Perception is reality. While this maxim still stands as a favorite subject in debates, it is undeniable that it can be applied to certain things, even to the world of business.
When it comes to marketing, branding, sales and promotion, this concept can be one to behold. That is why companies of any financial standing invest considerable amounts of their resources into building, maintaining and promoting their brand.
The brand is how people identify a particular business. It communicates the meaning of the business' existence. It comes with a guarantee that customers will get quality products and/or services from that company. It is the representation of what the business stands for.
Branding as Part of a Marketing Strategy
Because of its importance, branding is one of most vital points of any marketing strategy; thus to create an effective marketing strategy means to know the business' core identity. The key factors to consider are what the business is selling, its goals, its unique qualities and its own set of ethics and practices. All these should come together as a unified whole.
Everything a company does should then be based on that solid foundation. Every piece of promotional material, every public event and every message on every platform should echo the company's brand. Doing this transforms the company's own culture and creates a consistent and appealing image in the minds of consumers. Consumers who advocate the brand should also be rewarded to strengthen their loyalty.
This does not mean sticking to the same agenda in the face of widespread change in the financial climate. Knowing when to shift strategies is just as important for a business to thrive.
Build a Winning Brand
The concept of the brand should manifest itself in the physical representations of the business-the business name, matching logo, online portals and paraphernalia containing the company's brand. The name must be able to stick in people's minds while still making it clear what the business is all about. The logo should be in line with the company's image and the target audience's tastes, while being immediately distinguishable.
Of course, these two things are not enough to ensure a strong brand, which is established by building relationships with consumers through genuine exchange of questions, answers and other information in surveys, focus groups discussions and social media platforms. Through this, the business gets a better understanding of its customer base, and the customers get better products/services.
The Information Age calls for businesses to invest in online branding. And with the competitiveness in the current market, it also demands calculated strategies to produce results.
It starts with doing meticulous research on possible target audiences, which can be done with the help of web analytics services such as comScore and Google Trends. Information collected from the research will become the basis for creating marketing materials and content.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can be the main platforms for online marketing campaigns because of their massive user base. Which one will take precedence also depends on previous research, as reception from both social media portals is not usually uniform.
Whatever the choice, the important thing is to foster a connection with customers whether it's through meaningful dialogue or fun activities. If treated with respect and care, this community can also become part of the marketing team with their own efforts reaching out to their own networks.
This approach to branding still has its use in the digital world, especially with the enduring lives of TV, radio and print media. Offering branded promotional materials such as pens, mugs and shirts establishes a personal bond with customers, while keeping the name at the top of their minds for a meaningful amount of time because of their constant use.
Knowing when to start promoting through traditional means should also be considered, as certain products/services only become profitable during certain seasons. Placing the URL of the business' website and whatever social media pages it has on traditional materials such as flyers and brochures is one way of revitalizing their use.
Mistakes to Avoid
The importance of a brand is a two-way street. If handled correctly, it brings remarkable success. Handled poorly, it spells failure. Here are three mistakes businesses must avoid at all costs.
1. Abandoning Its Core Identity
Establishing a brand can take years and cost millions, but a simple change done in a day or two can unravel the entire business model.
Customers who have been patronizing a product/service derive their loyalty from a reputable image, and to experience a shift in that image can be jarring. A good example would be Coca-Cola replacing its Coke product with New Coke in 1985. This did not generate the expected favorable response from the public; thus, "classic" Coke was quickly reinstated.
2. Playing the Price Game
Equating the brand with affordability might see a boost in sales in certain markets. However, relying on such a strategy through and through won't sustain the business for long. Competition plays. And there will come a day when another business offering the same product/service can deliver at an even lower price that cannot be matched.
3. Promising the Impossible
Although much of branding relies on crafting an idea that might be greater than the product/service, there is a limit to its power especially for small businesses. If what the business is selling does not even come close to what is being said in the marketing, expect customer backlash with bad word-of-mouth spreading quickly through social media and other means, be it online or offline.
For businesses to survive in this increasingly tech-savvy world, it is imperative to start using online branding methods. However, do not forget to do so in conjunction with traditional offline branding to cover all their bases and ensure maximum brand reach. These two branches should cross-reference to each other as much as possible, while keeping the brand's name, logo and message clear and consistent.
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Todd Mumford is the Co-Founder and CEO of SEO Visions – a Vancouver SEO company that provides online marketing solutions and does SEO consulting for different types of business.