Brand building basics: Part I

Are you considering brand building to strengthen your company’s sales and competitive position? Perhaps your own buying habits, or brand value analysis such as Interbrand’s annual “Best Global Brand Report” intrigue you. While either of these may be motivating, neither translates directly into actionable items for entrepreneurial ventures with minimal budgets. Accordingly, my post today and the one next month will outline the basics that smaller, less well-funded organizations need to know when undertaking brand building efforts.

To get started, keep in mind that you will need to (1) make and keep a brand promise that is meaningful to potential customers and differentiates your organization and (2) create and use materials that embody a distinct identity, which communicates the promise. Unfortunately, focusing on the second of these alone is a common pitfall. In practice, it is wise to develop the brand promise before you invest in initial materials. Once both are in place, you have what you need to move beyond preparation to implementation.

Since brand building is a long-term commitment, preparation is essential to successful implementation. Here are three essential preparatory activities:

• Define a brand promise that customers and prospects will value and that sets you apart from your competition. This promise will be the foundation of your brand. Consider the needs, concerns and perceptions of your customers along with characteristics that differentiate you from competitors: Be ruthlessly honest; if your current reputation and credibility fall short or lump you in with the crowd, address these issues before brand building. Emphasize your strengths and potential strengths, for example your company’s or product’s reliability, state-of-the-art technology, great design/style, associated emotions, low cost, ethics, and ease of use are some of the tangible and intangible attributes that you may want to consider. Building on strengths makes it easier to deliver on the promise. Include your company’s vision, mission and values to assure that your brand promise is consistent with “who you are.”

• Capture the promise with compelling tools including logos and other elements that can be applied to all marketing materials for years to come. Be practical and go for quality, making choices with the long run in mind. Use your brand promise and other strategic marketing information to inspire design. Emphasize good design rather than complexity or extravagant detail. Many strong brands are backed by simple logos. Keep ease of use and potential applications in mind. Your logo should photocopy well and look good in black and white as well as color. It should work well on a small postcard or a large banner. It should not require special production methods or expensive treatments.

• Protect your investment and tools. The more successful your company is at brand building, the more valuable this intellectual property becomes. Establish your ownership of all materials regardless of who develops them. Be sure that your ownership is clear and in writing when you engage outside help, using trademarks and copyrights as appropriate. Maintain the intellectual property that embodies your brand as you would physical property. Establish a schedule to monitor for encroachment by others and to pay all fees on time.

With the above pieces in place, would-be brand builders are well prepared for implementation, which I will write about next month.

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As Principal of Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting, which she founded in 1991, Karen works with a variety organizations on issues concerning entrepreneurial/start-up marketing and sales; strategic marketing; market-oriented business strategy; and business planning.

© Copyright 2011 Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting. All rights reserved.

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