Over $500 billion is spent on advertising each year. The average American is exposed to an estimated 3,000 ads per day. Fifteen minutes out of every hour of television programming is devoted to commercials.
That’s a lot of marketing. And a lot of marketers. With six million companies in the United States alone, that's a lot of people competing to get their message out. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you get noticed?
This is where branding comes in.
What is branding?
Branding is the art of distinguishing a product or service from its competitors. It’s the term for creating a recognizable “personality” which people will remember and react to.
A company with poor branding is throwing away marketing dollars. Why? Because without a focused message, companies weak in branding are invisible. Nobody remembers them and they blend in. They become just another leaf swirling in the wind, amid all those marketing messages consumers see each day.
In marketing, the point is to actually reach someone, to connect. The way to do this is by focusing attention, not dispersing it.
Discovering your brand
Too often, people try to “dream up” a brand for their company. However, a brand isn’t something you dream up -- it’s something you discover. Specifically, it’s something you have to discover about yourself.
True branding must be based solely on the mission and culture of the organization. When people try to create branding separate from the company itself, the result may be pretentious, clichéd or ambiguous marketing. It waters down the company's message.
Instead, a brand should reflect the company’s business plan, its mission and values. It has to be authentic. Therefore, when you brand a company (or anything else for that matter), you’re trying to capture its core identity. You have to look past the clutter and opinion and distill its true essence. This is what you convey to consumers -- your brand. And your fonts, your design, your writing -- all aspects of your marketing -- should all align with that central concept. Now, you have focus. Now, you have penetration, because you've conveyed your company's identity by first discovering yourself.
The ingredients of a brand
While there is probably no foolproof formula for discovering a company’s brand, there are pathways to accomplish that. Consider the following points the “ingredients” that go into making an authentic brand:
- Company mission. This is the most important element of branding. Your mission is the spirit of your company, it’s the beating heart of what you do. In fact, your brand can be thought of as the outward expression of your company’s internal mission. Think of it this way: Why does your organization exist? What is it there for? You have assets, employees, vendors, relationships and internal systems. . . but why?
- Values. What’s important to your company? What do you stand for? Every company has certain ideals that define what it is and does. These ideals could be environmental, social or ethical or could be standards of quality Whatever your company’s values are, they’re the very center of why you’re unique and are a crucial part of your brand.
- Culture. Each company in the world has its own ethos -- a particular style or panache. Whatever you call yours, embrace it. There may be a million competitors in your market space, but there’s only one you. Your company’s group culture is part of the fabric of who you are.
- History. Your history tells a lot about you. Look to the company’s founders to help define your identity today. What were their values? What were they trying to accomplish? Every company came from somewhere. Your roots are an integral part of your company’s brand.
- Plans. When you look at your next 10 years, where do you see yourself going? Your business plan and marketing strategy both influence how you present yourself and should be included in your branding. If you’re going after an entry-level market segment, don’t position yourself as a luxury brand. Your brand must encompass your real-world objectives.
- Consumers. This is really what it’s all about. Your customers are the reason you exist. What are their needs? What do they think? Understanding your customers is a vital part of branding. Because if you don’t know whom you’re talking to, why bother to say anything at all?
It might take a bit of soul-searching to get at the essence of what makes your company special. The trick is to take a clear-eyed look and see what’s actually there. Because every brand is beautiful, every brand is inspiring.
Each just has to be discovered.
CONTRIBUTOR to Entrepeneur Magazine
Writer & Consultant