By Goke Ilesanmi
If you discover that people, even those who know you very well, do not quite understand whom you really are and what they can rely on you to do for them, then, there seems to be a gap between perception and reality. That is, there is a gap between the “real you” and the “you” other people see and interact with. Businesses deal with this dilemma constantly. Their most successful responses tend to focus on branding.
Branding is how businesses tell customers what to expect. Things can change rapidly in the business world, and customers are more comfortable if they know what to expect. Branding is a familiar bridge across which businesses and their customers engage in transactions that lead to long-term and mutually-beneficial relationships. It is the embodiment of what businesses and their customers value, the means through which businesses get credit for the quality they represent and deliver.
David McNally and Karl D. Speak, co-authors of “Be Your Own Brand” say a brand is a relationship not a statement. They stress that it is not a matter of contrived image, colourful packaging, snappy slogans or addition of an artificial veneer to disguise the true nature of what is within. In fact, a ‘branded’ relationship is a special type of relationship – one that involves the kind of trust that only happens when two people believe there is a direct connection between their value systems.
Competition and emotions
With so many similar products and services competing in the market place today, it is difficult for small businesses to differentiate themselves from their large competitors. So how can a small business gain a competitive edge over large businesses? It is simply through strategic branding. Branding is not just about having a catchy slogan or a unique company logo. Even though these are very important, more important is the way the branding tools deployed help to create a relationship between a brand and a consumer.
Research shows that large companies like Nike, Starbucks, etc., are superior at creating relationships with their customers. Branding is not just for big companies with huge advertising budgets; the same tools and techniques can be used by small businesses. Findings confirm that successful branding is done by businesses that appeal to their customers’ emotions. If you are selling a product that is very similar to one of your larger competitors’, it is your job to reach out to customers on an emotional level to make them want to buy your product instead of your competitors’.
Distinct customer service
For instance, if you have competitors selling at discounted prices, customers can still buy from you because of the quality of your product reinforced with superior customer service. Your customers will simply refuse to go to your competitors because they do not get the attention you give them. And you stress this commitment to quality and distinct customer service as your unique selling proposition when you promote or advertise your business. That is good branding – it is an emotional connection between your business and your customers. Great company branding reveals the true character of a company. Image is just as important as your product and service. Image is the reason why a customer is going to do business with you and not a larger competitor. What perception would you like your customers to have of your small business? Keep in mind that successful branding encompasses a company’s mission statement. What makes your company different from your competitors? It is your branding strategy.
Branding by religious institutions
Apart from profit-oriented organisations, some modern religious institutions like God’s Generals International Church, The Redeemed Christian of God, Daystar Christian Centre, etc., brand their religious activities by combining spiritual empowerment with intellectual development of their members and communities. For instance, God’s Generals International Church, recently organised a 14-day multipurpose international conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and invited speakers, including myself, from within and outside Nigeria. According to Pastor Michael Fakorede, the presiding pastor of the church, the objective of the conference was to reinforce spiritual growth and enhance intellectual development of church members and non-members. He said this is because we need knowledge, understanding and wisdom to achieve our purpose in life.
In your effort to get your business branded, the following steps will help you map out a successful branding strategy. The first one is to give intangibles some consideration. Anything can be branded. Remember that you are branding a concept, not just a company or a product. Intangibles, such as the special way you handle customer service, should be a part of your branding. If you run a communication consulting firm like I do, for instance, you need to brand your intelligence and mastery of communication.
Another step is to let the branding match the business. Know your company and ensure your brand identity is parallel to your company identity. A clear relationship should be established for your customers. The connection between a company and its branding should be immediate. For instance, a refrigerator repair company might start sending its favourite customers magnets with its company brand, but branding footballs that have no relationship with the brand would only confuse people.
You can also get your business branded by speaking to your target audience. Ensure your brand speaks to your different audiences. Great branding reaches multiple customer audience segments. Experts advise that it is not good to leave out potential customers by branding your product or service to one or two customer groups. Obviously your brand will not appeal to everyone but it should reach different types of customers. According to experts, if you own a dress shop that usually attracts middle-aged clients, do not brand your identity to that population only. Instead, try to appeal to other shoppers as well to encourage them to visit your shop. Try to place advertisements for your business in different newspapers that have different readers. Taking the long view is the fourth step in branding your business. You need to brand for the long term. It is not good to be short-sighted about your company’s branding. Great branding lasts over a long period of time and the messages last long. Branding should transcend competition in the marketplace. If your competitors position their brands as cool to meet market demands, try to keep your brand consistent so that it outlives market trends.
Co-branding and final note
Co-branding is another form of branding. It enables small businesses to reach out to untapped customer segments while maintaining their brand image. It is like the relationship between Mobil and Mr. Bigg’s here in Nigeria. But determine why you should participate in it and what outcome you would like to see. Endeavour to brand yourself and/or organisation to achieve success.