Branding is Essential in Competitive Markets
In the old days, “brand” meant a type of product. Today, the definition is much broader.
So what is branding?
“A brand is a multidimensional tool,” said Mandy Arnold, president of Gavin Advertising, in York. “It is more than simply a mark or logo; it is a company or group asset.”
First and foremost, a brand represents services and products.
“If you want to establish a brand, you should start by considering how you want people to perceive your business,” she added.
Powerful brands are memorable, authentic, and consistent—consistent in voice and experience and through every touch point. Touch points may be a logo, an online experience, engagement in social media, the quality of a product, the service delivered when an error occurs, or the connection to goodwill efforts.
Properly managed, a brand has the power to influence, retain, and motivate.
“Branding, therefore, is the act of properly managing the brand and every nuance of opportunity and interaction with the customer and target audience,” Arnold explained.
Roughly speaking, there are two general kinds of branding—personal and business.
An individual often uses personal branding when she is trying to establish her voice in the market. This could be for the purpose of running for office, representing an organization, or standing for a purpose or idea.
On a large scale, when a politician or celebrity is involved, personal branding uses every tool in the brand chest—including logos, consistent visuals, messaging, and experience.
When a businesswoman wants to gain a name for herself in her industry and promote her career goals, she would turn to business branding. This type of branding would be more focused on her expertise, consistent behavior, quality of work, and the way she represents herself in public, even personally.
“In today’s media world, every action permanently adheres to your reputation and lives on forever,” noted Arnold. “You must consider how you act today and how it will affect next year’s career move.”
No matter how it is applied and in what form, “branding is essential,” she added. To survive in today’s competitive climate, brand consistency is like an investment portfolio: Invest early, invest often, and know when to take risk for greater gains.
The experts recommend incorporating social media with other forms of branding, such as print, radio, TV, expos, the Web, public relations, etc.
Any solid marketing approach, including for branding, should be integrated, Arnold suggested. But not every media platform is appropriate for every brand.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, ‘Should we be on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook Live, or whatever …?’” Arnold said. “My answer is always, ‘Where does your customer look for content that would influence her decisions regarding your brand?’”
She recommends that any brand consider an evaluation of its customer base to understand how it consumes the media, and which media influence decision-making and purchase behavior. Age group is important because although all age groups are comfortable utilizing the internet now, some still lean toward conventional forms of advertising.
You should also consider how the information is offered, e.g., BusinessWoman magazine is not only available in print, but also accessible as an e-dition. Some radio stations can be picked up conventionally but also through your computer or smartphone.
“Customer surveys, focus groups, and market research are where you should start,” Arnold said.
Of course, not every company has the budget to do VOC—voice of the customer research. But at a minimum, you should evaluate market trends and data.
“Develop sales and marketing formulae, track metrics, and then evolve your approach based on outcomes,” she added.
It also pays to be realistic. In other words, you can’t go into a market thinking you can be everything to everyone.
“If you go into the market thinking that, you’re burnt toast, and no one wants burnt toast,” Arnold commented. “Research the market, and know it well. Knowing your audience will ensure that you can satisfy the market’s needs.”
Every branding budget should be based on market demand, consumer behavior, a sales-to-conversion ratio, and sales goals. So a good strategy is to develop sales and marketing formulae and track metrics, and then evolve your approach based on outcomes.
Some businesses have their own social media departments. If your organization doesn’t have one, there are companies that can help by offering social media services, which include behavior targeting, campaigns, reputation management, rich-media experiences, and audience engagement, among others.
“But,” Arnold said, “it’s preferable that a social media plan be put into place with clear goals and audience profiles. It is also preferable that our clients be involved in creating fresh, relevant content that nurtures the customer relationship.
“Farming out all your social media with no oversight or client involvement could be dangerous and set you up for generic content that leaves a bad taste in your customers’ mouths. Instead, work with a marketing company to make social media part of your overall strategy and use them as a tool, with clear, measurable goals.”
It’s probably best not to try all your branding efforts at once.
“Branding is like a house,” Arnold continued. “A strong, level foundation is needed to build the rest of the house. Your home has many pieces that all serve a purpose to create the home you want to be in. Leave something out, and you might realize you made the wrong investment, or even worse, a bad investment.”
Start your branding process by understanding what needs you are meeting in the market, who your organization is within that market, and the voice of the target customer.
Does branding differ in nonprofits as opposed to businesses, or whether your brand is a service vs. a product? Not in the sense of how effective it can be.
Branding holds the same power across all industries and sectors.
“Any organization should manage its brand as an asset, with great attention to detail and mama-bear-like protection,” Arnold said.
Involving the members of your organization is also critical.
Throughout any branding process, make sure your organization is inclusive. Ensure that your team is part of building an authentic brand.
“The more engaged the members of your organization are, the more they buy into and help sell your services and products,” Arnold concluded. “Any great leader knows that if your team buys in, you’re positioned to take on even the goliaths of the market.” BW