Caitlin Robb, Account Executive, Rooster Strategic Solutions

What adjectives come to mind when you hear the name Harley Davidson? It’s probably a different list than you’d provide for Victoria’s Secret! That’s the power of branding, a common but often misunderstood marketing term. Everybody knows that branding is important, or claims to, anyway. But since it doesn’t appear on a balance sheet, senior executives often minimize or ignore branding efforts, and smaller companies are more likely to dismiss branding as a luxury reserved for larger organizations. These are some of the more costly misconceptions about your brand.

You have a brand, whether you know it or not. Just as you’re able to describe Harley Davidson, your customers can readily describe their interactions with your company. Are you easy to do business with? Or is it a pain? Do they trust you? Or are you simply the cheapest option? At its core, your brand is simply the aggregated view of your customers’ experiences with your company and its employees, products, and services. Good or bad.

Your brand is making you – or costing you – real money. Customers are more than happy to pay a premium price for a cup of Starbucks, Nike shoes, or an Apple laptop versus their generic equivalents. Obviously, product quality pays a significant role in customer selection. But so does the number of Starbucks locations, Nike’s legion of celebrity athletes, and Apple’s laser focus on product packaging. These efforts, among others, help to set these companies apart from competitors. Put it all together, and you have the company’s personality, or brand, and there’s a real payoff – brands account for more than 30 percent of the stock market value of companies in the S&P 500, according to a study by The Economist. For smaller companies, brands are shaped more by customers’ experiences than traditional branding techniques, such as advertising. If you’re “the coffee shop with weird hours,” adding a local celebrity to your newspaper ads probably won’t help you.

Does your brand need a makeover? If so, there are some fairly easy steps you can follow:

  • Start with your customers. This can be a formal review, such as a panel study, outside research, or customer survey, or a simple conversation with your most frequent shoppers. You may learn some things you don’t want to know, but you’ll also identify strengths that you can amplify. Make sure to put yourself in their shoes. Visit your website as an “outsider.” How easy is it to navigate? Is it full of insider jargon or company acronyms? Is it optimized for mobile? Do the same thing by stepping inside your store as if it were the first time. Some of our clients hire “mystery shoppers” to get real, unbiased opinions.
  • Create a positioning statement. Based on your customers’ input, write a concise one- or two-line statement that describes your company and its unique claim in the marketplace. What do you offer that nobody else can? Do you feature better service, extended hours, or more experience? If you have a company slogan that highlights your strengths, include it; if not, consider adopting a new one.
  • Be consistent and comprehensive. Your brand needs to be front and center wherever your customers are, from the signage in your store to the marketing materials you produce to the way you package and deliver your products. One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is believing that your brand is simply your logo, and that it’s the sole responsibility of the marketing department. It’s obviously more than that and must be rigorously adopted by everyone in your company. Social media and your web presence are typically where marketers think about their brand, and rightfully so – but the way your store is set up and the way people answer phone calls will also have a huge effect on customer opinions. Don’t overlook the small details.
  • Don’t think of branding as a one-off process. Yes, it’s a lot of work initially, but you can’t go on cruise control once your new processes are in place. Continually test and tweak to ensure that customers see you in the best light and remember that your customers are constantly changing. Ten years ago, my brother wasn’t making purchase decisions for our family’s farm; today he is, and what he expects from a company may not be the same as what my father expected.
  • Know when to ask for help. Establishing and deploying a brand strategy can be complicated and getting an outside opinion may lead to better and more profitable results

If you have any questions about branding or need a third-party’s review of your current brand strategy, I’d love to have a conversation.