Entrepreneurs tend to be hands-on types, who react quickly to operational challenges and shifting market demands. However, implementing an effective, cohesive branding strategy to market their business often comes as an afterthought or not at all.
Yet, businesses that define and build their brands gain huge advantages over their competitors, says BDC senior consulting partner Normand Coulombe. “Your brand is your promise to the customer,” Coulombe says. “Research shows that companies with strong brand names generate vastly disproportionate sales and profits.”
Over the years, Coulombe has helped countless small and medium-sized businesses implement effective branding strategies and tactics. Here are some of his tips.
1. Conduct effective market research
Before making significant branding efforts, businesses have to know the lay of the land. Research on customer tastes and competitors’ offerings is crucial in developing distinctive brands.
2. Focus on a unique value proposition
“It’s a competitive world out there,” Coulombe says. “The best way to prevail is by developing a brand that conveys to customers a unique value proposition—something that stands out.” That can mean an offering that is more dependable, has a longer life or is less expensive than the competition. In many sectors such as fashion, furnishings or manufactured goods, effective styling can be a key to success.
3. Choose a brand name that delivers your message clearly
Once a business has identified its customers’ desires and has come up with products to meet those needs, it has to choose a brand name that delivers that message clearly. Venerable marketing expert Al Ries, who coined (with Jack Trout) the term “product positioning,” has said the power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope. Coulombe agrees. “Try to be specific,” he says. “Give each product or service offering a different brand identity, as opposed to simply repeating the company name.”
4. Emotional connection
Psychologists have found that 90% of communication is non-verbal. Shrewd marketers have long known that businesses can vastly improve brand effectiveness if, in addition to a good name, they evoke appropriate emotions. One simple way to do this is through the effective use of colours. For example, using pinks to market young girls’ products, greens for environmental themes, blues for water and so on. They all can help to reinforce an effective brand name. Some companies even use music to build brand identity. For example, Intel trademarked the musical notes that are played at the end of its television commercials.
5. Deliver consistent communications
Once a company has developed an effective brand and corporate identity strategy, it must be implemented consistently through every “point of contact” with its customers, including in advertising, signage, public-relations efforts and so on. One key, says a recent Conference Board of Canada report, is to get employees on board. “Your company’s employees are its greatest brand advocates. Creating an internal branding model will help them to understand and connect to your core brand(s), then communicate that brand message to your customers.”