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Most budding entrepreneurs either have only a faint idea of exactly what ‘branding’ is or at worse believe it has no relevance to their business. This is terribly wrong, as indeed the best time to start working deliberately towards creating your ‘brand’ is exactly at the planning stage of your business. It is much easier for a small enterprise with few employees to be able to develop a culture aimed at creating a brand than a much larger organisation with already ossificated and possibly opposing opinions.

What is branding? In its basic definition, branding is simply your promise to your customers. At the beginning, branding tells your customers what to expect from you and your products. It also tells your customers clearly how differentiated you are from your competition. At the end, it is the perception people have of you.

It is worth noting that branding, though related, but is quite different from marketing. Marketing refers to all the tactical actions you take to push customers to your products. On the other hand, your branding effort refers to all the strategic actions you take to pull customers to your business. Whilst marketing will initially uncover and attract customers, branding will create and sustain your customers’ loyalty and turn them into advocates of your products. Branding should therefore underlay and surround your marketing effort. An effective branding effort will ease your marketing effort and yield greater success.

What are the benefits of branding? The benefits of an effective branding effort are numerous.  First they synchronise all business actions as your  staff know exactly what to do in any given situation. This saves time and effort, and develops confidence in your customers as well as reducing overall costs of operations. It also reassures of your credibility at all times.  Most importantly, branding converts your customers into your greatest promoters. They become willing ‘evangelists’ and advocates of your products. As we all know, we trust our friends and relations in buying decisions more than the salesman! This obviously not only brings repeat businesses from your existing customers but also attracts new prospects at no incremental cost. Furthermore, branding ‘personalises’ your business to your customers. An effective branding strategy also affects your business valuation positively. For example, Coca Cola though a smaller company than PepsiCo, has a much larger brand valuation than PepsiCo.

No matter the size of you business, you should  make the effort towards creating, maintaining, and sustaining an attractive brand as a key component of your overall strategy. If you don’t deliberately and positively brand your business, your competition will likely brand you negatively anyhow!

How do you develop your brand? To be able to conceptualise, develop and deliver an effective branding strategy, you have to study and understand your customers, competition and your environment. Ask penetrating questions and seek answers. What do the customers really expect; What is competition already delivering; What can you do better and how can you do it; How can you continuously improve and stay ahead of competition? At the end, match the features of your products with the expectations of the customers while surpassing what the competition is already delivering. The objective is to create and sustain a sense of positive thoughts and feelings in the mind and heart of your customers about your company and its products.

Think of local and international brands. Who are they? What do they do differently? How do they relate with their customers?

Kiev, Ukraine - February 21, 2012 - A logotype collection of well-known world brand's printed on paper. Include Google, Mc'Donald's, Nike, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Nikon, YouTube, Adidas,, Unilever, Twitter, Mastercard, Samsung, Canon and Starbuck's logos.

Understand that your brand strategy should clearly spell out the following:

What do you want to deliver to your customers?

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

How do you deliver your products to your customers?

How do you communicate how different you are from your competition to your customers?

  1. Identify what you want to achieve: What do you want your customers to expect from you? Your corporate mission should sync with what your customers expect from you. Ensure that you able to deliver and sustain what you promised and is expected of you by the customers. I remember being in a Taj Hotel in India which prides itself in customer service. After my stay, I checked out and headed to the airport. Before I got to the airport, I got a mail from them requesting to know if I had forgotten a book behind in the room. I checked and confirmed in the affirmative. Within ten minutes, I got another mail requesting my consent to send to the book by courier to my Nigerian address. I advised them to just keep the book until I return to India in about three weeks. The most interesting thing was that as I was checking in when I returned, the book was brought to me even before I asked for it. For me, the moral was simple: Identify in what area(s) you want to be different and be really good at it/them.
  2. Understand the benefits of your products to your customers: What are the attractive features of your products; What do you customers expect from you and your products; How can you improve on what you are already delivering; What features and qualities can you add to your products to further surpass the competition? This is one area you have constantly improve upon. Think of the mobile phone companies that constantly improve on their products even before the customers yearn for more than they already have.
  3. Personalise your brand: Think of your brand as a ‘person’ from whom your customers expect certain services, modes of behaviour etc. Create your brand ‘persoanlity’ in the way you expect your customers will be happy in dealing with it always. What personal values should  it have; How should it ‘dress’, ‘talk’ and solve your customers’ problems? Translate that into the way you and your staff should behave.
  4.  Create a perspective: The desire to create a long term relationship with your customers is key developing an effective branding strategy. This makes is desirous for you to develop products that will satisfy your customers and retain them with you for the long run. Nothing sustains business success like a mutually rewarding relationship. Each ‘moment of truth’ in interacting with your customer should be fully utilised as an opportunity to relive your brand promise.
  5.  Align and integrate all internal resources: All internal efforts must push in the same direction. This is only possible if you are able to attract the right employees who identify with your mission; train them and ensure that everyone at all levels understand what is expected of them. This is exactly the reason why you are always happy talking or meeting with a company that has an excellent brand promise. From the most junior employees to the most senior, they exude positivity and interest in dealing with you. You can create that in your own enterprise.
  6. Be consistent: Our nature as humans desires predictability. Once you succeed in creating a brand identity and promise, the next challenge is to ensure that you sustain it. This can be quite a challenge, but it is necessary to the long term success of your business. It requires the integration of all efforts mentioned above so that no part of the chain breaks at any point in time in dealing with your customers. Discipline and emotional awareness is key to consistency.
  7.  Be authentic and true: It is also important that you understand the consequence of a clearly obejective brand strategy: You will need all sorts of resources to maintain it. The provision of these resources will be difficult if you and your team are not true to the calling. Ensure therefore that the whole company is emotionally in tune with the brand promise and sincerely true to what you want to achieve. Any incongruence between your promise and delivery will cost you the customers’  trust and loyalty. This will surely erode whatever brand equity you may have succeeded in creating in the past.
  8. Communicate to your public: Your public should be made aware of your brand promise. How, therefore, do you advertise; Where do you advertise; Through which channels do you distribute your products? Your company name, logo, office space, staff dressing, product quality, product pricing, warranty, service response, etc all reflect and make the sum of your business brand. You have to think through each and all of them and more. At the end,your staff should be your brand ambassadors whilst your customers should become your brand advocates.
  9. Brand yourself: As the entrepreneur, you will also need to brand yourself in synchrony with your business. It is important that you, as well as your employees, mirror your business brand. It is all about creating the right and true impressions aimed at fulfilling a promise made.
  10. Keep it simple: My educational background is in Nuclear Physics. We solved extremely complicated mathematical problems. However, the more brilliant you are as a nuclear scientist the more you are able to breakdown the most complicated mathematical problems into very simple and ‘elegant’ equations that a junior secondary school pupil will easily understand. So it is generally in business also. The best things are usually the simplest. Ensure therefore that your branding strategy is thorough but simple for everyone involved to understand and internalise. Discipline in execution is what sets those who succeed from those who falter.


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