Branding: You Are What Your Customers Perceive

The best brands are not only visually recognizable but also create an instant perception in the mind of potential customers. Some marketing experts, in fact, use the term brand image to refer to the mental and emotional response a brand elicits. For instance, Apple is considered one of the best recognized brands in the world. Its tangible brand, the logo and slogan, send a message about the company that make a deep impression on customers.

Building a Brand: First Steps

Instead of thinking about colors, designs, and logos, forget how you see your company. Rather, think about the perception you want to create for your customers. Start with the basics:

  • What is unique about your core products and services?
  • What stands out about how you do business -- quality, service levels, responsiveness, price?
  • Who are your ideal customers? What are they looking for?

To get started, consider: What market do you serve? What do your customers want? What do your customers expect? How can you position yourself to meet those needs?

Gathering this information requires careful thought and planning. The best way to learn how others perceive your company is to ask your customers directly through focus groups, executive interviews, surveys, etc.

Building a Brand: Practical Steps

Your brand must always tie back to your strategy. How does the feedback from your customers relate to your company mission? Are you living your mission? Do you need to close any gaps? Your long term relationships with customers will drive the answers to these questions.

Once you determine your brand image, it's time to extend that brand to visuals and other tangible considerations. Here are six key factors:

  1. Logos. Your logo should be clean, professional, and memorable. Keep in mind you will use your logo in a variety of places and applications. A simple design stands out and is recognizable whether on a business card, an envelope, a sign or a shirt pocket. A logo doesn't have to be elaborate; Apple and Home Depot logos are very simple, but over time have become instantly recognizable.
  2. Business identity. All your marketing and corporate communication pieces, whether print, Web or PowerPoint presentations, should have the same look and feel. Your goal is for every physical item that "touches" the customer to feel integrated into your brand. Ideally, a customer could pick up any of company materials and instantly know it's yours. Templates guarantee consistency, which makes makes it easy for customers to recognize your company.
  3. Tagline/Slogan. Your tagline or slogan usually accompanies the logo. Ideally this should incorporate your Unique Selling Proposition, a statement about what your firm does that no one else can do. FedEx does this well with their tagline, "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight."
  4. Company Elevator Pitch. This is an extension of your Unique Selling Proposition. If you met someone on a short elevator ride or at a networking event and had only nine seconds to convey the message about your company, what would you say to engage your audience? A consulting firm’s elevator pitch included the phrase, “we help businesses enjoy more money and have more fun.” That statement automatically evoked the question, “How?”
  5. Use the right voice. Who are your customers? What are their needs? How will you communicate with them? If you provide professional services, your company's "voice" should be professional and slightly formal. A more casual and off-the-cuff voice may work better in retail or entertainment fields. Decide who you are and communicate both verbally and in writing with a clear, consistent voice.
  6. Spread the word internally. Don't assume all employees understand your company's USP, brand and goals. Every customer interaction is an opportunity to build the brand: let staff know how to answer phones, respond to emails and converse with customers. Document branding guidelines in a company policy manual and review them during employee orientation.

Finally, remember that the best-intentioned branding strategy will fail if you don't deliver on the promises implied within your brand. If your USP guarantees a certain level of service, you must fulfill that pledge – or all your brand will convey is unreliability.

Maintain Your Brand

Branding is an ongoing effort. Your brand will not be established by a major marketing effort, a huge promotion, or an advertising blitz. Every customer interaction builds or tears down a brand.

Take a step back and consider your brand from a customer point of view. What are customers' first impressions when they walk into the store? How are they greeted? Do they receive the service you promise? If you position yourself as a low-cost provider, do you carry out that promise?

Look at all the physical ways your company engages a customer. Are logos, colors, and positioning statements consistent? Do your business cards, stationery, boxes, invoices and emails "feel" like they come from the same company? Every time a customer touches something from your company, you either reinforce your brand or lose the opportunity to enhance it.