There’s no denying that branding plays a huge role in the success or failure of a business.
In recent years, what ‘branding’ actually stands for has only grown in terms of the scope of what it covers. In the past, a memorable brand name and an eye-catching logo may have sufficed for building a brand. More recently though, customers have come to want more from businesses. Brand stories, personal brands, tone of voice and a business’s values and beliefs have become increasingly inportant, and now all sit under the umbrella term that is ‘branding’.
Brands are facing more and more scrutiny, and are being dissected by customers who want to know whether they are being truly open and transparent in how they are running their businesses. With such high expectations to try to live up to, building a strong brand from the start is a business fundamental. With that as a solid base, your business only stands to flourish.
However, when it comes to actually running a business, sometimes providing good customer service and dealing with the day-to-day running of the business, can take precedence. No matter what time pressures you are under, time should be set aside for working on building the brand, to ensure that this aspect of the business does not get neglected. How can a new business show that it can hold its own against the competition? What can it do to set itself apart?
What makes a strong brand?
A ‘strong’ brand really can’t be defined in a single way. Essentially, it needs to have all of the usual elements that make up an ordinarily successful brand, and more besides. It has to have that special something that sets it apart from the rest to keep customers coming back time and time again.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a hard and fast rule book on building a strong brand. It has a lot do to with business owners themselves, what they stand for, and what they envision for their business. Building a brand or business is no easy feat. It requires grit, determination, spirit, an element of intuition and market insight, and perhaps even a little luck. These qualities may come from the business owner or founder; and it’s upon them that the business is built. These qualities will be different from one business to another, but they will be the pillars that support the business far into the future and shape it as it grows and develops.
One word of advice here: always maintain authenticity . Today’s customers are super-sharp in differentiating an insincere show for marketing purposes from a genuine display of values, and can spot if a brand is simply doing something for the sake of appearances rather than with actual meaning behind the action.
In this article, we’ve drilled down into the really valuable ways in which building a strong brand can help to support businesses, and why brand-building should be made a priority.
It can often be the case that a service is used or a product is bought, and although the customer has a positive experience with the business that provided said product or service, when they go back to purchase the same item again or to recommend to a friend, they actually struggle to recall the name of the business or service provider they used. This generally happens because that business wasn’t memorable enough. Perhaps the brand name was too generic; the customer service was only good, as opposed to excellent; or they were just lacking something to set them apart from a whole array of other businesses offering similar products or services.
It could also be the case that the business had missed a trick and hadn’t considered their iconography. Rather than a brand name or memorable service, this refers to a specific icon (or piece of visual imagery) that is immediately recognisable and associated with a particular business. This association is trickier to build, but well-known examples for big-name brands, such as McDonalds’ golden arches, Nike’s tick or Apple’s apple, show that once established in customers’ minds, it really can stand the test of time. It would be hard to find a teenager or adult in the developed world today who, if shown one of those icons, wouldn’t be able to recall the business with which it was associated.
To get the memorability box ticked, the focus needs to be on something specific. What niche can your brand own? Whether it is a really interesting founding story, excellent, out-of-this-world customer service, green credentials that put competitors to shame, or even a very simple, but iconic image that can be instantly recognised, it will be these unique attributes that truly cement what your brand is known for and ensure that it sticks in the minds of customers.
If this can be achieved, customers will not forget your business, and are likely to continue to return, cementing a loyal following which will be far easier for you to maintain and rely upon, as opposed to continually searching for new customers.
A strong brand built on a strong set of values and beliefs highlighting what a business stands for will show customers that it is a business that is open and transparent in its way of working. It will show customers that the business does what it says on the tin, has no secrets and operates in a respectable way. This in turn helps to build a positive reputation.
The reputation of a business has the power to make it or break it, so it is essential that it is treated as a matter of vital importance and looked after. A good reputation that can be reinforced with stellar reviews is a fantastic way of building trust. Whether these reviews sit on the business website or on a third-party site like Google, Trip Advisor or OpenTable (depending on the industry), ensuring you have highly rated reviews will only bolster your business's reputation.
Sometimes, bad reviews are unavoidable. In this case, be seen to respond to the negative review and offer a solution to the problem. This will reassure other customers that a proactive approach to the issue is being taken, and as a result, they will be more likely to view the business favourably. The more a customer trusts a business, the more likely they are to go back and seek out the services or products. It can also have a knock-on effect in terms of happy customers returning with bigger orders or projects, which can lead to growth and expansion.
Customer trust can also play a part if there is ever a time in the business where a mistake is made that isn’t necessarily a quick fix. Sometimes in business, you do have to hold up your hands and admit there was an error made. We are all human, so this can happen. A business that already holds great trust from customers is far more likely to retain their favour following a sincere apology when something like this happens, as they will know it is a one-off and that it isn’t the norm for the business. In this case, the business’s reputation may recover more quickly as it has its established customers on side.
This is another reason why building trust through the strength of a brand is so important. It may even save the business if something does go badly wrong.
