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If you run an established company, when was the last time you thought about your brand and what it says about your business? When you started out, did you create your brand consciously or make it up as you went along? If you’re just starting out, have you managed to define the brand you want to build? Are you even 100% sure why branding is important?

Your brand is more than a business name or logo

BrainAlthough you need to find the right name for your business and a logo that complements this, these are just two ways in which you can communicate your brand. A brand is something much deeper. It’s what separates you from your competitors, and identifies you to your customers. It symbolises the values and ethos of your company to the outside world – the things you believe in, the way you want your customers to experience your business – and even represents the founding principles on which your business will be built.

Your brand needs to be unique and should appeal to your customers. It enables them see what you do, what you have to offer them at a glance, and will help you create a lasting and loyal relationship. Building a brand may seem overwhelming but invest some time and money now and your brand will add significant value to your business in the future.

Here are nine surefire ways to build a brand your customers will believe in:

1. Identify your ideal customer

I know I talk about the importance of your ideal customer regularly but it really is central to your branding and marketing. If you try to appeal to everyone, your brand will become watered down and fail to hit its target. You can’t be everything to everyone, so narrow it down – be something important to someone who ‘gets’ you. Who is the ideal fit for your company? Who would buy from you without a second thought? Who believes what you believe? When you understand your ideal customer, you can begin to identify what motivates them and how to appeal to that.

2. Plan ahead

Before you write down a single idea for your business name, brief a designer about your logo, brainstorm a strapline or think about your core messages, it pays to spend some time planning ahead. What do you want your brand to achieve? How do you want it to develop in the short-term, medium-term and long-term? For example, are you planning to offer services that off-shoot from your main business? How can your brand grow to incorporate this?

3. Invest in your brand identity

I know money is in short supply, particularly if you’re a small start-up, but it really is worth investing in your brand. A copywriter, for example, can help you come up with a fantastic business name or strapline, as well as helping you to nail your key messages and tone of voice. A graphic designer can create a choice of logos that reflect the ethos of your brand, as well as creating your wider brand identity, which will inform your social media channels, stationery, website, leaflets, blog and every other tool for communicating with your customers. I’ll say it again because it’s a point worth repeating – get it right now by investing time and money, and your brand will be a unique and valuable asset.

4. Position your brand

When thinking about your brand, it pays to identify where you plan to position it in relation to your competitors. You should analyse your market. How can you differentiate your business from others? Why should your customers buy from you? As I discussed in last week’s blog, this is the big question. What do you do differently? How do you add value? How do you make people feel?

5. Keep it simple and consistent

Some of the strongest brands have simple logos, short straplines and one sentence mission statements. If you present your customers with a brand that’s busy and over-complicated, they’re likely to switch off or feel confused about what to expect or what you’re asking of them. So keep it brief. Be clear about why they should buy from you. The best brands work at a glance. 

Once you’ve identified and created your brand, it’s important to be consistent. Whether a customer has come to you through Facebook, Twitter, your website, a leaflet or your blog, for example, they need to be hearing and seeing the same key messages and the same identity. They need to know where they stand. Remember that marketing can take a while to pay off, as can building brand recognition. It’s a slow burning thing, so what you do today may take three to six months for you to feel the benefit. Stick with it. Be consistent and persistent.

6. Engage

ConversationYour brand cannot exist in isolation. If you work with other people, then make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to understanding your brand and where its going. If everyone in the company believes in the brand, it will be easier for them to be authentic with your customers and to reflect the brand ethos. Engage with your customers too. As I’ve said before, people tend to buy from people; they want something to believe in or to buy from a company that reinforces their own values. So create a dialogue. Get talking on social media, ask questions, find out what people have to say and embrace the conversation.

7. Be credible

One reason that brand creation deserves planning and forethought, it that you have to be able to commit to it and believe in it now and in the future. For your brand to be durable and create long-lasting relationships with your customers, it is crucial that you are credible and authentic. Personally, I believe it’s better understate any promise associated with your brand than to promise the world, then fail to deliver on it. Buyers are savvy and can detect bullshit a mile off. Give them honesty, genuine customer service, added value and credibility, and you begin to create an enduring relationship of trust. Fool them or let them down once, and they’ll tell ten or more of their friends about it. That’s not the kind of PR you want.

8. Ask for opinions

It’s difficult (although not impossible) to develop a company brand alone. It always pays to listen to different perspectives and add new ideas to the pot. Perhaps you could invite a group of potential customers to an informal focus group where they give you feedback on your logo designs or prosposed business name, or even what your company means to them? Are you involved in online or face-to-face networking groups with other small business owners? If so, you could always ask them for their feedback. How do your brand values and ethos resonate with them? Are they your ideal customers? You could even take to your social media channels for feedback and really let your customers feel as though they were part of shaping your brand from the ground upwards.

9. Review

Remember, your brand doesn’t have to stay still. Over time, you may decide to adapt or grow your brand to better reflect your understanding of your customers or a change in focus for your company. This is fine. Some of the world’s most famous brands have undergone an evolution over time, or even a complete rebrand. As with any marketing activity, I would recommend that you track as much data and feedback about your brand as possible. What’s working, what isn’t? It might be something as simple as tweaking your logo so that it’s more adaptable for letterheads, email footers, web pages, etc. Equally, your customers may tell you that they don’t get a sense of your brand from your website. These are all fixable things as long as you’re open to change.

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Emma Heasman

Emma Heasman has been an in-house and freelance copywriter for the past 13 years and launched The Freelance Copywriter in 2003. Ever passionate about copywriting, she now works with small businesses to help them write copy that speaks to their ideal customers. Connect with Emma on Google+

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