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Branding doesn’t start with following certain steps or guidelines; rather it starts with a commitment towards a consistent image and then becomes a habit. Branding elicits instant trust, and as such must be associated with consistency of a product or service throughout the entire client vendor interaction, from awareness all the way to the point of sale and customer service.
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1. Start with a Commitment to a Consistent Image
Start by absolutely knowing what your brand is about and just as importantly what it’s not about. A brand can’t be all things at once, so you must choose your core concepts and values. Use these religiously and don’t compromise just to get ahead as that will ruin your brand potential. Zappos built a brand around making the customer happy with every delivery without exceptions! They religiously implemented that concept into their return policy, shipping policy, and customer service policy and adhered to it for 10 years before selling at a $1 Billion valuation. Some build a brand by using only green or organic products, or having the fastest turnaround. You should find where your consistency will be from your core value statement.
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2. Keep it Simple Always (KISA)
I wanted to substitute the “Stupid" in KISS with “Always" because a lot of companies get caught up in many aspects of their business or industry and start complicating things. When trying to keep things simple on one front, having complications on the back end starts eroding not only profits but also the message you are trying to send. When we created MyBlueChimp.com to deliver an online portal that would teach consumers how to settle their debts themselves rather than pay thousands of dollars to settlement companies, we had a choice of whether to add bankruptcies, debt management, consolidation loans, budgeting software, and the list just grew larger and larger. We lost months in valuable time before the launch until we just realized that we needed to stick with the “Do it yourself" crowd. This helped us create one of the foremost do it yourself debt settlement systems in the market to date.
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3. Continue to Assess your Strengths and Weaknesses
A good brand always knows where their strength lies and where there are positioned in the market place. This is their calling and justification for being the trustworthy brand. Unfortunately these days, markets and sentiments shift as fast as a YouTube video is posted. Companies that do not constantly assess their positioning will find that their strength might not be so valuable anymore and just as quickly lose the value of the brand. Think about Polaroid who was a leader in photography. They had the best positioning to take over the digital camera industry because they had the best brand as well as years of R&D into digital photography with several patents. What happened? They underestimated their Strength in the evolving market and new competitors quickly eradicated them from existence.
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4. Be Customer Centric
Being customer centric simply means that your products or services are driven by market trends and customer tastes. Forget about offering the same products or services year after year. Brands must be industry leaders in innovating how things are delivered. Markets with their consumers are fluid and always in motion. Brands must have a practice of being on the front lines of changes. This means investing in R&D, customer surveys and interactions, industry conference leadership, and exploring new ways to interact and engage their clients. Consider Facebook versus MySpace, and how Facebook threw MySpace under the bus. MySpace was the clear leader in the social media space. But they thought that giving free control over the look and feel of pages to their users was what the users wanted. This turned into a huge convoluted mess; sometimes you didn’t even know if you were still on MySpace. Facebook gave minimal control over what can be shown on their pages and NO control over the look and feel. This gave more clarity and consistency, and became a much more brand worthy social media outlet.
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5. Be Transparent
Since trust is the emotion you are trying to maintain with your client base, transparency is one of the fastest ways to get there. This means be transparent about who you are, where you are located, what your policies are, somewhat transparent about your business model, etc. Nothing shuns people away faster than secrecy and lack of transparency. With social media and blogs, these days there is no room for creating mystery. It doesn’t work. On MyBlueChimp as well as on Search Demand, both companies I helped create, the most frequently visited page after the Home page is the “About Us" page. This is for a reason. People want to know who you are, and you must be honest with your image just like you need to be consistent with your message.
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6. Quality Over Quantity
Sometimes brands spread like wildfire-YouTube is a great example. They went from 0 to 30 million visitors in 3 months! And nothing could be worse than bad quality of product or service instantly spreading around. If you know you have a poor product/service, hold off on pushing it until you have made it respectable. Steve Jobs scrutinized the Apple computer boxes for being a bad shade of white and halted shipping to fix it (this was the day before their new product release). After adjusting that tiny detail, Apple delivered the most mesmerizing packaging that showed who Apple really was. Work on improving the tiniest details of your product/service in terms of price, quality, deliver, and customer service-this is more like a habit, not a destination.
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7. Keep Things Clean
Don’t bad mouth the competition, don’t complain, don’t deliver poor experiences, be ethical, give proper credit, and don’t cut corners. These things can tarnish a reputation faster than the blink of an eye and your can recognize poor form from a mile away. By forming good habits within an organization you can reduce the chance that these brand killers will surface.
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8. Acknowledge your Mistakes and Take Quick Action
Everyone makes mistakes and everyone knows this is a fact. What separates people and organizations is how they handle them. Poor taste shows when a company faces a mistake or crisis and tries to defend itself. Justifying mistakes is for immature people and companies. An example is if a company made a mistake that could be potentially damaging and it let the news spread out before doing anything about it. For brands it would be better to acknowledge the mistake before it hits the internet airwaves with a direct recourse offering a way to prevent that from happening again.
A good example is something that happened to a startup Airbnb. Airbnb is a platform that allows home owners to rent their homes to travelers instead of going to a hotel. Recently, news of several clients whose homes have been ransacked by dwellers hit the airwaves. Airbnb reacted by issuing an unconditional apology, and a $50,000 insurance policy that would protect home owners in the future. Even though the story is still fresh and the damage is yet to be completely measured, this kind of quick action is exactly what companies should be prepared to take.
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9. Create and Share Good Information
We live in an informational age where sharing is the norm, and quality of information is highly coveted. Companies must become extremely knowledgeable about the tastes of their clients and users. Offering news and information that is useful will further enhance the connection between your clients and your company. Make use of available technology to do so: using blogs, social media, articles, market studies and reports, stories, and more. These have become valuable to newer generations and are a great way to create goodwill and promote your brand on multiple channels. Remember that brands are also experts in the industry, and nothing speaks more of being an expert than being a leader in the creation and promotion of good information.
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10. Train your Clients Well
Social media has done a great thing for the online community and especially businesses: it has taught a previously meek online user how to be a powerful sharing machine. This means that people are less shy about writing reviews, posting on forums, and sharing through social media tools about how great (or bad) a product or services is, spreading their word to the masses. We encourage all of our clients to create incentives and teach their users/clients how to become brand advocates. Of the 10 best practices for branding, this is one of the most powerful, inexpensive, and FAST ways of building a brand.
- Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Tony Hsieh
- Photo Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/76587 under licensing agreement.
- The Breakthrough Imperative: How the Best Managers Get Outstanding Results. Mark Gottfredson & Steve Schaubert