Create a Branding Strategy for Your Entire Business
Branding is one of the most important aspects of business, but it's often poorly done. For many middle market businesses, a branding strategy becomes a combination of advertising campaigns and marketing collateral. There's far more to a successful brand, however, than a flashy logo and a carefully selected set of corporate colors.
What Goes Into a Brand?
"Brand" actually is a shorthand reference for a number of things, including the following:
- The relationships you have with customers.
- The quality and desirability of your products and services.
- The competitive positioning of your company.
- The support for marketing and communications.
- The principles and values of your business.
- The corporate reputation.
To be fully effective, your branding strategy must consider all these factors and all the places they manifest. This is particularly true for middle market companies. They lack the name awareness and resources that giant companies put into marketing. At the same time, they run the risk of being equated with a small company even though they have greater resources to direct toward customer satisfaction.
Branding is absolutely critical to middle market companies, and is most practically expressed through the experiences customers have when doing business with them. You will want to convey that you have more resources to keep customers happy in contrast to small companies. Inversely, you'll also want to express that your business is more approachable than huge corporations.
Here are some things to consider when exercising your brand:
The people who work for you are some of the most tangible representations of your company. Because they are the face of the brand to customers, suppliers and partners, you want employees who are positive about the company. Regularly survey workers and check customer feedback for perspective and attitudes. Consider how to change and improve training and working conditions to let employees present the company face you want.
Office and Facilities
Of course you want your logo at your office and facilities, both indoors and outside. You also might consider emphasizing the brand in conference rooms, in department areas and even in the cafeteria. However, all this is a minor aspect of branding. What's most important is designing the space to enable and encourage behavior consistent with the brand. Only half of companies reported doing so in a Steelcase & CoreNet branding study. Manufacturing locations and processes should be designed to allow proper attention to quality.
Products and Services
Your brand is a promise. Ultimately, you fulfill it through the company's products and services. They should give customers what they expect from your brand, including quality and support when necessary. If they don't, you'll have to reconsider how they are designed, made and delivered. Packaging should reinforce the brand visually and continue the customer relationship by including support contacts and information that can help users better appreciate what they have purchased. For example, if sustainability is an important company value, use recycled materials in the product and packaging, and give people the information they need to properly recycle materials.
In other words, a branding strategy involves everything about a company, not just a marketing campaign. Here are some ways to ensure that you're properly using all your branding opportunities:
- Recognize that branding is strategic. Do not treat brand as a province of the marketing department. It is one of the most important intellectual properties the company has. Treat it so by considering how the brand permeates the organization and everything it does.
- Perform an internal brand audit. Forget the outside world for a moment and concentrate on how the organization does business. See if processes and behaviors reflect the company's brand and values. Examine whether facilities takes branding as more than a superficial concern. Talk to customer service representatives in depth to see how they react and what tends to make them frustrated. If you have fundamental brand weaknesses, know where they are.
- Perform an external brand audit. Look at the company from the outside. How well do the touch points for customers, partners, suppliers, regulators, investors and potential employees convey the brand?
- Develop a plan. When you know your company's weaknesses, it's time to solve them —but avoid quick patches. Because branding touches all parts of a company, understand how to have these units serve the branding strategy.
Middle market branding is a vital strategic concern. It can help convey your authority and ability to satisfy customers while making the most of your approachability. To achieve this, analyze how you express branding through products and services, and treat it as a strategic undertaking.
Has your midmarket company ever been through a rebranding? How did you approach it? Tell us by commenting below.
Erik Sherman is an NCMM contributor and author whose work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, the Financial Times, Chief Executive, Inc. and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch. Sherman has extensive experience in corporate communications consulting and is the author or co-author of 10 books. Follow him on Twitter and circle him on Google+.