Despite unrest in economic markets around the globe, advertising spending worldwide is forecasted to reach $600 billion this year, a 20 percent increase from $500 billion in 2006. Major corporations like Proctor & Gamble ($5.2 billion), AT&T ($3.2 billion) and General Motors Corp. ($3.0 billion) spend billions every year to cultivate and protect their brand – and with good reason. A company’s brand helps differentiate it from competitors, build loyalty among customers and solidify its credibility. Cultivating an image and position isn’t just for large corporations though, and Better Business Bureau is offering advice for small business owners on how to get an edge through branding.
According to BusinessWeek/Interbrand's 2007 ranking of the 100 Best Global Brands, the global value of the Coca-Cola brand – which ranked number one – was $65 billion. That’s the value of its brand only; it doesn’t include the assets it owns or global sales. At its core, Coca-Cola make products we drink, but the associated positive images that pop into heads around the world are the result of efforts by the company to cultivate and communicate its brand.
“Consumers develop an image of a company and its products, and for that brand image to work, it must represent something special in their minds,” said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. “Ultimately, consumers evaluate brands and businesses on trust – can they trust that they’ll get what they paid for, or that the company will stand behind its brand promise.”
BBB is offering advice for small business owners on developing, refining and enforcing their company’s DNA through a brand strategy.
Develop the Brand
• Define the company. Small business owners must first dedicate time to defining the business and crafting the desired image to portray to the public – how consumers will come to know the business. Perhaps the brand is focused on timely service, low-prices, or even as being environmentally friendly. A brand can encompass more than one idea – such as personal service at a great value – but too many concepts may be hard to deliver on and will confuse the public.
• Identify the customer. Aside from looking inward at the company, a business owner needs to look outward and consider the clientele he or she wants to attract. Is the customer younger or older, tech savvy or computer illiterate, NASCAR lovers or polo players – there are many traits to consider. Once the customers are identified, a business owner must consider what is important to them and base the brand around their ideals.
• Consider the competition. Every business has competition and that competition also has a brand to maintain. A small business owner also needs to take the time to think about the brand of their competition and how to capitalize on the differences between the two companies to potentially reach out to a different customer base. Differentiation can include being the “green” company or the “young upstart” with fresh ideas.
Refine the Brand
• Get a second opinion. After developing an initial idea for the company’s brand positioning and personality, business owners should share their thoughts with employees, management and loyal customers to make sure the branding concepts are easy to understand, unique and can be delivered on.
• Use buzzwords. When crafting language to support the brand, such as a tagline or Web site and advertising text, business owners should consider using strong buzzwords that they know will resonate with their customers. Business owners can identify buzzwords by spending some time on the Internet searching for keywords and researching other company branding efforts to find out which words worked for them. BBB cautions against using trendy terms though – look instead for strong, timeless words that will outlive any current fads.
• Consider the aesthetics. Developing a brand isn’t just about words. Time needs to be spent on developing positive images to bring the brand language to life and help communicate the company’s personality effectively. The development of the logo is a key, but, business owners also need to consider the types of fonts and colors to be used that will help complement the words and support the brand image.
Enforce the Brand
• Employee training. Effectively communicating a brand takes the efforts of the whole company from the board room to the mail room. In large part though, the success of the brand rests on delivering results, and employees play a key role in this aspect of branding. A brand isn’t just about words or a logo; it is reinforced or damaged depending on how the staff carries itself and how the customer is treated. Employees must be properly trained on how to communicate the brand in their day-to-day operations.
• Emphasize the logo. A logo plays an extremely important role in expressing the company’s positioning. The Nike swoosh and McDonald’s golden arches are examples of how a logo can become a short hand way to identify the company. The company logo should support the brand and appear on everything the customer will see including advertising, business cards, signs and e-mails.
• Maintain consistency. After undergoing a branding or re-branding effort it’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel and not consider maintenance of the brand and brand compliance. While this verges on the nit-picky, business owners need to continually be aware of the use of language, fonts, colors and images to ensure that they all work together in support of the brand, and to reinforce the brand in the minds of consumers.
For more small business advice on topics such as developing and maintaining customer satisfaction, and other best practices in management, go to www.bbb.org