When people think of branding, they often think of just a logo or business card. Or they think of the opposite extreme, such as Apple or Virgin, and so assume they will never have the budget to "brand effectively."
Although dazzling branding is more than just pretty pictures, it also is something that is easily attainable if businesspeople put the right thought and effort into it.
Dispelling five popular myths about branding is key to starting that process and transforming your business.
Myth No. 1: Branding Is Hard
Branding is not rocket science. It simply requires focused thought about what you want your business to stand for and to whom, and then a commitment to communicate that message through everything you do visually and experientially.
With my clients, I offer a 10-step process to building a firm brand strategy. But once it's built, you are never "done" nor do you ever stop being a steward for your brand once all the processes, websites, and logos are in place.
You need to constantly be vigilant and regularly do a "system check" on your materials, business practices, customer service, and messaging to ensure your brand is clear and consistent.
You also need to commit to living your values and ensuring that all your employees and partners can verbalize and live those values as well.
Myth No. 2: Branding Is Expensive
Effective branding can be done on any budget. I've worked with $12 million budgets and $1,000 budgets.
The real key to effective branding is making sure that you have defined, in detail, your ideal audience and that your business messages speak directly to their needs and the benefits they value.
Once you have done that, you can work more effectively with a designer to determine your logo or website experience and a writer to craft your brochure and website messaging.
Consistency and clarity in messaging (visual and verbal)—not how much money you spend promoting your brand—is what makes that brand effective and creates rabid fans and evangelists. So if you can spend only $200 on a logo, you can still ensure that it communicates exactly what you want, to whom you want to reach.
True, you may not be able to do multimillion-dollar ad campaigns or sponsor extravagant sporting events. But with clear, consistent, and strong messages, you ensure that even those three or four activities you can afford to do are laser-focused.
Moreover, since a brand is more than just your logo or advertising, you can live your brand through aligned corporate policies and processes. You can easily and cheaply craft a voice-mail message or email signature that furthers that brand. You can extend the brand to free social media that captures customers with limited dollars. And you can ensure your product or service quality and price map consistently to your brand promise.
Those are all things you need to do anyway to run your business, so you may as well align them to a strong brand for maximum "oomph."
Myth No. 3: Branding Is Just Fluff
Brand equity can make or break a company. And if you think branding has no financial impact, just ask private-equity firms that "buy" brands for billions of dollars, all for the brand cachet or loyal customer base.
That's the reason people will pay three times as much for a white T-shirt at Nordstrom than they would at Target. Brand translates into bottom-line sales when done effectively.
You can't deny that if you build a strong foundation and communicate it to the right people at the right time, you will attract just the interested customer you seek.
In addition, a strong brand guides all the other marketing decisions that fuel your company's growth: where to advertise, whom to partner with, how to price your product, etc.
Myth No. 4: All Designers Are the Same
All designers and branding firms are not the same.
Although you can save money by thinking through a brand strategy on your own, before you engage with a designer on communicating anything visually, some designers get it and some don't. And, sometimes, you do get what you pay for in that regard.
If you are talking to a designer who does not ask who your target audience is or what you are trying to convey to them through your visual elements—and merely asks you what colors or concepts you like—you need to run the other way. Though you might spend only $100 on a designer and think it's a steal, you will lose much more in sales and customers by not communicating the right message visually.
Good designers understand how imagery, font, color, and spacing affect the subconscious connections people will make about your company and what it offers. And they should be experienced enough to make some clear recommendations.
It's worth it to spend a bit more on a designer and work with someone capable who asks about your brand and your ideal customer.
Myth No. 5: Branding Works Immediately
Branding and direct-response marketing are two different things.
People need to experience your brand multiple times before it sticks. You need to have it out there, present in all your customer touch points, before deciding whether it works.
Branding is about awareness and "mindshare"—the spaces you occupy in people's minds when they see your logo or hear your name. That takes time to build. The Nike swoosh had no meaning during the first three months after it was introduced.
Avoid the temptation to change branding every few months in an effort to chase quarterly sales growth. Yes, if you get feedback that things are not working, you should make changes; but, hopefully, you will have put the up-front thought and effort into the brand strategy and messaging before implementing it so that only slight tweaks are required.
Branding and messaging can be refreshed over time—but not before customers get a chance to respond to it. And although you might be sick of your brand and messaging after three months, remember that because of all the noise in the marketplace your potential customers may not even have seen it yet.
Note: This article is excerpted from Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget (2010, Norlights Press).