Think of the popular brand marks for John Deere, McDonald’s and Apple. Do you know what products each company produces? What impressions come to your mind?
The Dictionary of Brand defines “brand” as a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organization. In other words, your business has a reputation, like a person does. Branding is the effort to define and build that reputation while also building people’s trust in it.
Brand is the communication and actualization of who you are, what you believe, and how you act. Strong brands not only make promises, but they also provide the resources to follow through on their promises every time.
The power of brands
Think of the brand of coffee you drink. Can you visualize the brand’s logo? If you can, it is because the brand owns a piece of real estate in your brain. Yet branding goes deeper than the brain.
My father was a born mechanic who repaired all colors of tractors, but he taught me that green tractors are the best. We used to tell people that the United States decided which colors to use in traffic lights based on red and green tractors. People were accustomed to seeing tractors out in the field—the green tractors always kept going, and the red ones always kept stopping. If you tell that story in a farming community, you can imagine the emotions that rise in the red or blue tractor lovers!
As consumers, we make decisions based largely on feelings. Brands you love become a treasure chest, soliciting such deep loyalty that you will pay above average price for a product with the company logo on it.
The foundation of a brand
Building a brand requires you to do some deep thinking about your business—where you want to go, and how you plan to get there. The foundation of a brand includes these four elements:
- Vision. This is the future you intend to forge. You have a clear picture of a new reality you want to create.
- Mission. This is how you will accomplish your vision.
- Core values. These are qualities or beliefs that are essential to accomplishing your vision and mission.
- Business plan. This is the year-to-year, month-to-month, day-to-day to-do list that must be done to accomplish your mission and your vision. It includes finance, production, and marketing.
Finding your niche
To have a strong brand, you must develop a niche. This starts with market research to discover a need, and then developing a solution to meet the need. Many people stop here because they think the rest is automatic. But the hard work is just beginning.
You need to promote and sell the solution to the people who need it. They might not even know they need it! Who knew they needed a cell phone in 1946 when AT&T began service in St. Louis, Missouri?
When you have gained enough confidence to compel customers to hand over hard-earned dollars to you, you need to fulfill your promise to them and meet the need. Now you are in business! But it doesn’t stop here either.
You need to develop and repeat the cycle to perfection. And you never finish. This is foundational bedrock for business success. If you do this really well you could probably survive on a mediocre marketing approach. But if you miss this point, no marketing approach will deliver long-term success.
The trust spectrum
Company culture is created by merging your vision, your mission, your core values, your business plan, and your people. This culture becomes your brand. If a business were a person, we would call it his reputation. In fact, sometimes the trust between a business and its customers is dependent upon the reputation of one person rather than the reputation of the brand. This is what I call the trust spectrum.
To illustrate this, imagine an attorney on one side of the spectrum and a tube of toothpaste on the opposite end. When you hire an attorney, you look for someone who can write up strong contracts or perform well in court. You are likely to hire him based on his personal reputation.
Several years ago, we decided to select a new accountant to serve our company. We interviewed several accountants, but we hired the one who asked us the best questions—the questions that made us think the most. We also had a strong reference from one of his satisfied clients. Incidentally, he also had the highest hourly rate.
We were not focused on how well his logo, business card, or website were designed. Rather, it was all about our relationship with him and what he could bring to us as a professional. The point is that some businesses are all about trust in a particular person.
Now let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. Do you know someone personally at the toothpaste factory? And yet you put that stuff right in your mouth! That’s because you trust the name and logo on the toothpaste package. They could put anything in the tube, and you would put it in your mouth.
So where does your business fit in? Should your brand build trust in a person or in an organization? That depends on the nature of your business.
The brand triangle
While branding is commonly considered part of the marketing department, it involves the entire company. The brand triangle shows three important areas that build brand trust.
- Promotions: These are communication pieces crafted to deliver a message to customers by using words and images to communicate your Unique Selling Proposition and your stance in the market. In the example of a coffee shop, this would include the posters, coffee bags, pricing, and more.
- Functions: This is the practical value you deliver in products and services. In the case of a coffee shop, this would include flavor, temperature, eat-in-facilities, lids, and customer wait time.
- Relations: This is how customers experience interaction with your business. In the coffee shop this could include dress code, loyalty rewards, staff attitudes, and complaint resolution.
For a brand to flourish, all three legs of the triangle must be well-designed and must work together. As Anabaptists we tend to be strong on two of these legs. We do well at inventing solutions to problems, which makes us strong in the functions leg. We also do well in the relations leg, since our Christian values promote service and care for others. We tend to be weak in the promotions leg of the triangle, perhaps due to low risk tolerance, or in an effort to avoid bragging.
Key brand expressions
The name. Creating a strong name that is memorable, aligns with the spirit of your brand, and is easily spelled and pronounced is a challenging marketing exercise.
A well-crafted name for your brand will save you thousands of dollars in advertising expense! Poor brand names can be advertised repeatedly to the point that people never forget them. But at what cost? Well-crafted brand names travel much farther and much faster on each marketing dollar.
The logo. A logo is the second most important component of your brand promotion. It should communicate your values and the culture of your brand in graphical language that brains understand and hearts connect with.
Your logo is a symbol by which you become recognized. It should be simple but expressive. It should be unique but understood. It should be used consistently everywhere and always.
Brand names and logos need to be developed with your long-term vision in mind. The most powerful brand names and logos do not focus on products or services. Instead, they communicate the essence of the brand spirit. Usually they do not even contain words or symbols that reference their products or services.
Powerful brand names and logos are designed to be timeless, so they do not require updates every few years because of changes in products or services or new market trends. Brand vision and design transcend market conditions and developments.
The slogan. This is a short, memorable statement that expresses the spirit of the brand— sometimes in more concrete terms than the name and logo. “Nothing runs like a Deere” clearly communicates that John Deere’s vision is to deliver power and efficiency to farmers so they can keep rolling day and night. “Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed” is credited with building Domino’s Pizza into a billion-dollar company.
Customers will pay brands that consistently keep their promises. But value goes deeper than that. Value is created by clarifying your vision, organizing your mission, nurturing your core values, and systemizing your business processes. People who are in harmony with your vision, interested in your mission, and share your core values will be attracted to your brand.
Whether they are business partners, employees, customers, or vendors, there is synergy in the relationship. They get more of what they want. They get to help promote a cause they care about. Proper branding creates a deep level of trust, and trust oils the gears of business. It not only benefits the bottom line, but it also benefits the bottom of the heart.
Proper branding is a large task that may feel confusing or overwhelming, but like most things, it is easier if you have a guide who has walked the road before you. Here’s to success on your journey of building your brand on purpose!