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How to create a successful brand

Your brand should be clear, consistent and customer focused

9-minute read

To the uninitiated, a brand might seem like a superficial matter of a company name, tagline, logo and colours.

These visible elements are certainly part of it, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The larger, unseen part involves the development of the brand’s tone, style, values, reputation and image.

“Essentially, your company’s brand is its personality and identity,” says Mallika Kazim, Senior Business Advisor, BDC Advisory Services. “It’s built on the values that guide your decisions, your approach to engaging with customers, the experiences your products or services offer, and the attributes that make your business memorable.”

What’s in a brand?

It can be useful to study a few highly successful brands and try to understand how they evolved into the household words they are today. “Think about companies whose customers are true devotees,” Kazim says.

For example, you probably know people who insist they can only drink a certain brand of coffee, wear a particular brand of yoga pants or use a singular brand of smartphone. It’s that sense of zeal you’re trying to generate with your own brand.

Try to think about companies you know that have a cult-like, adoring fan base. Chances are, it all started with a product that people really loved.

Often, a successful brand begins with a high-quality product and the sensory experience it offers. One example is ice cream. Its quality ingredients can lead to customer enjoyment, then to fond memories and, finally, to repeat business.

Many products offer memorable sensory experiences: a person’s connection to coffee can be brought on via an appealing café environment; yoga pants can have a luxurious feel; and phones can arrive in intriguing packages that are a pleasure to unbox.

Smart branding helps keep your customers coming back and motivates them to spread the word.

Why is branding important? How does it add value?

“Your brand is a promise to your customers,” says Kazim. “It tells them what level of quality, consistency and experience they can expect, and it builds trust, credibility and goodwill.”

When you build a strong brand promise, you’re more likely to retain customers—and they’re more likely to recommend you. In addition, when your staff and customers can clearly and easily identify your brand promise, it convinces new prospects to trust you. It will also likely set you apart from competitors. Because of that, a strong brand is key to growing your business.

Kazim says a strong brand can add value and allow your business to:

  • build a competitive advantage
  • appear more professional
  • seem bigger than it really is
  • generate customer loyalty by creating emotional connections
  • gain perceived value, allowing you to charge premium prices
  • expand its reach into new markets

People buy identities, not products. Your brand is what people are buying into.”

How to create a brand for your company

“Branding your company starts with three key steps: identifying your customers, identifying your promise and defining your corporate personality,” Kazim says.

Identify your customers

Start by figuring out who your most important or ideal customers are. This is usually done by trying to create personas—imaginary characters that represent the customer types you are trying to attract. Try to come up with a profile for this customer based on the following demographics and traits:

  • gender
  • age
  • income level
  • geographic location
  • job title
  • preferred social media spaces
  • values
  • shopping habits

Create customer personas

The goal is to figure out why this ideal customer is buying something from you. Then you can determine how to retain the customer and attract similar ones.

“If you don’t know these things about your customers,” says Kazim, “then it’s time for some market research.” Or, she says, you can take the direct approach: Choose your five best customers and call them up.

“But if the feedback you get is that some customers have other ideas or preferences, be careful not to lose sight of your business and its core products and values,” Kazim says. “You still need to focus on what you do best.”

Your brand should emerge from the intersection of what your customers want and what your business is good at.

Identify your promise

This step entails knowing what you’re particularly good at—in other words, your value proposition. What do you offer that is different, special or better? Focus on a few claims you can prove.

For instance, if you think you excel at customer service, consider how you can make a tangible statement about that:

  • Do you return all calls within 24 hours?
  • Do you offer service 7 days a week?
  • Do you have a 90% customer satisfaction rate?
  • Do you have a hassle-free return policy?

Findings like these can become part of your brand story. That’s the narrative that encompasses the facts and feelings your brand creates and invites customers to become part of it.

Too many companies default to a brand promise that is “best value for the price” or something similar, says Kazim. But statements like that are generic and not provable. Find the three or four attributes that really set your business apart—and that matter to your customers—and shape them into a promise. Build your brand around this promise.

Saying that your brand is about offering the best quality for the price is far too generic. Your brand promise has to be that sweet spot where your customers recognize what sets you apart.

Define your personality

This is an exercise where you establish the tone, style and imagery you will use to communicate your brand. If you’re an entrepreneur, your brand should be authentic to your personal style and reflect you and your aspirations at the company level.

“For most small businesses, the leader has an outsized influence on how the company runs,” says Kazim. “You’re the face of the company, and you’ve probably surrounded yourself with like-minded people. If you’re trying to make your company something that you’re not, it will be hard to maintain, and it won’t seem authentic.”

For example, if you’re risk-averse by nature, you shouldn’t define your company as innovative.

Once you’ve defined your corporate personality, you have to be willing to invest in the assets that will help you maintain it. For example, if you do choose innovation as a key aspect of your brand promise and personality, then your website and social media should contain modern imagery and always be up to date.

What makes a brand successful?

People don’t buy products and services based on features; they are searching for a solution to a problem—a want, a need.

Your job is to speak directly to them about how your product or service will meet—and exceed—their expectations in fulfilling that need.

How will you provide gains for them in terms of time, simplicity, security or pleasure? How are you different from the rest?

The goal is to craft consistent messages that reinforce a cohesive brand identity and allow you to manage the customer journey, both on and offline.

What are the three Cs of branding?

Once you’ve branded your company, you’ll need to protect the brand. You can do this by ensuring your company delivers on what its brand promises. According to Kazim, it’s useful to keep the three Cs of branding in mind.

Clarity: Your brand should have a clear, distinct message that conveys its unique value proposition and sets it apart from competitors. Make sure you communicate it regularly.

Consistency: Your brand should maintain a consistent visual identity and messaging style across all channels and touchpoints to create a cohesive brand experience for customers.

Customer focus: Always keep the customer at the centre of your branding efforts, focusing on their needs, preferences and values to maintain a strong emotional bond.

Getting an outside opinion

Finally, Kazim emphasizes that branding is one of those areas where a small business is well advised to seek outside help. The reason? Getting an outside perspective on your brand can be a powerful exercise.

“It’s like having a trusted friend or colleague look over your resumé before you send it out,” says Kazim. “A fresh set of eyes is always a good idea.”

A marketing agency, advisory service or consultant can help you with this. In fact, they help with all aspects of branding.

But if you prefer to do as much as possible on your own, says Kazim, then you should still look at splitting the work with a third party. You can take on one of a group of tasks—identifying your corporate values, understanding your customers and figuring out what makes you stand out—and then hire an agency or advisory service to design a logo and write a tagline. Or you can go the opposite route and hire a consultant to garner those insights about your business, then design the creative elements yourself. But it’s best not to manage both parts on your own.

It’s about recognizing that, just as some other business processes are best handled by specialists—such as writing legal contracts or filing corporate taxes—this one can also benefit from expertise.

Ultimately, your brand is at the core of your business and what makes it unique. The right branding can help you ensure that customers hear the story you’re trying to tell.

Next steps

Discover what it takes to build a successful brand online by downloading Attracting and Selling Online, a free digital marketing guide for entrepreneurs.

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