Word-of-mouth marketing is essentially customers that have used a product or service recommending it to another person, and then this person going on to use that product or service because of that recommendation. One way to encourage your customers to do this is through having a strong brand identity, something that sets it apart from the rest and enables it to capture the hearts of customers.
Give customers something to talk about by offering them a unique experience, taking them on a journey behind the scenes or inviting them into an exclusive club. Customers like to feel they are making a difference, and as though they are contributing to the bigger picture of the success of a brand they enjoy through their patronage and support. If these feelings can be nurtured successfully, promotion via word of mouth will naturally follow, along with increased sales or use of your services.
Alongside natural or organic word-of-mouth that arises from genuine recommendations, there is also a form of word-of-mouth advertising that is more aggressively incentivised by the business.
It is possible to offer your existing customers special offers and incentives for inviting or involving others. For example, a restaurant could offer two meals for the price of 1½; a subscription- or membership-based business could offer customers a discount on their next order if they persuade anyone else to sign up; and banks have sometimes offered free cash in your bank account if a friend of yours that you referred opens a bank account with them.
Additionally, many companies now incentivise customers to leave online reviews for their products, for instance by offering them a special discount, a free gift, or entry into a prize draw. This is another example of incentivised word-of-mouth.
4. Positive Associations
Part of building a strong brand involves creating positive associations for that brand. This can include a variety of qualities, and which qualities are applicable will very much depend on the industry or niche in which the business operates. Creating such associations, whether they are purely emotional ones or ones that have to do with the perception of the qualities of the product or service, will stand the business in good stead for the future. Below we have listed some example qualities that many brands seek to cultivate as associations:
Tech companies and marketing agencies may want to be seen as being cutting-edge and ahead of the trends. Making an association as a modern brand would be right for these types of business as it aligns with the technologies they are using on a day-to-day basis. Customers and clients would be unlikely to use the services of these types of businesses if their brand associations appeared at all old-fashioned or outdated, so any marketing strategy with a nod to the traditional is unlikely to be effective for such companies.
Fashionable / Cool
While these associations are somewhat distinctive in nuance, they have in common the desire to be seen as at the forefront of the latest trends in style. It stands to reason that most clothing and accessories brands would want to be seen as fashionable, but being seen as ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ as opposed to boring, stuffy, mainstream or ordinary is also something that a great many people desire, and branding that appeals to such desires can win over a lot of customers. This may be just as relevant to the marketing of venues, food products, holiday destinations, clubs and organisations, cars, interior decorations, electronic products and online services as it is to that of clothing.
A hand-crafter or restoration business might brand themselves traditional, as this association would lend itself aptly to the work they would be carrying out and reassure customers of the honed skills and quality of craftsmanship to expect.
A sportswear brand could profitably build the association that the clothing they offer is high-performance and that it will last for the duration for the sporting activities for which customers would rely on it. Any high-octane sports would require clothing suitable for the task at hand. Customers would specifically seek out brands that were able to offer such products.
Similarly, advertisements for cars, motorbikes, tyres and engine oil are likely to emphasise the performance angle. Video footage of cars exhibiting superior acceleration, roadholding or braking performance to avert disaster are clichés in TV advertising around road vehicles and related products.
Bearing in mind how much more notice consumers are taking of businesses that strive to do the right thing environmentally these days, a wide variety of companies may want to make this association, but beware greenwashing. If businesses are claiming to be green, they should be able to provide credentials to support the fact.
These credentials should be available at all stages of their supply chain and business processes, and not simply a single credential that sounds good until customers research the rest of the business operations with a critical eye and learn that the business isn’t quite as environmentally-friendly as it is making itself out to be.
Alongside environmentally conscientious associations, there is a strong demand among today’s consumers for brands more generally perceived as ethical in how they operate. This includes considerations such as the conditions and pay of workers and suppliers.
Fair trade labelling for food produced by farmers in Africa and South America is an example of an ethical credential. Clothing made in sweat-shops in Bangladesh or electronic products produced on assembly lines by workers labouring long hours with barely a pause in the far east can also be subject to ethical oversight in terms of how the front-line workers are being treated and rewarded for their efforts.
Food companies are increasingly commonly competing to make this association, in a bit to place themselves in prime position to attract health-conscious individuals whom they can convert into customers.
For decades already, we have seen popular food brands advertise selected health credentials, such as reduced fat, low calories, reduced salt, no added sugar, no artificial colours or preservatives, or cholesterol-lowering potential. But whereas such credentials used to be largely the province of a niche health-conscious consumer, the shift towards healthy living in recent years means almost everyone now wants to know more about exactly what they are eating and drinking and how it will affect their health, so even long-established food and drink brands have been reformulating to appeal more to today’s near-universal desire for healthy eating.
