The most valuable asset of any business is its brand. It’s an intangible asset as it can’t be directly turned into cash and sadly some businesses fail to treat it with the value it deserves. Sad, because your brand carries great weight and influence. Treat your brand well and your brand will treat you well back. It is your most valuable asset.
The last few days I’ve been going back and forth on a discussion on my small business forum about branding, specifically about how quickly a business builds a brand and how changing something like pricing affects your brand. Brand has been on my mind quite a bit, thus this post.
I’ve written about brand a few times in the past and have linked to most of those posts through this one. I thought I’d revisit the ideas of what a brand is, how to build one, and why the best brands are honest representations of the businesses behind them.
What is Brand?
The best definition of brand I’ve come across is the one below from Steve McNamara of AdCracker.Com.
A brand is the sum of all feelings, thoughts and recognitions – positive and negative – that people in the target audience have about a company, a product or service.
As good as that definition is I think we could remove the phrase about the target audience. It’s more appropriate to talk about people who know of your existence.
I’m hardly part of the target market for Rolls Royce as the price of one of their cars is greater than multiple years of my annual income, but I do have thoughts and feelings about them. While those thoughts and feelings won’t influence my purchase of a new Rolls Royce in 2010 they might influence me in 2017. They might also influence others who are currently in the target market.
You’re probably going to be more concerned with how your target market views your brand than how those outside it view your brand, but those outside your target market can still hold a view of your brand.
I’d also add that an individual can have a brand. It’s not limited to company, product, or service. In fact anything can and does have a brand. With individuals we tend to say identity instead of brand, but it amounts to the same thing.
Your brand will be different things to different people. It’s unlikely that any two people will have the exact same sum of thoughts and feelings about anything and so it’s unlikely that your brand will be exactly the same to different people. However many people will share a lot of the same thoughts and feelings about your brand and your brand will be mostly the same to individuals within different groups of people.
I own and enjoy using an iPhone. If you own and enjoy one too, we likely hold a similar view of the iPhone and Apple and the brand of each. If on the other hand you own and enjoy one of the many Android phones on the market you likely hold a different view of both the iPhone and Apple and the brand of each, though you might share similar views as other Android phone owners.
One product, one company, different brands depending on who you talk to.
Brand reach is the number of people who have formed thoughts, feelings, etc about your brand. Apple’s brand reaches far and wide. Most people on the planet probably have some thoughts about them, both good and bad. You and I don’t have that same kind of reach. We still have a brand. It’s just that less people know our brand.
The reach of your brand is not your brand. They are two different, albeit related things. Fortunately most of us don’t need to have the reach of Apple to be successful. If I can get 1000 or so people to think positively about my brand as a web designer I stand a good chance of having enough freelance work to last me for years.
What I think and feel about you and your business is mostly irrelevant to what another person thinks and feels about your business. It only becomes relevant if I can exert some measure of influence over that other person. However the more people that know about you the greater the chance they begin to influence each other.
For most, your brand itself is more important than the reach of your brand. Naturally as your brand reach grows you have the potential to do business with a greater number of people and the more likely that greater number of people can exert influence over individuals about what to think of your brand.
How to Build a Brand
You start building a brand the moment another person knows of your existence. Building a brand is actually quite easy. Do business and you have a brand. What’s hard is building a brand that positively impacts your business.
You build a brand by thinking about how you want others to see your business and then being as consistent as possible in all your actions with that image you want people to hold. Anything and everything you do that someone might know about can impact your brand either positively or negatively. The more consistent those things are the stronger your brand. The more inconsistent, the weaker.
By definition human beings are imperfect and inconsistent. It’s impossible to be 100% consistent. Your goal is to be as consistent as humanly possible. Everything you do goes to brand.
- The name you choose for your business brands you
- The color palette you use on your website and other marketing materials brands you
- The copy you write brands you
- The information you tweet or share on Facebook brands you
If it has the potential to reach another human being it potentially becomes part of your brand. “It” doesn’t have to originate on your site or come from you. Information your customers share with each other about you influences your brand. Information shared anywhere about you influences your brand.
The more details people know about you the less any one detail impacts your brand, however some things will always carry more weight in relation to your brand than others.
The greater the consequences (positive or negative) of any action the greater the impact the action has on your brand. The more people know of any detail about you, the greater the impact that detail has on your brand. Some ideas (true or false) become so ingrained about you that it can be hard to change people’s minds.
Your brand should guide every decision you make about and for your business. If you want people to think of your business as friendly and welcoming you can’t snap at people on public forums and social sites. Otherwise it sends an inconsistent message about your brand. What you do will inevitably have a much greater impact on your brand than what you say about your brand.
The Best Brands are Honest Brands
By honest I mean your brand will work best when it’s a reflection of who you and your business actually are. To illustrate I’ll share a branding mistake I made early on in my business.
When I first opened for business I thought I needed to appear larger than I am. I thought I would be more successful if I could convince others my business was more than just me. My copy referred to my business by company name or we, never I or me. My brand carried a more corporate image. It’s a mistake I think many new businesses make.
I did generate leads from companies looking to work with a multi-employee corporate businesses. The brand I put forth attracted a certain type of client rather well. The problem was it was difficult to turn those leads into clients. Talk to me for a few minutes or send a few emails back and forth and you’ll quickly find I’m about as far from corporate as one could possibly be.
