Q: My company is looking to differentiate itself by building a recognizable brand. What should I know when starting and moving through this process?
A: A brand is more than a name. An established brand creates so many associations that are both tangible (such as its spokesperson, logo or jingle) and intangible (its personality, voice, feelings evoked when interacting with it). When good branding is consistently applied, a coherent core or essence develops which becomes commonly accepted. While a brand has many facets, the core or essence is what holds the brand together. With whatever branding model used, I recommend these steps:
1. Define how your consumers perceive your brand today. This is your brand image. Typically, this would involve marketing research and would not be solely based on the tangible aspects of the experience or offering.
2. Develop what you want your brand to stand for in the future. This is your brand identity. New brands or brands with poor awareness can skip the previous step since their brand is a blank slate. Formally developing what you want your brand to stand for can be difficult because there is so much uncertainty and it’s typically not the top priority when getting a business off the ground. But formalizing this branding activity and gaining consensus on the direction will benefit the business tremendously in the longer term.
3. Determine gaps which exist between No. 1 and No. 2 and develop strategies to narrow them. If there is too large a chasm, your brand identity may not be realistic given your current brand image. If you are considering a brand extension, you may need to consider a different brand if the gap is too large. For example, could McDonald’s ever offer an upscale experience?
4. Periodically, check that all of your touchpoints are delivering against your branding objectives after you implement your strategies. Too many branding studies get shelved and forgotten. This branding process is a combination of art and science and contains many nuances, all of which shape brand image. But managing your brand image may be one of the most critical aspects of a successful business.
Stephen Vuolo is a professor of marketing for the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.