Over the last two decades we have been helping companies of all shapes and sizes build local and national brands. I mention this now not to push my own barrow – it’s only to give context so you can more effectively judge the quality of my advice.

Hands down, the most common conversation I have today with clients and prospects can be summed up in four words:

“help, marketing is complex”

Everybody is feeling it. Pre-internet, the role of promoting companies was not as challenging. TV, radio, print or answering phone queries pretty much covered it. Branding now relies on so many tools it’s near impossible for businesses without formal marketing skills, to manage it smartly and minimise wastage.

Understanding the breadth of branding today is the key to your business finding the right mix of tactics and suppliers. More often than not, that task lands directly onto the small business owner’s plate. The fact that most owners don’t have a degree in strategy, creativity, design, social media, IT or psychology makes the task even harder!

As there are only so many hours in the day, it’s common for business to be attracted to the quick-fix marketing solutions increasingly available online. The reality is that the Facebooks and Pinterests of the world are no substitute for a well thought out brand strategy.

As marketing gets more complex, planning and building a brand requires the time and attention to detail that is typically put into the design and build of a house. The strategy development that should set the foundations for your marketing requires a depth of knowledge on a par with that of an architect. Working within a changing, tech-influenced world and with a growing war chest of products requires an increasing range of skills.

A case in point: how many horror stories have you heard from associates trying to just get a halfway useful website off the ground. The skill and investment required to plan and build it, and then attract and convert prospects into customers is underestimated by so many firms.

Also adding to the task, I believe, is that great marketing advice and skills alone aren’t the total cure. A good brand starts by defining who it is. An article from Harvard Business Review emphasized that companies enjoying enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed while their business strategies and practices continually adapt to the changing world around them.

You need a plan to build a businessAs the Chesire cat famously said:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Alice in Wonderland
 Do you have a plan for where you’re going?

To help you I’ve put together the following seven principles which have helped guide many of our clients through their brand building journey and turn their businesses around. These are not just my opinion, these are ideas and concepts we put into practice every day, and that work.

  1. PURPOSE – Firstly, establish clarity around who you are, what you do, and why it matters (thank you Marty Neumeier). You must start with a purpose. It is the starting point for every brand because to succeed, you must have not only prospects, but also staff and allies who believe in what you do.
  2. PLAN – Lack of planning is one of the most common mistakes new businesses make. You wouldn’t drive to an unknown destination without a map (sorry, Google Maps, but you know what I mean). Everybody seems to be good at jumping in and starting a business but very few plan, from a strategic perspective, where they are heading and the best way to get there. Your business plan will only fly if you back it up with a well-planned brand strategy that informs your daily decisions and helps you to understand when to say “no”.
  3. MAKE IT EASY FOR THE CUSTOMER – Mediocre or even pretty good is not good enough. Customers have endless choice and endless ways to research and compare. They need to make decisions quickly, so if your brand looks great and your branding communicates instantly that you’re the best choice to solve their problems, you’ll be remembered because you are making their choice easier. Good brands act as shortcuts for consumers. As your brand grows and you instill a level of trust, your customer is more likely to default back to your product or service instead of spending more time looking for another solution.
  4. HAVE A STRATEGY – Social media and the plethora of new tools and apps don’t replace a strategy. Relevancy rules, so work on understanding your prospects intimately. While it’s important for a brand to be seen across multiple social touch points, knowing what to say and genuinely helping consumers and prospects will give you a better chance to cut through the noise out there. This is what a brand strategy helps you define.
  5. BE PREPARED FOR HARD WORK – Don’t underestimate the effort required. Building a brand is not an exercise in tinkering around the edges and coming up with a new website. Think of people who work out for health and fitness reasons. Yes, some get fit, but others get REALLY FIT. With brands it’s no different. Trying hard will get you a business. Doing a good job will get you a business. Working seven days a week will get you a business. But to build a brand you need to be remarkable, as close to amazing as you can. It should feel like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, every day, on your own and wondering why the hell you’re there. Because if it was any easier they would all be doing it.
  6. FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT – Our subconscious makes judgements and forms opinions in a split second. The first time a prospect discovers your brand they will establish their own perception of your product or service promise, and then it will be then set in stone. It’s crucial that you manage the promise you claim you stand for and deliver.
  7. BE INDISPENSABLE – Can you honestly say that your customers would miss you if your business shut up shop today? By taking a step back and a looking at ways to offer incredible value, to be truly indispensable, you become the go-to brand. Successful branding practices will lead to a higher perceived brand value and influence customers to choose your offering over the competition, but you must offer something outstanding first. The truth is, consumers don’t really see much difference between competing products, so successful companies spend a lot of effort identifying or creating a “point of difference”. If you don’t have an obvious difference you’ll be perceived as the same as your competition and will just end up competing on price. The inevitable race to the bottom.

Today, generic advertising is mostly about hawking a product and, if you hadn’t noticed, is mostly ignored.

Peter Engelhardt

To leapfrog ahead of the competition a business should focus on creating a brand that means something to their market by developing a long-term strategy based around establishing meaning and building trust. This can only be achieved if you use branding to condition and manage consumers’ expectations and lead them to see your product or service as the only answer to their specific needs.

And that relies on understanding, and then shouting from the roof tops, YOUR POINT OF DIFFERENCE.


photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc