I want to start a business: what is branding, and why is it important for my company?
It doesn’t matter what your business does or what sort of industry you’re operating in: chances are, you’ll be facing lots of competition. That means in order to survive, you’ll need to make sure your business stands out – and the easiest way to do that is by implementing a firm Brand Strategy.
If you’re new to business or don’t have a lot of experience in marketing, developing and implementing a brand strategy might sound a little bit intimidating. But the truth is, the process can be incredibly intuitive and straightforward.
To help you wrap your head round all the basics, we’ve come up with this handy guide that will walk you through how to create a unique brand of your very own.
What is a brand?
So, what exactly is branding? Simply put, a brand is any feature that identifies one seller’s products or services as being distinct from the goods or services of other sellers. This distinction can take one of many forms.
Your identifiable brand feature could be a unique name, design, symbol, term or all of the above. If you’re having trouble visualising the basic elements of branding, think of Coca-Cola, the Pepsi logo, the Apple symbol or the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. This symbolism is instantly recognisable, and requires zero context or explanation. That’s fantastic branding at work.
Why do you want to implement fantastic branding like McDonald’s?
A brand is essentially the creation of an identity that your consumers can latch on to. By associating your business with an emotive symbol or symbol, you’re able to brew a blend of physical and emotional cues that trigger instant recognition in would-be consumers – and ideally, a call to action.
Marketers refer to this emotive trigger as a decision-making shortcut, and it’s invaluable to your company in terms of establishing brand loyalty.
That being said, branding isn’t just about external relations and boosting sales. Employees, shareholders and third parties also benefit hugely from the implementation of some sort of branding strategy because it creates a firm bond from within the business. By promoting brand connections to your goods or services, you’ll enhance your company reputation – consequently fostering the loyalty your staff members have to your company as its employer.
How do I come up with a brand strategy?
Once you’ve decided your business would benefit from establishing its own brand, it’s time to develop a strategy.
In order to come up with a brand strategy, you’ll first need to have a think about your overall business strategy and identify the ways in which brand development would complement your existing goals and targets.
Next, you will need to identify your target clients and learn more about who they are and what they’re all about. You should already know a lot about your would-be customers as part of the market research you conducted for your business plan – but it’s a crucial aspect of brand development, and so you might need to delve into your customer personalities even deeper. Find out what motivates their purchase decisions, the sort of ethics or beliefs they observe and how those ethics guide key aspects of their day-to-day lives.
There are plenty of ways to figure all of this stuff out, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The next key aspect of developing your brand strategy will be to come up with your brand positioning. This is essentially a key message that clearly and concisely outlines who your business is, what makes it different and why customers should choose to do business with you.
Think of your brand positioning statement as the core of your brand. It should be something you can return to over and over again whenever you need inspiration. Brand positioning statements are normally three-to-five sentences, and shouldn’t be written out like a company strapline. Positioning statements are often internal tools that will enable you to develop the external aspects of your strategy.
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So, how do you come up with your core message? No two businesses are alike, and so your brand positioning statement won’t be the same as that of any other companies, either. But no matter what, your core brand message should ordinarily fulfil the following criteria:
- Your core message must offer something different from your competitors.
- Your message must be compelling, simple and easy-to-understand.
- Your message needs to reflect reality.
- Your message must resonate with your target audience.
After developing a message, it’s time to think about your name, logo and tagline. When forming your company, you probably put a whole lot of thought into what your business would be called – and so your brand strategy will simply complement that name, rather than alter it.
But combined, your logo and tagline work alongside your name to symbolise your brand. Like the Golden Arches or Coca-Cola’s signature font, your logo should be instantly identifiable – while your strapline should offer customers a short, snappy way to remember your business. Your strapline is normally a more concise version of your brand position statement, although it doesn’t have to be.
It doesn’t have to stop there. You can apply your brand positioning and identifiable features into virtually every aspect of your business – from collateral and product packaging, to your company stationery and marketing emails. In fact, you should. One of the most crucial aspects of any brand is consistency throughout.
But these are definitely the bare bones required in order to get your strategy started. After that, it can be further enhanced and fleshed out through market research.
What market research will I need to do to enhance my brand?
You’ll already be familiar with market research – having conducted some degree of research as part of your business plan. However, market research conducted as part of your branding strategy is slightly different.
Also referred to as ‘brand research’, this form of market research is designed specifically to assist with the creation, development and ongoing management of your brand. This analysis should be carried out to understand and pick apart your industry’s landscape, and can be repeated periodically in order to track customer experiences and hone in on what it is your business could improve upon.
So, how do you conduct brand research? There are a number of potential solutions.
One of the best ways to learn more about how to develop your brand is to conduct surveys. Although creating surveys can be somewhat time-consuming, the answers you’ll receive provide a crucial foundation for all the decisions you take surrounding your brand.
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You should start by distributing to people you know or trust – but if you have an email marketing list for your business, or know where to find potential customers, you should approach people to take your interview that you’d ultimately like to sell to.
You can do this in-person, via email, over the phone or online. If you need a hand, there are loads of free survey generators around the web.
Conducting workshops or focus groups is also a great method of research with which to test the decisions you’ve already made as part of your brand strategy. Gather up a few participants of varying backgrounds, and ask open-ended questions about your name, tagline, logo, brand values or anything in-between. This is a great way to receive unsolicited feedback on the building blocks of your brand strategy.
You should also conduct competitor analysis whenever launching a new brand. As a start-up or new company, you’re effectively entering the market as a new, “challenger” brand. Bearing that in mind, a crucial part of your brand strategy and research must be to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of your competition, wrap your head round their unique selling points and get an overview of how they have developed and manage their own brand.
How do I protect my brand?
One of the biggest worries company owners have after putting all of this hard work into developing and implementing a brand strategy is how they can protect that brand from duplication. We’re all familiar with dubious copycat brands and the ways in which they capitalise upon the strengths of well-known brands to try and push their own wares – and it can totally marginalise your efforts.
Fortunately, you are owed a degree of legal protection in the UK. That’s because the UK Government observes fairly watertight rules on intellectual property.
What is intellectual property? It’s essentially just anything unique that you or your company has physically created. It’s worth clarifying that an idea alone is not intellectual property – which is to say, having an idea to write a book doesn’t equate to the words you’ve actually written on paper.
But if you can prove that you created something, you are its legal owner. This is crucial in preventing people from stealing or copying the names of your products or brand, your designs or any content you’ve written or produced. Some intellectual property protections you must apply for, but others are automatically applied.
Check if the company name you want is available.
For example, all of your written works, art, photos, films, music, web content or sound recordings enjoy automatic copyright protection. Design right protections are applied automatically to the shapes of objects, too.
Additional protections you can apply for include trademarking your product names, logos or jingles. When you apply for a trademark, you’ll be able to take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without permission, and you can add the ® symbol next to your brand to warn others it is protected.
Registration ordinarily takes around four months if no one objects, and registered trademarks last for ten years.
You can also apply for a registered design, which protects the appearance of a product. This protection extends to its shape, packaging, patterns, colours or decoration. It takes about a month to register a design, and you must renew your registered design every five years. You can continue to re-register for up to 25 years.
Finally, if you’re developing innovative products that you think nobody has ever created before, you may be able to apply for a patent. Patents are granted for the invention of objects that can be made or used, are new and are inventive. Patents are not granted to companies that make simple modifications to existing products.
The bottom line
In a never-ending sea of competition, you should think of branding as your company’s lifeboat. Establishing a unique brand will set you apart from other businesses, and it will help you to establish a relationship between you, your customers and your employees that will ensure your business prospers.
Just remember: it all starts with a core brand message and a solid brand strategy. Know your business and what it stands for, and apply that everywhere you possibly can. More important still, you’ve got to pair that with the knowledge you have about your customers and the market in which you’re operating. The way in which you develop and portray your brand must reflect the wants and needs of consumers, and its deployment must be consistent.
And whatever you do, don’t forget: there’s no point developing a brand strategy, conducting all this market research and applying for legal protections for your brand if you don’t plan on shepherding its continued development. Nothing in business can remain static forever, and so you should always be on the lookout for ways in which you can further enhance or alter your brand.
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