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The Green Sheet Online Edition

February 08, 2010 • Issue 10:02:01

Clarify your brand and use it

By Peggy Bekavac Olson
Strategic Marketing

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.

Why make promises?

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.

Keep your promises

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:

  • Does your company lack market awareness and credibility?
  • Is your brand image outdated?
  • Is your company name and corresponding logo mark appropriate; do they reflect the true nature of your business and offerings?
  • Does your brand promise match your customer experience?
  • Do your customers understand and believe your brand promise?
  • Does what you promise meet your customers' needs and requirements?
  • Do you really differentiate yourself from the competition?

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 makeover

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.

  1. Develop a brand promise that is unique, distinctive, compelling, relevant and credible. Make sure your promise clearly articulates points of differentiation that elevates your business from being just one among many identical companies to one with unique character and promise.

  2. Identify two or three key attributes of your brand promise, sometimes called brand triggers, that are critical to building the foundation for an emotional bond with your customers. These triggers can be tangible or intangible and have an intuitive, easy-to-understand link to sales and profits.

  3. Align your organization so that it can consistently deliver an experience that reflects your brand promise by incorporating brand triggers into your everyday business processes and activities, companywide.

  4. Convey your brand promise and triggers succinctly and consistently, day-in and day-out, across all communication vehicles, channels and touch points - your sales pitches, materials, presentations, Web site, advertisements, employees and so forth. Communicating clearly about what your company stands for and delivers will help you generate more sales and revenue than ever before.

  5. Ensure that your customers experience what you promise. Test brand experience by pretending you're a customer to see if what you promise is reinforced through every encounter. Conduct frequent customer satisfaction surveys to gauge brand experience and satisfaction. Remember, customer experience is ultimately the fulfillment of your brand promise.

Promise delivers

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. end of article

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 peggyolson@smktg.com. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.

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