A brand is the sum total of the experience your prospects and customers have with your company. A strong brand communicates what your company does, how it does it, and at the same time, establishes trust and credibility with your prospects and customers. Your company’s brand is, in many ways, its personality. Your brand lives in everyday interactions your company has with its prospects and customers, including the images you share, the messages you post on your website, the content of your marketing materials, your presentations and booths at conferences, and your posts on social networks.
The PSFK Good Brands Report 2009 (PSFK is a trends research and innovations company) recently identified the top 10 global brands. The report prompted me to think about our own branding strategy for crowdSPRING and about the branding strategies of the companies we admire (Amazon, Apple, Zappos, 37signals, among others).
As I thought about those strategies, I realized that they explained five common lessons that small businesses and startups can learn from the world’s best brands.
1. A Brand Should Have A Good Name and Logo
A strong company (or product) name is easily recognizable and is important to good branding. New startups and small businesses face many challenges in coming up with a company name (among the challenges: it’s very difficult to find a good name and an available domain; many short names have already been taken). However, plenty of successful brands have proven that there are many different ways to create a company name. For example, many successful brands use real words (Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Yelp), some use misspelled words (Google), compounds (Facebook, Firefox, WordPress), phrases (LinkedIn, SecondLife) and other variations. If you’re interested in more examples – especially if you’re struggling to find a name for your company – I recommend you read this post about company names types.
When you start thinking about building your brand, ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you hope to accomplish with your company?
- What do your customers and potential customers currently think of your company?
- What do you want your customers to think when they think of your company ?
- How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
The above questions are important not only for selecting a strong company name, but also for selecting a strong logo.
(image credit: Ludwig Gatzke).
The logo is one of the most important elements of a brand. As you think about your logo, keep your audience and products/services in mind because you want your logo to reflect your company. A good logo builds trust and a strong logo will help to pull your brand together.Think about the logos of some of the world’s most admired brands (Apple, Google, Amazon). How do you feel (emotionally) when you see one of those logos?
By making your logo the main theme of your marketing and advertising activities (online and offline), the logo will become associated with your business and will help you to better communicate with prospects and customers. If you’re interested in more tips about getting a great logo design, the crowdSPRING community has created an outstanding guide and I encourage you to read it – 10 Logo Design Tips.
2. A Brand Should Be Consistent
Many startups and small businesses mistakenly modify their brand message depending on their audience (or short-change certain audiences altogether). For example, a company might take a more serious tone on their website but a very lighthearted tone on their Facebook fan page. This approach is ultimately ineffective. To build and maintain a strong brand, every aspect of your brand should be as good as your product or service and you must be consistent in presenting your brand to prospects and customers. This includes not only your company’s name, logo, overall aesthetic design, products and services, but also includes your marketing materials, website, appearances at trade shows and conferences, content posted to social networks, etc.
Brand consistency involves the communication of messages in a way that doesn’t take away from the core brand proposition. While certain aspects of branding might change, the core message shouldn’t change. For example, the Apple logo has changed numerous times since Apple was founded. However, Apple’s brand proposition – to create innovative, high quality, great looking computer products – has never changed.
Brand consistency requires attention to detail. Successful brands communicate in a consistent voice across all mediums, have a consistent look to their communications, use collateral materials that support their brand messaging, and enter into partnerships that build on their brand value proposition.
Why should you care about brand consistency? You should care because brand consistency leads to familiarity, and familiarity leads to trust. People who purchase Apple products know they’re buying innovative, high quality, great looking products.
Think about the ups and downs that have plagued AOL over the years. What do you think of when you think of AOL? Has their brand delivered a consistent message over the years?
3. A Brand Is An Ecosystem
A brand is more than just your company’s products and services. It’s also the ecosystem that surrounds those products and services (David Armano’s “Influence Ripples” illustration – below – nicely shows the relationship of members of the ecosystem and their role in influencing the spread of your brand message). Ultimately, the strength of a brand is directly related to the connections within that ecosystem.
Your brand starts with your company and employees. The most successful brands – such as Amazon and Zappos – transcend specific departments. Your customer service people may be more important than your CEO – they are directly connected to your prospects and customers. Great brands function as one internal ecosystem.
Your brand extends to your vendors, your prospects and employees, investors, and even competitors. It extends to people that start conversations about your brand on Twitter or Facebook, or who blog about your brand on their blogs.
One way to think about your ecosystem is to identify the participants in your brand ecosystem. Who are they? What can those participants give and get in order to help your brand? Ultimately, successful brands recognize that if they help their participants succeed, the participants will in turn help the brand succeed.
(image credit: David Armano).
4. A Brand Is Rooted In Community
Many have written about the changing landscape of advertising and the increasing focus by many brands on online marketing (compared to print, television and radio advertising). I won’t question the merit of online advertising – it works for many and can be a powerful way to introduce prospects to your brand. However, it is notable that many of the world’s best brands, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Virgin, and Skype, spend modest sums on advertising and instead, focus on building and improving their communities. Those companies understand that if consumers trust the community, they will extend trust to the brand. Especially in the age of social media – this is a very important realization. Whether brands like this or not, consumers are talking to each other about brands – often before talking to the brand.
As you think about building your community, don’t be afraid to question the status quo. Recently, Edward Boches discussed Pepsi’s decision to pull out of the Superbowl after 23 consecutive years and instead, to funnel its advertising budget into online community efforts. While your company might not have anywhere close to Pepsi’s budget, you should pay attention to such efforts because they signal a shift in the way that brands engage their communities.
5. A Brand Must Deliver Value
Leading brands are very good and disciplined in understanding and communicating their value proposition to prospects and customers. Value doesn’t mean lowest price. You can focus on product leadership (having the best products in the marketplace, like Apple), operational excellence (having the lower prices in the marketplace, like Ikea), or great customer service (Virgin, Amazon). You can also focus on a combination of those things – although this is not easy to achieve, especially for a young brand.
As you think about your company’s value – you can ask the following questions: What sets your product, service and company apart from your competitors? What value do you provide and how does that value differ from that provided by your competitors? Think about which of your benefits are emotional – the most powerful brands tap into emotions.
Keep in mind that consumers must believe that your brand stands for something – it’s not enough for you to claim that your brand stands for something. Consumers will decide whether your brand stands for something – and it’s even more important today to be authentic and engage consumers across all channels and mediums. In a recent video, Gary Vaynerchuk explained this much better than I can. I strongly encourage you to watch Gary’s video (below):
What other lessons can startups and small businesses learn from the world’s best brands?
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