Branding: it's a term that carries great weight in the world of advertising. Successful branding is best illustrated by the world's most prominent corporations, but it's no less important to the small business owner. Your Brand is your identity; it's every single puzzle piece, fitted into the big picture of your company. From your name and logo to your business philosophy and corporate mission; from your advertising campaign message to your design elements; from your products and services; all that is owned, produced, stated, sold and marketed by your company falls under the broad heading of your Brand.
What exactly is a "brand?" The term probably originated at a time when when ours was a strictly agricultural society. Ranchers take a branding iron to their cattle, as a way to signify they OWN those cows. Likewise, modern corporations choose a logo to brand their name into the mind of the consumer. Every time you label an ad or website with your company logo; every time you take a political stance on behalf of your corporation, you're putting your brand into effect. And if a brand indicates ownership, then it should be your ultimate mission to dominate, or own, your niche. Brand your company. Own the cow.
How do you determine your style of branding? Analyze your audience. Zero in on the group you're trying to reach. Are they male, female, or both? What's the age group and economical level? What are their spending habits, their values? How do they TALK? What are they concerned about? What do they think they NEED? Where will their focus be in six months? And most importantly, how does your marketable product fit into the scheme? If you never really get to know your audience, you can read all the marketing how-to strategies in the world, and it isn't going to mean diddly-squat for your business. It isn't going to help you build your brand.
What's the next step? Always, always, always put yourself in their shoes. Jump right into their heads, if you can. Think of your audience during the business-plan conception process. How do they communicate? What do they find visually appealing? Are you marketing to senior citizens? Use bigger fonts, a nostalgic tone, and a morally forthright attitude. Is it the filthy, stinking rich whom you're trying to attract? Save the Crazy Eddie shtick, because money is no object here. Every bit of energy used to promote your brand should be focused toward winning over your key customer.
There will be a time when you completely lose sight of who you're trying to attract. This, in turn, dilutes the power of your brand. You'll be in the middle of writing an ad, when suddenly your head is racing with potential buyer types. This happened to me once during my writing stint with a digital media company who sold Santa Claus greetings. In my sales letter, which went on for pages and pages, there was no limit to what Santa could do! He could praise tiny tots for using the potty. He could play matchmaker to a couple of young lovers. He could patch up an argument you had with Aunt Freida in Topeka. All of this was great, but it was really convoluting Who We Were as a company, and our Santa was becoming a Jack Frost of all trades. It was no good! So we went back to square one. And through simple words and a more narrow focus on our original audience of children, we finally captured the Magic of Christmas that we had originally intended to be Our Brand.
Reflect your brand in everything you do; from your website design, to your public relations, to how you go about selling your product. Once you've done this, the next step is to create Brand Awareness. This is achieved through consistency. You can dream up the most brilliant ad campaign on the planet, but if you're not consistent about putting it in place, you'll never establish brand recognizability.
If the tone of your company is "fun, light and noncontroversial", steer clear of anti-war demonstrations. If Arial is your font of choice, then don't go switching it up mid-campaign and putting out affiliate program materials using Tahoma. If tongue-in-cheek humor is how you attract attention, don't line your website borders with super-mushy personal ads. Ask yourself: will this resonate with my key customer? And use your logo and company tagline wherever possible-in your email correspondence, on your website, as your letterhead, on your business cards, in your advertising and on your product packaging. Remind people of who you are. Burn your brand into their minds.
To some extent, branding is following the herd... emulating respected companies that capture what you'd like to be known for. Still, a wise entrepreneur must never forget that today's success story is tomorrow's dot-com that went under. "What sold" for someone else may not work for your company. Just because Joe Baloney made millions selling with a bilingual circus clown doesn't mean that will work for you... or that anyone's even going to find it remotely interesting in six months. The market changes like the tide, depending on what direction society is going in. Where they were before, which way they're headed, and wherever it's likely they'll end up... socially, economically, ethically, politically, culturally, intellectually, psychologically, philosophically.
How will you know that you've branded successfully? When people start listening to you. Not just hearing what you say, but letting you call the shots. You'll know it when people start imitating you, too. You'll start seeing knock-offs of your products and your company image. This may flatter you or it may annoy you, but when it happens, it's your cue to lead the pack in a new direction. That's how to stay on top of the Branding Game.
The day that you find yourself functioning as a real, live spokesman for a group of individuals, is the day you've achieved Brand Recognition. The day that you make the front page news headlines is the day you've become a household name. But a word to the wise: once your brand achieves true power, someone will try and take you down. Remind them that you own this cow.
Copyright 2005 Dina Giolitto. Use with permission.
Dina Giolitto is a New-Jersey based Copywriting Consultant with nine years' industry experience. Her current focus is web content and web marketing for a multitude of products and services although the bulk of her experience lies in retail for big-name companies like Toys"R"Us. Visit http://www.wordfeeder.com for rates and samples.