Exclusive / Sophisticated
A lot of marketing is designed to appeal to people’s sense of being special or worthy of treating to something classy even if it is more expensive. Exclusivity and sophistication are associations that many luxury brands and those associated with higher prices and higher standards of quality or service seek to cultivate. There has always been and will always be a strong market for more exclusive goods and services, as well as for those whose branding implies a greater level of cultural or technological sophistication, so for businesses who are wanting to appeal to this particular audience using branding to create a sense of exclusivity is a sure fire way to tap into this market.
Apple is a good example of a contemporary brand that has made a success out of appealing to people’s sense of their own worthiness of the best and most sophisticated products to justify its higher prices and exclusive market positioning.
At the opposite end of the branding spectrum from the exclusive and sophisticated associations lies those associated with value. There are many buyers on modest incomes who look to save money and hunt for bargains. Supermarkets like Asda and Iceland have long marketed themselves based on their low prices and best value. Furniture stores have also been known to aggressively market temporary discounts and annual sales in order to entice customers wanting a bargain to buy without delay.
This is just a handful of examples of positive associations cultivated around brands. There are many more. If these brand associations can be engineered successfully and supported with evidence and quality, these businesses stand to gain authority in these areas. This could lead to them becoming thought-leaders in the market niche they occupy, which ultimately will only improve their position further.
5. Habit-forming Reinforcement
Within the potential marketing arsenal of any business are various strategies that serve to reinforce brand identity and memory by building behavioural habits around their brand.
Examples of this habit-forming brand reinforcement strategies include:
Creating fun games associated with the brand will get more people interested and existing customers to spend more time on it in order to play the games.
Depending on the brand and area of the business, these may be offered on the brand’s website or as part of a downloadable app, they might be offered in situ as actual activities in which the customer can participate from time to time, or they might be printed or physical games that are sold or given away free-of-charge to the customer with orders.
Branded collectible freebies and products
Some brands have a long history of encouraging habit-forming brand interaction by releasing collectible series of free gifts and in some cases also paid products in connection with their brands.
Popular brands of cereal such as Weetabix used to offer a new themed series of freebies to collect every three to six months – for example, pop music stickers and fact-cards. Each pack would usually contain only a fraction of the total range to collect for that series. To collect them all, you would have to eat the same product often enough for the duration of the promotion to find every item in the series inside. Alternatively, you would be able to cut out and collect special offer tokens from each cardboard pack and then send them off to claim relevant merchandise at a discounted rate through the post.
In the late 1980s, Guinness produced a set of about 20 themed booklets on world records within different categories. For the duration of the promotion, a random booklet would be given with each pint of Guinness served. This not only encouraged brand loyalty by giving drinkers an incentive to collect all the booklets, but also, by distributing the booklets into the community and people’s homes, reinforced the Guinness brand and its association with exceptional achievement through its sponsorship of Guinness World Records, and thereby tacitly encouraged others to go out and buy pints of Guinness.
Catchy and memorable advertising campaigns
Another way in which brands can reinforce themselves and habit-forming behaviour in connection with them is through catchy and memorable advertising campaigns that appeal to people on a number of different levels.
Humour is usually popular and memorable in advertising campaigns. People associate humour with being clever. If there’s an obscure joke in an advertisement and they understand it, they will tend to feel clever themselves and a part of an in-crowd who ‘gets’ it. This builds a connection between the potential customer and brand and increases their likelihood of engaging with the brand.
Traditionally, catchy advertising jingles and songs have also been a major tool of brand-building and reinforcement. Some of these have become so popular that people used to sing them at home or in the street. Nowadays, clips of them might get shared online through social media, just because they're so much fun, helping to continually reinforce brand identity virally well past the release of the named jingle or song.
A marked trend in TV advertising over the past 20 years has been towards expressive, energetic and frankly somewhat silly dances in association with brands, often featuring ordinary-looking members of the public dancing in an amateurish fashion in or around their homes, helping to associate the brands with joie de vivre at the same time as making them seem approachable to ordinary people and encouraging brand reinforcement by challenging the public to imitate the dances.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, there is not a hard and fast rule on building a successful, strong brand. From what we have covered, it can be seen that there are many ways in which this can be done. It may be that one particular method is really successful or that a business needs to incorporate a range of techniques in order to build the strength of their brand. It may be a case of trial and error until a winning combination is found. The ideal formula will very much depend on what the business is trying to achieve and how it intends to do that.
What we can conclude is that the strength of a brand is something that, once established, will tend to be long-lasting, and will help to deliver new and repeat business far into the future. Make a long-standing mark with your business through the quality of the experience offered to customers and clients. Successfully creating something more than just a functional business, by cultivating an associated culture and feeling, should be the end goal.
Here at GWS Media, we understand the importance of creating a brand that can go the distance. Our specialist designers can work with you from the ground up, taking inspiration from the core business values to create something that will truly highlight what you stand for. Working across brand guidelines, brand advice, logo design, web design and print materials, we can offer a full and consistent, well-rounded branding service that means you have all bases covered. More information on what we offer can be found here.
For all your branding needs, feel welcome to get in touch with our team.