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Often when people think “brand” they think of a name or logo. True, that is part of what a brand encompasses, but there is so much more to consider when building a successful brand.

With a strong brand that appeals to your target customers, you can escape the downward spiral of having to compete on price. Even in challenging economic times, people are drawn to value. They understand that the cheapest does not necessarily offer the best deal, and their assessment of the best deal is entirely influenced by how they perceive your brand.

Here are some top line tips to consider when building your brand:

Don’t copy cat the big brands.

If you are a small business don’t fall into the trap of copying what the big brands are doing. It’s an obvious thing to do – “they are well known and successful so if I copy them I will end up well known and successful”. Not usually the case. Big brands work with big budgets. They throw a lot of money at advertising to raise awareness. With smaller businesses it’s about working smarter with the budget that you have. Being a smaller player will actually often end up working in your favour – people are increasingly drawn to small, independent operators with an innovative, interesting offer.

Develop your brand story.

If you don’t already have a brand story, get one written. It forces you to think about your brand in detail. What differentiates your brand from others? What emotion does your brand evoke in customers? Your brand story is the narrative that captures the essence of your brand and how your brand connects with your customers.

Get your employees on board.

Following logically on from developing your brand story, is communicating your brand story to your employees. They need to be on board with your brand vision. The way your employees dress and behave is reflection on your brand. Don’t discount the importance of listening to how your employees believe your product is received in the market – their regular customer interface may provide insights that you were unaware of, and that could prove invaluable to building your brand story. You will need their support if your branding message is to be effective and believable. Successfully defining your brand story and getting everyone in your business on board with it will mean that they aren’t just representatives of your brand – they ARE your brand.

Audit your touch points.

Customers get a feel for your brand through a wide range of sources, which are called touch points. Touch points are any interaction that a customer has with your brand – any moment that they ‘touch’ it. They could include such things as your product, packaging, marketing material, operating manuals, invoices, payment options, employee attitudes, after sales support, blogs, social media and advertising. Every touch point has an opportunity to enhance your customer’s positive experience with your brand. Sadly, the reverse is also true. So conduct an audit of your touch points. List them and check regularly that each of the touch points is a positive experience that will help customers believe in your brand promise. Likewise, work to correct any negative touch point experiences.

Look consistent.

Develop a visual presence that supports your brand story. Is your brand modern/minimalist, traditional/classic or even fun and colourful? Keep your look simple and recognisable so that it becomes memorable. Ensure that your brand look and feel supports the tone of your brand that it is consistent across all mediums. Design a great logo, with colours that fit with your brand. A brand guidelines document is a useful tool to assist with this. In it, outline clearly the look of your logo and slogans, the official PMS colours, font type, how the logo can and can’t be used (eg not to be smaller than 10pt font). Whenever you are producing marketing collateral, websites, promotional events, office re-fit or any other activities ensure that your look remains consistent.

Be a helpful expert.

Put your industry knowledge to good use. Define areas that you are experienced and knowledgeable in, and then offer to write articles, produce blogs, newsletters or even speak at events on your given topic. This sort of activity will help to build trust and importantly also raise your brand awareness, in the community.

Spread the word.

Not all customers are created equal. Identify those customers that are most loyal and help them spread the word about your business. Treat them well – make sure they are the first to know about any new product or service. Invite them to special business celebrations so that they feel appreciated. Some of your most loyal customers can turn out to be some of your strongest human billboards.

Acknowledge problems – then fix them.

Burying your head in the sand when it comes to issues, is never the way to go. If something goes wrong and your brand is losing value, work to fix the problems in a way that supports your brand. Tell your customers what went wrong as soon as possible. Acknowledge the issue, and then advise them of how you are putting things right. On the whole, most people will be understanding if you are upfront and honest about any issues, and if you update them with how you intend to resolve them.

Analyse new ventures carefully.

It’s always exciting to embark on a new venture or to expand into a new market. In addition to doing your due diligence in terms of whether there is a market need, it is also imperative that you analyse the potential activity to ensure it fits with your brand. As tempting as it may be, if it’s not on brand, then it may not be the best move for your business. Alternatively, if it doesn’t fit with your brand, there may be an opportunity for you to create a sub-brand. An example of this is when Telecom (Spark) decided to launch a new low cost, self-service product aimed at a younger market. It didn’t fit well with their parent brand Telecom, so they created a sub-brand for the market, which was called Skinny.

Beware of special offers.

Unless your brand is indeed about cheap prices, be careful when making special offers on your product or services. Reducing your price can sometimes have the opposite effect than was intended. Although it may drive your sales, it may cheapen your brand value. A good option to consider is to try offering more, rather than charging less e.g purchase a lounge suite and receive two complimentary throw cushions.

Armed with these ten top tips, you will be well on your way to establishing a successful brand that competes effectively and builds customer loyalty.