Branding can seem like a dirty word – particularly to industries which seem to believe they should be above such things. But branding is simply a way of identifying your business to your clients, and more importantly, for clients to identify your business in their own minds.

Branding itself is neutral. Crass and badly implemented examples can certainly lead to customer confusion or downright rejection. However, the world if full of examples of businesses that embrace branding, find it a useful tool in their marketing strategy, and clients responding in an overwhelmingly positive manor. How else do we explain clients paying money to advertise brands on the clothes they wear rather than the other way round? The brand becomes such a powerful image that clients, and would-be clients, will pay to be associated with it because of what the client perceives that will say to other people about themselves.

As a business, excellence in branding is a key element in any marketing strategy; however, the marketing strategy itself is a critical part of that brand. The brand is method of communicating the goals and ideas contained in the marketing strategy to clients. The brand can’t do it all, but it is an important step and should re-enforce in the mind of the client these goals and ideals until they become synonymous (see last week’s post on creating a marketing strategy here for more information.)

Branding your business is about consistency and simplicity. Walk down the high street and look at the major brands you see there. It is highly unusual to see complex logos or extreme color palettes. By and large most chains use a logo that consists of their name, which ideally is short, and easily identifiable. Chilli’s, Subway, and Wal Mart are all good examples. Even target, which does use a separate logo, uses such a simple logo that is does not detract from their name.

Moving on from the name / logo of a business, other elements of the brand become even more apparent. In Target’s case it is the color red, which is reflected in color if the stores themselves both inside and out, the uniforms that associates wear, the carts, baskets, the carrier bags, the list goes on. Every item where a decision about color has to be made, or can be made, it is made with reference to the brand. But there are other more subtle color choices going on at target as well. There are two other colors that are being used – white and kaki. White is used as a secondary color wherever red is used. When it is not practical to use white, such as the color of trousers that associates wear, it is kaki a neutral white equivalent. Even the Target dog is white.

I find it useful when creating a brand to create a brand bible, or style guide if you prefer, which defines these types of decisions so that everyone can be on the same page when it comes to branding the business. Primary fonts, secondary fonts and general text fonts are all defined, primary and secondary colors are defined and most importantly the business name and / or logo is created in color and black and white and any additional ways if using the logo are defined in detail. Please also remember that when you are defining a brand: work with what you have. If you don’t work with existing elements the process needlessly expensive – unless a complete identity change is what is required in which case make sure that your budget is up to the task. For example, I once defined a brand’s color scheme, in part, because the business’s building happened to be painted those colors.

The web’s restricted color palette and choice of fonts, although becoming less of an issue as the web becomes more and more sophisticated, should still inform your branding decisions. To ignore them would be needlessly short-sighted and potentially very expensive.

Having photographs to hand which help define your business that are online with your brand are incredibly important. When you need a picture of your building, it does not necessarily have to always be the same picture, but it should have a consistent style so that potential clients know they are looking at the same building if they see two different pictures.

Your business’s mission statement may also be able to inform your branding choices. If not then I would argue it is time for a new mission statement! To use Target again the “Expect More, Pay Less,” tag line effectively distills their mission statement into four words, defines what they are about as a company, and even takes a pot shot at their competitors. Not bad for four words.

Finally, be intolerant of off message paperwork, business cards and even staff interactions. In terms of an
Animal hospital is your name ” X animal hospital” or is it “The X animal hospital?” Clients who are familiar with your brand should be able to spot your website, paperwork and even your building even if they forgot your name – because it will feel inconsistent with the identity you have created.

Clients ultimately control your brand’s identity because of how they perceive your business and the interactions they have with you and others about that brand. However, you can set the agenda and shape the discussion by having a consistent and identifiable brand that clients can latch on to and be proud to be associated with.

Next week: Marketing your Strengths and Overcoming Weaknesses