By Peggy Bekavac Olson
What is brand? Well, quite honestly, many companies are confused. Some think it's their name, logo, color scheme or corporate style. If your company believes the answer is one of these, you're probably missing the boat in terms of what a strong brand can do to improve your business and bottom line.
Brand is the promise of value your company delivers to its customers and the marketplace. It's what your business stands for. It's the sum total of your tangible and intangible business qualities and attributes.
Your brand promise describes the value proposition that doing business with you represents and articulates what prospects or target customers can expect from their experience with your company.
Your brand defines who you are, how you do business and how you're different from the competition. It's the words and images that pop into buyers' minds when they hear your company's name or see your company's logo. In essence, your brand is a promise of expectations fulfilled - a promise that should be kept.
You may think making a promise is a fluffy concept, but let's examine real-world examples. The promises made by brands like Procter & Gamble's Crest toothpaste and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.'s Lexus automobiles are clear and distinct.
Crest stands for white teeth, fresh breath and no cavities. Lexus stands for luxury, elegance and excellence. Over the years, Crest advertising slogans have touted, "Look, Ma, no cavities!", "Nine out of 10 dentists recommend Crest" and "Get lasting freshness and a whiter smile." For Lexus it's been "The relentless pursuit of perfection" and "Obsessive attention to detail."
Another example is Visa Inc. In its early years, Visa focused on card acceptance, using the slogan, "It's everywhere you want to be."
More recently, the company has evolved its brand promise, which now centers on delivering innovative products and services that can be used anytime, anywhere, and that empower cardholders to experience life and business their way and on their terms. The company's current slogan, "Life takes Visa," embodies this promise.
For your company to truly thrive, you must create a brand promise, take responsibility for it, own it and relentlessly drive it through your organization so that it becomes second nature. It must be integral to your business essence, culture and strategy. Your brand should dictate all of your company's decisions and investments in people, products, services, technology, processes and delivery channels.
Brand creates a laser focus that provides clarity and consistency among your company's disparate activities. How well you deliver on your brand promise determines the value of your brand, and ultimately, the level of your business success.
So how do you know if your brand is working to your company's best advantage? To assess the health of your brand, conduct a brand audit. An audit identifies where your brand is weak or failing and uncovers sources of brand equity to determine how to improve and leverage that equity.
You will need to focus on the heart and soul of your company - what you believe in (values), where you're going (vision) and how you want to come across (personality).
Ask these questions:
If you're unsure or answered no to any of these questions, then seriously consider undertaking a brand revitalization or rebranding initiative to fully leverage the power of brand in your business.
Brand revitalizing involves fine-tuning your brand to make it modern and up-to-date, as well as competitive and compelling. On the other hand, rebranding involves starting over from square one with a new name, new logo and new brand promise.
Revitalizing is a reasonable approach in most cases to strengthen the foundation you already have in place. Rebranding is a must when the core or fundamental nature of your business has changed.
In either case, these steps should be followed using the results of your brand audit.
Ultimately, if you get it right, your company will truly stand out. Many companies intuitively know they need to improve their brand, so they undertake quick fixes like redesigning logos or updating marketing materials and Web sites, but these investments are cosmetic and change only the face and image of companies.
To truly build a strong brand and capitalize on its power, you first must strengthen your promise of value and then embark on efforts to shore up your brand image, identity and experience.
What separates winners from losers is the power of brand.
Use brand to deliver a message to the marketplace about what your customers can expect. Use brand to separate your company from the competition, add value to your products and services, and engage better with prospects. Use brand to build loyalty so that your customers buy from you over and over again. Customers don't simply buy your products and services; they buy from you because of their perceptions, expectations and the reputation, trust, and likeability of your company. At the end of the day, they buy because they like your brand.
Remember, brand is a promise of value. When you keep your promise, both your prospects and loyal customers will be plentiful.
Peggy Bekavac Olson recently founded Strategic Marketing, a full-service marketing and communications firm specializing in financial services and electronic payments companies, after serving as Vice President of Marketing and Communications for TSYS Acquiring Solutions for more than five years. She can be reached at 480-706-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.
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