People did contact me based on a brand image I created, but they were looking for that brand image and not for my business.
When I later redesigned the site it was in large part to rebrand myself as who I actually am. I still generate leads, but now those leads are looking to hire someone who’s a lot more like the real me. I’m able to close sales much better now. There’s no disconnect between the image of my brand and the reality of my brand.
You can create any brand image you want for awhile. Just do things consistent with what that image would do. Sooner or later though, people will have to interact with you and your business and the reality of who you are and what your business is. If the image misrepresents reality it will damage your brand. If the image represents reality well it will strengthen your brand.
That’s not to say your brand needs to be a 100% perfect representation of you, but the closer your brand is to the truth the better.
Your actions will always carry more weight than your words.
Your Brand Influences Everything
Your brand creates a context in which everything else is seen. Your brand frames what people subsequently take in and think about your business.
Imagine the first time a customer contacts you they’re treated well. Their questions are answered quickly. You solve whatever problem they had that initiated the contact. That person will walk away with a positive experience and a positive association with your brand, particularly in regards to your customer service.
Now imagine that same customer contacts you again with a different problem. This second contact doesn’t go as smoothly. You don’t answer their questions or solve their problem. They leave with a less positive experience or more likely a negative experience.
What do you think their sum total of impressions about your brand will be? How do you think they’ll expect the next contact to go?
In the scenario above the person will more likely be left with a net positive view of your brand and customer service. The first contact established the brand and second was probably seen as the exception rather than the rule. The initial brand image formed by the first call influenced the second.
If you reverse the order in the scenario above the person more likely walks away from the second contact with a net negative view or a net positive less than in the first scenario.
Again the first impression influences the second. The first in this case built a negative brand image. The second contact is now likely seen as the exception. In fact the second contact probably wouldn’t go as smoothly as it might as the person would probably initiate it reluctantly based on the first contact. You would have to do more to win that person over than had they never called the first time.
Everything someone knows about you influences what they subsequently learn. Your brand will set the context for everything.
Take the American automobile industry. For a long time the best cars were American. American cars sold very well. Then they stopped making the best cars. For awhile they still sold better than cars made elsewhere, because part of their brand was making the best cars. In time people realized the inconsistency and changed their brand image of American automobiles.
Better cars were seen coming from Japan and the sale of American cars began to suffer. Fast forward to today and Americans make really good cars again. Many people don’t realize it though. The brand is no longer the best cars in the world. In many people’s minds a car made in Japan is still better than one made in America.
To be honest I have no idea who actually makes the better car today, but it’s really not the point. The point is that for a time a positive brand helped American automobile makers sell a lot more cars than they probably deserved to sell. More recently a negative brand has led to far less sales than American automobile makers probably deserved to sell.
In both cases sales were influenced by a brand image.
Brand influences everything. It can make you walk away from a poor customer service call with a positive feeling and it can sell or not sell cars despite the reality of how well or poorly those cars are made.
Brand and Logo
Your logo is not your brand. It’s a symbol that represents your brand. It can certainly affect your brand much like everything affects your brand, but it isn’t your brand.
Logos are meant to make you instantly think of the brand. Because of their association with your brand they communicate a lot. It’s more important to make sure your logo is consistent with your brand than most other things, but it’s still not your brand.
It can take a lot of work to get others to instantly associate your logo with your brand, especially when your logo doesn’t spell out your company name. If you manage to make this association you have a very powerful symbol that can communicate a lot and quickly.
Most of us won’t ever get there. For proof think of some of the blogs you read regularly. Now picture their logo.
How many could you honestly recall? Some I imagine, but I’d bet not a lot. I know I can’t picture many, and where I can it’s more a vague or incomplete picture. You likely remember the names of the blogs you read more than the logos.
Now picture the logos of Apple, Nike, and IBM. My guess is you could quickly picture all three.
In either case above whether or not you could picture the logo, you likely had some thoughts and feelings about the company or blogger. They all have a brand to you regardless of whether or not you remember the logo. The companies who’d logos you remember can slap it on a new product and you’ll instantly have thoughts and feelings about that product. The companies who’s logos you don’t remember can’t do this.
Your logo is not your brand, but when the two are strongly associated with each other your logo can communicate your brand instantly and effectively.
Your most valuable asset is your brand. If you’re about to start a business you should think a lot about what you want your brand to be. Your brand should be based on what your business is in reality. You should make sure all of your actions are as consistent with your brand as possible.
If you have a business think about your brand and whether or not it’s helping or hurting your business. Think about how consistent you (and your employees) are representing your brand and how well your brand is representing you. It’s possible that tweaking or completely redoing your brand will help your business grow.
Listen to what your clients and customers say about your brand. Is it the same thing you would say about it?
If your brand is strong and is seen positively by your clients and customers think very hard before you do anything to change your brand significantly. If what your clients and customers are saying about your brand is different than what you say about it ask yourself where the disconnect is and look to remove that disconnect.
Do you know what your brand is? Do you have a strong idea of the message and image you want it to convey? Do you know how your clients and customers and those outside your target market view your brand? Do they see it the same way you do?