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How important is your branding to you?
If you hesitated, it isn’t important enough! Branding is of critical importance to every business, of any size, in any market or industry. A well-chosen and well-executed branding strategy can be the edge you need over the competition, and the cornerstone of your entire marketing strategy. A bad job of branding leaves your goods or services poorly recognised and little thought of.

So what is a brand?
In the simplest terms, your brand is how your customer recognises you, and what they know to expect from you. It is how they can tell you apart from the competition, and just about the only reason they would choose your brand over any of the other, otherwise identical goods and services on offer. Your brand is an amalgam of who your company is, what your customers perceive you to be, and what you aspire to.

Are you the stable, reliable, safe-bet option? Are you the innovative and unpredictable start-up? Do customers come to you for ‘the best price in town’ or for the highest quality, most prestigious goods and services? The answer is your brand. That is how customers, potential customers and non-customers alike know you, and you should be doing all you can to make sure your brand means the right things to the right people. The worst brands elicit only a “Who?” or an “Oh. Yeah, they sell those too.”

If the cornerstone of your marketing strategy is your brand, the cornerstone of your brand is your logo. Don’t skimp on it. If it isn’t amazing, get a new one, and fast. Everything about your company: website, sales collateral, packaging and even invoices should feature your logo prominently, and communicate your brand clearly.

Your brand strategy should encompass everything you want to communicate about your brand, and how you will back it all up in practice. Advertisement is a big part of brand strategy, but so are your choices on distribution channels, customer service performance, quality, and price point. Everything your company says or does should be considered a part of your brand strategy.

A good, effective branding campaign will net you brand equity, which is the value your brand adds to your products. For example, there are two cans of fizzy drink on the shop shelf. One is red and simply labelled ‘Premium Cola’. One is clearly a Coke. You might not drink Coke. You might not even like it. But you know it. You know what is inside that can, what it will taste like, smell like, and even what it should cost. Premium Cola? It’s an unknown quantity, a risk. It better be a lot cheaper than the coke, or they won’t sell a single can.

That is brand equity. If the Premium Cola can actually had Coke in it, the Coke can would sell for more, and 80% of drinkers would swear down that it actually tasted better. Coke has spent… billions of pounds, dollars, euros and just about everything else to build that brand equity. It pays off, too.

So how do you build your brand?
Building up your brand is no trivial thing. It can be very difficult. It can be expensive. It can be damned inconvenient. It can even be a total disaster, but the alternative is… well, Premium Cola.

The first thing you need to do is answer the following questions.

• What is the reason your company exists?
• What is it important to know about the goods or services you sell?
• What do the people who make up your market know, or think they know, about you already?
• What do you want them to believe about your products, and your company?

You’d better do your homework, too. What you think they know isn’t worth a penny. Find out what they really think.

Now that you’ve decided what your brand will mean, you have to get the message out?
That is a very big question, and no guide could answer it all for every kind of company out there. I can make some simplified suggestions, though.

1. Have a really good logo designed.
2. Make sure every one of your employees knows what your brand has to mean, and why.
3. Make your brand a part of every aspect of your business. Literally everything.
4. Give your brand one single voice and feel, and keep it consistent through all of your advertisement and communications.
5. Live up to your brand. Really do what your brand promises.

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