I am currently on the Ask the Expert panel on the tmsme.biz website and the most frequent question I get asked is- How do I brand my company or my product?
Many people think branding is harder than it is and many think it is easier than it really is. What it is, is somewhere in between! Those that think it is hard, often get so stuck in the planning stage and the channels available to them that they never get off the ground. Those that think it is easy, often have a DIY approach which may work well depending on the type of company or product you have. DIY approaches often fail when you are selling anything premium or when your company has reach a certain level of growth that requires the branding to look more organised and sophisticated.

The biggest mistake people often make is thinking that branding is too expensive for them and it is not worth getting a professional to do it.

After all with all the software and technology available now, even a 15 year old can design a leaflet. This form of thinking may not be wrong but not every 15 year old can or should design leaflets. All I can say is, if you donʼt think your brand is important enough to warrant professional attention, why then should your customers give you theirs? For those who think that the cost of branding is too expensive, then I would ask you what price do you put on your time. Many entrepreneurs often calculate tangible costs well, but often forget to cost the intangible. For the effort and time it would take you or someone (who is inexperienced) in your company to design or do the advertising collaterals, might it not be better to spend it networking and getting new contracts? There is also another cost that many forget to look at. That of opportunity. In a market where there are hundreds of brands fighting for the same consumer share of wallet, those that get their branding right often stay ahead of the game. You may save costs in the short term but what is the opportunity cost in the long term?
The most famous demonstration of this is the Philips versus Sony story. A few years ago, Fast Company wrote an article about how Philips as a brand was lagging behind brands like Sony even though they had a stellar record in terms of patents and quality products. Philips has a reputation for making cool objects that either never made it to market or lost out to the competition. The place that dreamed up such iconic products as the X-ray machine, the compact-disc player, and the audiocassette has routinely failed to capitalize on its own big ideas. “It has often been described as the company that made the most things and made the least money,” says Scott Geels, senior equity analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. (Jennifer Reingold, Fast Company, Issue 109, Oct 1, 2006) What essentially Philips failed to do was really to brand itself in a way that connected with its target audience. It prided itself on great products and innovation but forgot to tell people about it in a big way. Now, it has become more brand savvy and is trying to use the Simplicity brand platform to push the brand as a design led company. Four years on, I feel the brand has still not hit the mark. I am still waiting for a kick-@$% product that will make my heart flutter like how the Dyson vacuum cleaner or the Kitchen Aid mixer has.
So now that I can feel you getting excited to brand, I can almost hear you ask – how does one start? The following are some simple steps that has kept me focussed and it is what I often advise my clients to do. It is not the definitive way but if you follow through on this, you won’t go too far off your mark. Before starting any branding exercise, the questions you need to ask yourself are:
A1. What is the reason that this company is here. What is your core business/ function. Vision and mission can be included here. What are the values that you or the company hold?
A2. Who does this company serve? How would you make a difference in their lives?
A3. How are you different from your competitors?
A4. What is the dollar value you hope to achieve for the first 3 years of your operations. If you are a budding entrepreneur and these questions gives you a blinding headache just thinking about it, as it did me, then ask yourself, how much would you like to earn every month and what do you need to do to ensure that.
A5. Do you have the right resources (human capital, equipment, systems etc..) to do all the above. Once you have answered the above, then you can start branding. To brand you really must then decide on the following:
B1. What is the main promise I give to my customers. i.e. quality or cutting edge design that makes your life easy or comfort or the best food this side of town, etc..
B2. What is the identity of my brand – i.e. if this brand was a human being, what would he or she be like? What are his/her favourite colours or style of dressing. If the brand was a celebrity who would it be, etc.. All this helps define your brand’s key corporate identity system which comprise, logo, advertising templates, livery, uniforms etc..
B3. Then you need to ensure that you have the right attitude befitting the brand to drive the above consistently internally and externally. Jim Collins in his book “From Good to Great” talks about getting the right people on the bus. Knowing your brand can help you recruit the right people i.e. if you say you are a innovative brand, then are you hiring innovative people, is your product or service offering innovative, does your office look innovative?
B4. Do a market/industry research and a swot analysis to determine what is the best way to reach your target market. eg if your target market spends 2 hours a day in a car, then radio would be the best place to reach them. Or if they are addicted to facebook or social media then that would be the best way to talk to them.
B5. So now you are ready to start spreading the news to people that you exist. But before you do that, you need to go back to your business strategy and see how much you can afford to spend on your communications programme. This will give you a realistic guide on what you can or cannot do. If you have a large enough budget, it would be a good idea to engage a communications/ agency to plan your programme for you as they have all the right resources to ensure that you get maximum exposure.
However, if your budget is limited then the first most important item is to have a website and please do try and create a budget for a professional looking one. Often people do a website with themselves in mind that often end up boring their users to death. Ask yourself, what is the experience that you want your audience to have when they visit your site.
Once you have done all the above, it is time to sit back congratulate yourself and more importantly, your team. Take time to contemplate how much you have achieved and donʼt forget to celebrate.
A company that understands the importance of celebration (one that is grounded on great tangible results) is one that will go far.
Once that’s done, it’s back to work to ensure that you constantly stay on the ball, monitoring your market for shifts be it lifestyle trends or economic trends that could impact on your business. The brands that are great often understand that to stay alive, they need to be nimble enough to plan for surprises and event worst case scenarios. And when something confounds you or you feel stuck at any point, be sure to go back to your core i.e. points A1- A5 and it will act as your compass to steer you onwards. And if that still does not work, perhaps you can try hiring a brand consultant!
This article also appears on http://liveandinspire.com/peopleorganizations/brand-talk-getting-started/