There is definitely a gap between perception and reality in the event that you discover that people, even those who know you very well, do not quite understand whom you really are and what they can rely on you to do for them. That is, there is a gap between the “real you” and the “you” other people see and interact with. Businesses deal with this dilemma constantly. Their most successful strategy is branding.
The fact must also be stressed that your personal branding, your professional reputation, is often not about how you see yourself, but the way others perceive you. As angel investor Judy Robinett puts it, “If three people tell you you’re a horse, buy a saddle.” You can get honest feedback about your brand, for instance, by having access to copies of past performance assessments that others have written on you. Even though all the past assessments may not be the same, you can align with repeated emphasis of a particular skill set or shortcoming about you in those past assessments.
Branding is how businesses tell customers what to expect. Things can change rapidly in the business world, and customers are more comfortable if they know what to expect. Branding is a familiar bridge across which businesses and their customers engage in transactions that lead to long-term and mutually-beneficial relationships. It is the embodiment of what businesses and their customers value, the means through which businesses get credit for the quality they represent and deliver.
David McNally and Karl D. Speak, co-authors of “Be Your Own Brand” say a brand is a relationship not a statement. They stress that it is not a matter of contrived image, colourful packaging, snappy slogans or addition of an artificial veneer to disguise the true nature of what is within. In fact, a ‘branded’ relationship is a special type of relationship – one that involves the kind of trust that only happens when two people believe there is a direct connection between their value systems.
Competition and emotions
With so many similar products and services competing in the market place today, it is difficult for small businesses to differentiate themselves from their large competitors. So how can a small business gain a competitive edge over large businesses? It is simply through strategic branding. Branding is not just about having a catchy slogan or a unique company logo. Even though these are very important, more important is the way the branding tools deployed help to create a relationship between a brand and a consumer.
Research shows that great companies like Coca-Cola, Nike, Heineken, Zenith Bank,Artec Practice Ltd, etc., are masters at creating relationships with their customers. With quality service reinforced with sponsorship of youth empowerment programmes, it is, for instance, not surprising that a bank like Zenith Bank is soaring fast to the peak or zenith of successful banking in Nigeria and beyond within a relatively short period of existence.
Branding is not just for big companies with huge advertising budgets; the same tools and techniques can be used by small businesses. Findings confirm that successful branding is done by businesses that appeal to their customers’ emotions. If you are selling a product that is very similar to one of your larger competitors’, it is your job to reach out to customers on an emotional level to make them want to buy your product instead of your competitors’.
Distinct customer service
For instance, if you have competitors selling at discounted prices, customers can still buy from you because of the quality of your product reinforced with superior customer service. Your customers will simply refuse to go to your competitors because they do not get the attention you give them. And you stress this commitment to quality and distinct customer service as your unique selling proposition when you promote or advertise your business. That is good branding – it is an emotional connection between your business and your customers.
Great company branding reveals the true character of a company. Image is just as important as your product and service. Image is the reason why a customer is going to do business with you and not a larger competitor. What perception would you like your customers to have of your small business? Keep in mind that successful branding does not revolve around one product or service. It encompasses a company’s mission statement. What makes your company different from your competitors? Your brand should offer the answer. Implementation of that brand strategy is the way you clearly stamp your message in the minds of your customers.
Branding by religious institutions
Apart from profit-oriented organisations, some modern religious institutions like Redeemed Christian Church of God, Daystar Christian Centre, God’s Generals International Church, among others brand their religious activities by combining spiritual empowerment with intellectual development of their members and communities. For instance, God’s Generals International Church, recently organised a 14-day multipurpose international conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and invited speakers, including me, from within and outside Nigeria. According to Pastor Michael Fakorede, the presiding pastor of the church, the essence of the conference was to reinforce spiritual growth and enhance intellectual development of members and non-members. The pastor said human beings need knowledge, understanding and wisdom to succeed in life.
In your effort to get your business branded, the following steps will help you map out a successful branding strategy. The first one is to give intangibles some consideration. Anything can be branded. Remember that you are branding a concept, not just a company or a product. Intangibles, such as the special way you handle customer service, should be a part of your branding. If you run a communication consulting firm, for instance, you will want to brand your intelligence and mastery of communication.
Another step is to let the branding match the business. Know your company and ensure your brand identity is parallel to your company identity. A clear relationship should be established for your customers. The connection between a company and its branding should be immediate. For instance, a refrigerator repair company might start sending its favourite customers magnets with its company brand, but branding footballs that have no relationship with the brand would only confuse people.
You can also get your business branded by speaking to your target audience. Ensure your brand speaks to your different audiences. Great branding reaches multiple customer audience segments. Experts advise that it is not good to leave out potential customers by branding your product or service to one or two customer groups. Obviously your brand will not appeal to everyone but it should reach different types of customers.
According to experts, if you own a dress shop that usually attracts middle-aged clients, do not brand your identity to that population only. Instead, try to appeal to other shoppers as well to encourage them to visit your shop. Try to place advertisements for your business in different newspapers that have different readers.
Taking the long view is the fourth step in branding your business. Brand for the long term. It is not good to be short-sighted about your company’s branding. Great branding lasts over a long period of time and its messages last long. Branding should transcend competition in the marketplace. If your competitors are trying to position their brands as cool or hip to meet market demands, let them. Try to keep your brand consistent so that it outlives market trends.
Another area worthy of note is self-branding. Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing says economic and technological changes are reshaping the nature of work and having a great job does not guarantee your career success. Chamorro-Premuzic adds that your competence no longer depends on what you know; and being an affluent consumer matters less than becoming a sought-after product. So there is a new era of work now, where your future depends on being a signal in the noisy universe of human capital. He stresses that in order to achieve this, you will need to master three things: self-branding, entrepreneurship, and hyperconnectivity.
Self-branding is about being a signal in the noise of human capital. Therefore, the stronger your brand, the stronger that signal. Experts say in today’s world, self-branding matters more than any other form of talent, not least because the mass market is unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between branding and talent.
Chamorro-Premuzic says we are all individuals, but unless we are also a brand, our individuality will be invisible. Being a brand means showcasing that which makes you special, in a way that is distinctive (recognisable), predictable (consistent), and meaningful (it allows others to understand what you do and why).
This is why David Beckham and Lady Gaga are much more successful than their more talented competitors — they understood that being a marketing phenomenon is more important than displaying outstanding soccer skills or musical talent, and focused more on self-branding than their counterparts did.
Co-branding and final note
One area of branding that is worth discussing is co-branding. Co-branding enables small businesses to reach out to untapped customer segments while maintaining their brand image. It is just like the relationship between Mobil and Mr. Bigg’s. Before you agree to co-brand with a company, ask yourself these questions: “What purpose will this co-branding effort serve?”, “How will my customers perceive this co-branding effort?”, etc. Determine why you should participate in this particular co-branding initiative and what outcome you would like to see. If you have not made efforts to brand your business, endeavour to do something about it today for enduring business success in the new year.