Branding Goes Far Beyond Your Logo
We've been talking about branding and we've spent the last couple blogs talking about the subject generally: what goes into branding, and all the different areas of your operation it covers.
Today, let's get a little more specific. Let's talk about your customers and, specifically, your customer experience when it comes to establishing your brand.
The Eye of the Beholder
Basically, there's branding, and then there's branding. Anyone can slap a logo or circled-R onto something to claim it as theirs, but that doesn't really tell anyone much aside from ownership. It can protect your YouTube videos or your cattle from being rustled, but it doesn't do anything else.
To make your brand into an identity, it has to stand for something. People need to see your logo and think "quality" or "inexpensive" or "friendly." In marketing, this is also often called differentiation; literally how you make yourself stand out in people's minds from your competitors.
Fundamentally, this is all based on perceptions. You can make "Build Quality Matters!" your motto, but unless you make people believe it's real, it's not brand-building. It's just a positioning statement, or possibly just wishful thinking. (How many greasy spoon diners have we all passed that claim to have "the best food in town?")
Talking The Talk About Talking The Talk
We won't get into an extended discussion about perception vs reality in advertising. Yes, it is certainly possible to convince your customers that you're something you're not - such as Wal-Mart's success in positioning itself as a cost-leader even though the data doesn't really back it up - but let's just say the easiest way to be seen as something is to simply BE that thing.
However, you also need to get people talking about it. Public perception is fundamentally a combination of A)how you treat your customers, and B)how they talk about you afterwards.
It's not just enough to deliver great customer service or reliable products, but you need to get people to recognize that and spread the word as well. That's how you get a strong brand.
Inspiring Brand Recognition and Loyalty
Step one, of course, is simply dedicating your business to being whatever it is you are perceived as. Make that your focus, and don't lose sight of it. Remember, a reputation takes years to build but can often be destroyed with a single mis-step.
Beyond that, here are a few tips:
• Don't brag. At least not excessively. Braggarts are easy to spot in advertising. Stake out your position, but let actions speak louder than words.
• Data talks. If you want to brag a bit, back it up. Make white papers discussing your numbers and what they add up to. Just remember that people - especially the Internet generation - are quite aware of how easily you can manipulate "9 out of 10 dentists!" style polls. The more objective your facts are, the better.
• Encourage social media discussion. The Internet is amazing for brand-building. Make sure you have plenty of enticements for people to spread the word about you through social media.
• Take criticisms seriously. The days of corporations never admitting fault are over. If your customers bring up valid concerns, address them, honestly and in good faith. A willingness to admit fault and to then improve your product will do wonders for your public perception.
In short: Combine a customer-centered approach that focuses on creating an image and inspiring people to talk about it is one of the easiest ways to improve your branding.
(And it's a lot better than using hot iron to create an impression!)
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