There is an old marketing adage that says, "Your brand is everything". But what exactly does that mean? To the entrepreneur, unlocking the meaning of this obscure phrase can make you a huge success over the long term. Contrary to what some might believe, branding is not just a pretty logo. Rather, every business, large and small, must learn how to build their brand and manage it over time for any success. Neglecting your brand will stunt your growth or result in never gaining traction at all. Worse yet, gross brand mismanagement will cause irreversible damage to your business that eventually causes you an early departure from the marketplace. If you want to avoid these pitfalls, then read on.
Your Brand Promise
Branding is the process of building trust with your target market. It is trust that leads someone you are targeting to purchase your product. The greater the trust, the stronger the loyalty. The greatest brands have fiercely loyal customers, like Apple. If a customer purchases your product or service and it has performed as you said it would, then you have fulfilled your brand promise and scored a unit of trust. You just strengthened your brand and increased the likelihood of a repeat customer. But if the claims you make about your product fail to meet customer expectations in any way, you break your brand promise, erode the trust and risk future business. Brand promises are a precursor to mission statements and perfect for small businesses. They force you to focus on who you are and what you do for your customers. Below are some brand promise examples:
1. We offer the most mild soaps for the most sensitive skin.
2. Always organic and all natural.
3. The finest ingredients producing the most luxurious products.
What is your brand promise? What need, desire or problem does your product consistently solve? Even if you never heard of a brand promise before, you have one. It's the reason why people continue to buy from you. If you're not sure why customers buy, then ask them so that your marketing efforts can be focused and intentional, which strengthens your brand. Focused marketing strengthens your brand because it enables trust by affording you the opportunity to couple strong marketing statements with strong product performance.
All brand promises are reinforced with clear messaging and solid actions. Doing this creates a linkage between your products and the quality your customers consistently expect. If you disrupt this linkage then you tarnish your brand. For example, think twice before cutting corners to save a few bucks on ingredients or advertising "clearance sales" if your brand screams luxury in every way. Be careful about making outlandish or exaggerated claims about quality when your brand promise has always communicated "simple and inexpensive". Be watchful of your personal behavior also, as it is directly tied to trust, which customers link to your brand.
True, some marketing campaigns not consistent with your brand may spark an increase in sales or profits in the short run, but be careful. It’s likely to catch up to you because customers have many avenues for communicating their poor experiences, unmet expectations and broken brand promises.
A brand promise must be reinforced over time with intentionality. Marketing messages, campaigns, events you attend, sponsorships you participate in, pricing and discounting strategy, the things you write or say… every action must be in alignment with your brand promise. Any mismanagement of your product or how your product is positioned can be perceived by your customer as a violation of trust. An unexpected change in scent, shape, color or packaging that is poorly communicated and misaligned with your brand can be damaging. Well intentioned as they may be, even product improvements may be misunderstood by your customer base and viewed as a violation of the trust. Remember New Coke?
This doesn't mean you should never make improvements, however. It simply means you must be careful and sure before making them. You must watch and listen carefully after introducing a change. You should measure results and even be prepared to change back if your move has damaged your brand in the form of decreased sales or a barrage of poor reviews.
Consistency in all aspects of your product is critical to maintaining and managing your brand. You must keenly keep watch on everything and take on an attitude of monitoring and protecting your brand every day. In addition to product quality, this also includes service. For example, consistently providing great customer service will improve your brand reputation and soon becomes an integral part of your brand promise. Any poor experiences due to policy changes or lack of training will cause breaks in the chain of brand consistency, which will erode trust and damage your brand.
Even changes to your company name or logo can have adverse effects on your brand because they upset your customer's comfort level with you. Your name and the imagery you select for your brand become imprinted in the minds of your customers. They grow familiar with it and learn to quickly recognize it. Therefore, choose names and images wisely, then use liberally and consistently for the long term. Develop a style guide to ensure your logo appears the same way, every time. Variations in your product quality, packaging appearance and customer service that are radically different from what your customers expect from your brand can all lead to a disconnect in the minds of your customers and a breach of trust which impacts how they engage with you moving forward.
Again, change can be good but you must proceed with caution when deciding to make one. It must be consistent with your brand promise and communicated clearly, consistently and effectively.
Grow and Manage Your Brand
Your brand is not just a pretty logo plastered everywhere. For your customers it's the sum total of every experience they have with you. Your brand is everything! This includes your product quality, your customer service and your packaging in addition to how your customers perceive you as a business person. It all adds up to, "Can I trust you?" When your customers have repeated positive experiences with your brand, you earn their loyalty, which is the key to building a thriving business. Therefore, understand your unique brand promise, protect it and manage it by continually and consistently making sure everything you say and do is in support of it.