One of the most important things – actually, THE most important thing – you can do for your business is to create and maintain a consistent brand.
What exactly is a brand? It’s a name, image, term, sign, symbol, shape and even color (or a combination thereof) that not only identifies your product, service or business, but sets you apart from your competition.
Think Coco-Cola. Is there a more recognizable brand on the planet, with its distinctive bottle shape, typeface and red-and-white image? Also consider Nike, whose swoosh image is so familiar that you don’t even need to see the company name to know what the product is.
Of course, most businesses haven’t been around 1892, like Coco-Cola, which has had well over a century to get its brand right. And while Nike is a relative newcomer on the scene, having been launched in 1971, it too has lessons that can help us improve our own brand recognition and consistency.
Let’s first look at Coca-Cola. The Spenserian script used in the logo was the way people wrote in the mid-18th century and that logo has changed very little in the last 100 years.
And for the most part, neither has the shape of the bottle:
Notice, too, that not only did the logo remain virtually unchanged over the last century, but the color scheme as well. The Coca-Cola brand is worth $173 billion.
The Nike swoosh was created in the early 1970s by a graphic design student and although the colors change virtually with every product, the unique shape has remained the same. Its brand is worth $49 billion.
The key element to take away from these examples: Be consistent. Decide what you want and stick with it. It worked for Coco-Cola and Nike – and it can work for you, too.
But picking a color and shape and type face is the end result of your branding efforts. The first step is figuring out your passion and purpose. Passion and purpose are the foundation of your business, and help you make the important decisions on how to portray your brand.
As Howard Schultz of Starbucks put it, “…the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign.”
Fully understand and describe your dream – the heart of your business. Write down your passion and purpose. Print it out and prominently display it. And consider these other components of consistent branding before you move on to the creative side of your brand.
- Inspire loyalty. If you want to stay in business for the long haul, you have to get and retain customers. It makes good financial sense; depending on which source you consult, keeping existing customers costs between 4-10% less than getting new ones. And while competitive prices are important, brand loyalty comes when people feel good about doing business with you.
- Be consistent. So many new businesses out there seem to change their name and their brands like they change the sheets on their beds. This is what happens when you don’t have a clear purpose in mind. Create your brand and stick with it! And make sure all your messages – in your blog, on social media, in advertisements and on your website – have that same consistent brand message.
- Evolve. Sounds like the exact opposite of the previous item, but it’s actually an important part of maintaining your brand…and your customer base. You want to listen to your clients, and change to meet their changing needs. That can be done within the overall structure of your existing brand by making subtle adjustments and small tweaks. For example: Let’s say your market is Baby Boomers who are now reaching retirement age. Accommodate their changing physical conditions by bumping up the size of the type on your marketing materials and website.
- Offer solutions. Address your customers’ pain points. They care less about how you go about resolving their issues than they do about getting those issues fixed. Write down what issues you help them resolve, and keep distilling that message until you have to a few words that best describes your brand.
- Engage. More than ever these days, with social media and other user-generated online content, building a consistent brand means being engaged with your customers. How do you do that? You pay attention to social media (your own and your competitors’). You call them. You send emails or, even better, a hand-written card expressing how delighted you are to be able to serve them. You participate in your community and you give back – however that looks to your business, and in a way that supports and advances your brand message.
- Involve your team. What happens when you’re out of the office? Do your team members (a) know your brand and (b) exemplify it even when you’re not around? Make sure you communicate your important brand messages, and how you expect them to interact with others.
- Align your brand with your business practices. If you’re all about simplifying your customers’ lives, be sure your website is easy to use and your pricing structure is easy to understand. If your brand identifies with environmental best practices, don’t just recycle, but use post-consumer recycled materials in your packaging, stationery and shipping materials. If your market is the elderly, be sure to have employees available to carry packages to their vehicles.
What branding challenges are you facing? Please leave a comment below.