Valdosta Daily Times


September 1, 2013

A Brand Apart

How Branding Can Set You Apart

VALDOSTA — “If this business were to be split up, I would be glad to take the brands, trademarks and goodwill and you could have all the bricks and mortar, and I would fare better than you.”

That's a quote from John Stuart, CEO of Quaker Oats Company at the beginning of the 20th century. He said it in 1900, but what he said then is even truer today in a world where a brand will sell for millions, if not billions.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a business buzzword in the 21st century that's bigger than branding.

While brands themselves have existed since the time when they were burnt into the sides of barrels and livestock, branding as a concept has exploded in popularity over the last decade, with countless books, blogs and tweets written about it.

Opening a business involves a deluge of startup charges; as such, many businesses put off branding and marketing until they've gotten off the ground. The sooner you start figuring out who your company is and what it does best, the sooner you can get that in front of your potential customers.

“You saw it here when Valdosta gained metro status,” said Steven Heddon. “The game went up a little bit ... Smaller businesses started doing branding as well.”

Heddon runs Fusion Creative Marketing, advising businesses at all levels on branding. One thing he advises all his clients to do is make branding a part of the original business plan; to start on it as soon as possible.

“In fact, I believe that when most banks look at your business plan, when they see you have a planned advertising campaign ... you’ve got a better chance of things coming up

in your favor.”

The sooner you figure out your brand and your branding, the more consistent your image and message can be. Branding now takes place across a spectrum of media. What's more, now they're intersecting.

A print ad might have a QR code that connects you to a website that plays a video.

Of course, your business might not need a QR code — or a Twitter account, for that matter — but it’s something you need to consider, along with other traditional forms of getting your brand in front of your audience.

“You want to get across the experience of what you're selling, and for that, you'll need to appeal to the senses, to the emotions of your target audience.”

Figuring out your target audience, along with figuring out your company and your core competency, is essential to your brand. Instead of a shotgun approach, focus your efforts.

“You need a strategic plan ... People will usually try to throw everything and the kitchen sink into their advertising and their brand. You want to err on the side of simplicity.”

With more and more “digital noise” to compete with, you want your branding — the logo, the tagline, the advertisements — to cut through the noise to your audience. Limit your logo to just a few colors and cut your tagline down to just the essentials — Heddon advises getting it down to 3-5 words.

“Think about Nike: it's a swoosh and 'Just Do It.' That's it.”

The logo, the tag line, the ads: they're a starting point for what Heddon calls a “graphic identity.”

But don't get confused. This is part of your brand, but it is not the whole brand. Your brand extends far wider, encompassing the entire company. With social media making it easier than ever for customers — both satisfied and unsatisfied — to share their experience, every customer experience becomes part of your brand.

“Any customer experience that anybody has with your company is going to end up out there on the Internet, whether it’s great or it’s bad,” said Curt Fowler, with business strategy group Fowler & Company.

And it goes beyond just the customer experience.

Consider Abercrombie and Fitch. Earlier this year, a 2006 interview with company CEO Mike Jeffries resurfaced on the Internet. In the interview, Jeffries talks about all of the people who he doesn't want buying the company's clothes, the people who aren't cool enough or popular enough. That gaffe, too, became part of the brand. And your brand, for better or worse, is what differentiates you from the rest of the market.

“That's really all a brand is ... Trying to compete on price point is a failure. Some people are great at it, but it’s tight, tight margins. It’s a whole lot easier to spend some money being different that it is to go in and compete on price. And it’s more profitable.”

Fowler, whose company's three-word tag is 'Value Driven Results', starts by getting companies to think about their core values and what kind of company culture they want to have.

“It creates an idea about who you are ... that has to permeate the entire organization: how you hire, how you fire, how you promote. It’s got to be real; if it’s not, it’s going to get figured out pretty quick.”

He also advises companies to build their culture and their brand from the ground up, starting with who you hire and how you treat your employees.

“Marketing gets your brand attention, but it’s not your brand. Brands or organizations that stand for something get better talent. The talent drives the customer experience, which drives the brand.”

Those core values might be something as simple as punctuality or a money-back guarantee or something as complicated as dedicating a portion of your profits to an environmental cause or an employee safety-net program.

However you decide to brand yourself and your company, it has to be sustained. Your audience needs to experience your brand multiple times before it sticks. This is something that favors the long-term view.

“It's like getting an airplane off the ground,” said Heddon. “It takes a lot of fuel to get it up, but once it gets up there, you can cruise.”

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