of the earliest decisions that you will have to make is what name to give your brand. In addition to actually choosing your name, you need to decide whether the name should be indicative of the product. That is to say, is the name a description of the item? The other choice would be to brand a term or a word that is completely made up. Apple computers is an example of this strategy because apples, as fruit, have no bearing on computers, nor does the word represent an acronym or abbreviation of anything associated with the computer world.
Additionally, when choosing a branding strategy you need to look at whether you are better to brand the company, the product, or even yourself. If you are a motivational speaker, for instance, branding yourself makes more sense than branding a book you wrote. How you conduct your seminars, as well as your personality are your unique brand.
If you are a large company with many products, you might brand similar items. Baby care products might be one brand while kitchen cleaners may be another separate brand. But, there are examples of companies whose brand covers more than one niche. Ivory® is one such brand. You can buy personal bars of soap, dish washing liquid, and powder laundry detergent. At the outset, you might wonder who would want to buy skin cream from the same company that sells detergent, but the point is the products are all soap. And the brand promotes the fact that the products are “pure”. And that is how consumers know the brand. As you can see there should be something that ties the products together as a brand.
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