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You know all about branding, don’t you? Of course you do! How could you not? It’s all around you. It’s a driving force in consumer capitalism that’s so ensconced that it shapes our buying habits without us even realizing it? Every time you look at a cold glass of fizzing brown liquid, you’re likely to assume it’s Coca-Cola even though it could just as easily be Pepsi. Every time you hear an announcement over a Tannoy you’ve just made an unconscious association with a brand name for the generic PA system. If you’ll be reaching for the Scotch tape when you wrap your Christmas presents or doing the Starbucks run at work, you’ll be complicit in the awesome power of branding.

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If you’re running a business, are nurturing a startup in the works or merely want to craft a business idea to rival the top 6 startups in 2018 you’ve likely already given branding some thought. You might be absolutely confident that you have your branding down pat. You might think that you have a few vague ideas but not enough to form a cohesive brand strategy… or you might be too wrapped up in your business’ operations to give branding a second (or even first) thought. Many old-school entrepreneurs consider themselves too busy for that sort of excess. Here we’ll look at the importance of branding in business and how it will impede your growth of your business doesn’t embrace it. But first…

Remember that branding is a double-edged sword

Your brand is more than just your image. It’s an implicit pact with prospective customers. It carried with it a degree of expectation and as an entrepreneur, it will be up to you to determine the parameters of that expectation and to make sure that those expectations are met. There’s a recent cautionary tale in the automotive world of how branding can backfire if the people behind the brand don’t follow through on its underlying principles.

In 2015 Volkswagen’s emission scandal did significant damage to a brand that has built itself on reliability. A previous advertising campaign even explicitly stated: “If only everything in life were as reliable as a Volkswagen”. The emissions scandal (which involved the use of software to rig emissions when in test modes to seem to conform to EPA standards) severely damaged the brand in ways that it’s still struggling to recover from. Millions of vehicles have been recalled, customers around the world are currently taking legal action against the manufacturer and at least one arrest has taken place. Aside from the criminal implications, the Volkswagen debacle should serve as a cautionary tale to those who undermine the principles of their brand by their actions. With a little imagination and a lot of integrity, your brand can just as easily be your passport to growth, success, and prosperity…

Why branding works

Businesses that have strong brands use their brand to make a statement to the world. It’s a statement that says “we know who we are, we know what we do, and we’re confident that we’re the best at it”. Over time your brand will become a mark of quality and help to create ubiquity when it comes to your product or service. Whenever a prospective customer has need of what you offer, branding will ensure that it is your business and not your competitor’s that they go to.

Branding also helps to give your business a sense of identity and personality which will make it more appealing. Nobody wants to business with a soulless bean-counting money-making machine, but a business run by vibrant and interesting people who love what they do and are passionate about it is infinitely more appealing.

Let’s face it. Good branding can also make businesses seem superior to their competitors whether they are or not. Take Starbucks (a branding success story if ever there was one) for example. Your caramel latte at a Starbucks coffee house will probably taste identical to the same drink at your local independent, yet they likely charge 25% more. That’s because you’re not just buying the coffee, you’re buying the brand and the implications of prestige and quality that goes with it. The exact same goes for consumer electronics and certainly for clothing.

What will happen to your business without one

Let’s assume that you’re not swayed by the argument above and that you’re adamant that your business doesn’t need any of this fancy branding nonsense to get by. How will foregoing the building of a brand affect your bottom line? Well, there’s certainly evidence to suggest that it will.

Businesses that eschew branding stand much less of a chance of connecting with their target market. Just look at the way Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign in the ‘80s connected with athletes and sports enthusiasts worldwide. Without a brand, people will have no ideals or values with which to associate your business. You’ll just… exist!

Of course, an argument can be made that no business can escape branding entirely. When a restaurateur chooses a shade of green for her signage or the color of the lettering on her menus those are branding decisions whether she’s aware of them or not.

Also, you know that huge and successful company whose CEO became a millionaire without any form of branding whatsoever? Me neither!

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But doesn’t building a brand cost a fortune?

Many neophyte entrepreneurs assume that building a brand is a lengthy and costly process but while it certainly involves making some important decisions, it needn’t come with expensive overheads. While a good marketing consultant can certainly help you to strengthen your brand strategy you can get the ball rolling yourself at a minimum of cost…

A social media presence can be established at no cost to yourself and will be the beating heart of your brand. You will use it to communicate with customers, inform people about changes to your business, events, promotions and offers and it will grow trust and a personal relationship with your brand over time.

Setting up a website for your blog is another inexpensive no-brainer. You should use this as a medium for your content marketing campaign which will get prospective customers to buy into your brand by giving them something for nothing. It will also humanize your business and give it personality and dimension.

For such a minimal cost, and such obvious benefits it should be clear to everyone why their business needs a branding strategy.