In a competitive small business environment, it’s not enough just to have a phenomenal product or service. Your widgets may be the best widgets east of the Continental Divide, but without a compelling and consistent brand, longstanding success will be hard to come by. Yet “having a strong brand” is one of those concepts that, while every entrepreneur knows it’s important, for many the details are fuzzy.
What goes into a brand, and why is having a strong brand marketing strategy critical to a venture’s success? A simple way to think about your brand is that it’s how people perceive your company. A brand elicits emotion, often subconscious. And it’s your business’s job to craft a strong brand strategy to tell your customers–and a world full of potential customers–how to feel about you. When they see your logo, hear your name, or read a tweet, it will bring up a picture of what kind of company you are.
These seven elements of a strong brand will help you cultivate a strong, positive brand image to tell the world the right story.
1. Purpose-driven. A strong brand knows what it is–and what it isn’t. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, it knows its purpose and mission, and spends all of its energy working toward being exactly what it was designed to be and solving the specific problems it was designed to solve.
2. Unique. Good brands know their value proposition and can quickly articulate how they stand out from the competition. They don’t jump into an over-saturated market and ride on the coattails of existing brands–rather, they distinguish themselves through a brand message that frequently references the particular functions and features that set them apart–above and beyond.
3. Knows its target market. A thriving brand is acutely tuned in to who is most likely to buy their product or use their service. All brand messages are designed to appeal to this carefully researched market. It’s OK if a brand doesn’t appeal to people who are quite unlikely to become a customer.
4. Stays on-brand at all times. Strong brands must clearly and consistently communicate who they are (both features and personality) in every single official communication from the brand itself. This definitely doesn’t mean a brand has to be overly serious–unless that’s part of its brand personality! That also means its OK to be funny, clever, or cheeky, but only if a brand calls for it. This means every press release, memo, tweet, and Instagram post need to be considered through the lens of the brand’s personality, and every brand representative needs to be acutely aware of when and how they represent the brand across all marketing, PR, customer service, and social media.
5. Authentic. Brands that stand the test of time don’t try to be something that they’re not. While this is similar to being purpose-driven, it’s more nuanced. Being authentic means that not only does a brand stringently define who it is (purpose), but it ensures that “who it is” is really who it is.
6.Thick-skinned. Every brand will get negative feedback, no matter how perfectly that brand is strategized, defined, and executed. Some of the feedback is legitimate, in instances where a brand has made a mistake or needs to right a wrong. Sometimes, “haters are just gonna hate.” Never more so than in the very public realm of social media, a comprehensive branding strategy needs an on-brand plan for managing customer disappointment, responding to negative press and negative feedback, and correcting mistakes.
7. Visually striking: Strong brands have a logo and colors that are unique, instantly recognizable, and congruent with the brand personality. And it needs to be visually consistent absolutely everywhere. This type of “picture” will speak a thousand words about a brand, and any small variation will at best be confusing for customers, and at worst make it look like the business doesn’t take itself seriously.
Does all of this feel like a tall order? Keep two things in mind while creating and defining your brand. First, hire a professional to help you solidify concepts of your brand–and absolutely hire a professional to select colors and design logos. This is undeniably an investment in your business’s longevity and bottom line. If you don’t know your brand, you can’t express it. And second, be proactive about controlling the message as your brand launches and grows. In order to maintain consistent control over visuals and messaging, don’t bite off more than you can chew. If resources are thin, a very well done website and Facebook presence are far superior to a stew of poorly executed blogs, irregular podcasts, and social media overreach.