As a new business owner, you may view organizational branding as a task that can wait until the business becomes more established and sales start rolling in – but that could be a fatal mistake. A strong brand is necessary from the very beginning to help ensure business growth and development, as well as to create and sustain relationships with customers so they will return again and again. “People want a reason to love a brand; they want to know how it will fit into their story and belong in their world” (Manning, 2017).
With the proliferation of social media, consumers are demanding much more from a company than ever before. If you hope to gain their business and trust, then organizational branding is a must. “If your works and deeds are well matched . . . you will create in your customers a crucial, intrinsic and implicit emotional connection that will form the basis of a long-lasting relationship built on the predictability of the brand’s behavior” (Herskovitz and Crystal, 2010, p. 24).
While the thought of branding may seem overwhelming when considering all the other tasks that must be accomplished to get your business off the ground, proceeding methodically and carefully, you will find that the branding process will not only help you bring in customers, it will also enable you to learn more about yourself, your employees, and your business. “A company must align three essential, interdependent elements – call them strategic stars – to create a strong corporate brand: vision, culture and image” (Hatch and Schultz, 2001, p. 4).
There’s plenty of expert advice out there, so be sure and check out not only branding books and articles referenced here, but others as well, and check out the brands themselves to see what resonates with you. To give you a start, I’ve included my top ten suggestions – in no particular order. Feel free to try one or all of them. But remember, each business, like each person, is unique. You have your own story to tell, your own brand to create, and when all the pieces are in place and your business is up and running, the payoff will be well worth it.
Good luck and happy branding!
Top 10 Best Practices
1) Let Your Story Set You Apart
A good story – or brand – can help set you apart from the competition and assure your customers that they are getting the best product accompanied by the best experience possible. “Storytelling is essential to successful branding, since your brand is the sum of all your corporate behaviors and communications that inform your customer’s experiences with your product or company” (Herskovitz and Crystal, 2010, p. 21).
The Buffalo Jackson Trading Company’s story is as intriguing as its merchandise:
2) Encourage Your Customers to Share In Your Story
If a customer likes your product or service, an online comment can increase your sales dramatically. “As much as companies try to define how we feel about products through advertising and marketing, the real essence of a brand is decided by the customers and communities” (Jones, 2012, p. 11). Provide social media platforms for customer feedback and use that feedback to help improve your business and expand your story.
3) Practice What You Preach
In today’s networked society, you can’t hide a shoddy product or shoddy service with fancy words or promises. If you make a promise to consumers, keep it. Or follow the example of Horton the Elephant who said “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent” (Suess, D., 1954).
4) Encourage Community – Face to Face and Online
Strong branding brings people together, starts conversations, and helps consumers feel a part of something larger. A positive online community can be one of the greatest assets a business can have. “Brands are the conversations and moments we have together, whether we are a community, a movement, or a crowd trying to create positive change” (Hanlon, 2016).
Check out this sobering Nature Valley brand narrative:
5) Sell More Than a Product, Sell an Experience
Consumers expect to buy more than just a product; they expect an experience, and a positive one at that. Create your brand accordingly. “To connected customers, experience is everything. They don’t just buy products . . . They want experiences. It is what they buy. It is what they embrace. It is what they share” (Solis, 2013, p. 152)
6) Recognize and Appreciate the Impact of Social Identity
The Social Identity Theory states that consumers place themselves in different categories depending on the situation they find themselves in (Ashforth and Mael, 1989). Consumers may have multiple identities, and strong brands can assist them in forming an additional social identity they may not yet have. “Consumers have the opportunity to utilize brands as resources in construction of self” (Cooper, Schembri and Miller, 2010). A strong brand can help shape the consumer and convince him of the need of the service or product the brand represents.
Want to be like Taylor Swift? Drink Diet Coke!
7) Choose Your Words Carefully and Make Them Sing
The attributes, or story, used in the description of a product can affect the brand’s desirability and position it above its rivals. Consider “Alpine Class” fill for a down jacket or “Studio Designed” to describe a compact disc player (Aaker, 2007, 11). Those adjectives conjure up positive, upscale images and make your product even more desirable.
8) Consider the Power of Community
The opinion of a customer’s community is an important consideration when the customer is deciding whether or not to buy your product. “When it comes to a purchase, the group you identify with at the time of the transaction is a very important factor in your decision: (Champniss, Wilson, & Macdonald, 2015).
What Makes Us, Us? The power of the Lexus community:
9) Sweat the Small Stuff
As your company’s leader, your vision is necessarily large. But don’t lose site of the small details – it’s the little things that sometimes mean the most. “All the little things you do – or fail to do – for your customers in person will out-communicate the big things you may claim through mass media. Few advertising or marketing messages can ever be as impressive, distinctive, and memorable as a one-on-one brand experience that’s been designed down to the last detail and manages to appeal to most, if not all, of the five human senses” (Yohn, 2014, p. 126).
Apple sweats the details – down to the packaging!
10) Make Your Brand Your Business
A strong brand is not only the face the business presents to the public, but also the road map, the measuring stick, the guide for the business itself. From vision to goals, products to services, CEO to employees, the brand is something to both live by and adhere to. Great companies “use their brands as management tools to fuel, align, and guide everyone in the organization. Great brands use the brand-as-business management approach to grow and succeed in tough economic climates regardless of the size of their marketing budget” (Yohn, 2014, p. 2). Live into your brand. Make it your business. You’ll be glad you did!
References – check them out!
Aaker, D. (2007). Innovation: brand it or lose it. California Management Review. 50(1), 8-24.
Ashforth, B.E. & Mael, F. (1989, January). Social identity theory and the organization. The Academy of Management Review, 14(1), 20-37.
Champniss, G., Wilson, H.N., & Macdonald, E. (2015, January, February). Why your customers’ social identities matter. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/01/why-your-customers-social-identities-matter
Cooper, H., Schembri, S. & Miller, D. (2010, June). Brand-self identity narratives in the james bond movies. Psychology & Marketing, 27(6), 557-567.
Hanlon, P. (2016, April 26). What is strategic brand narrative? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickhanlon/2016/04/26/what-is-strategic-brand-narrative/#4f881e0b433d
Hatch, M.J. & Schultz, M. (2001, February). Are the strategic stars aligned for your corporate brand? Harvard Business Review. 2-8.
Herskovitz. S. & Crystal, M. (2010). The essential brand persona: storytelling and branding. Journal of Business Strategy, 31(3), 21-28.
Jones, S. (2012). Brand like a rock star. Austin, Texas: Greenleaf Book Press.
Manning, Del. (2015, June 30). Five tips on weaving a compelling brand narrative. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/2015/jun/30/five-tips-compelling-brand-narrative
Solis, B. (2013). What’s the future of business? Changing the way businesses create experiences. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.
Suess, D. (1954). Horton Hears a Who. New York, New York, Random House.
Yohn, D. L. (2014). What great brands do: the seven brand-building principles that separate the best from the rest. San Francisco, California: Josey-Bass.