The Four Key Steps to Successful Branding Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond

Here’s a marketing truth that bears repeating: Your brand is one of the most powerful weapons you have in your quest not only to attract the widest possible audience, but to differentiate yourself from the competition in a meaningful way. While the type of brand you’re trying to build may vary as your company grows and evolves, the steps you’ll use to create and cultivate that brand won’t. Here are four key steps to successful branding that are just as useful today as they will be tomorrow, a year from now, and beyond.

1. Make Marketing Decisions with Your Customers in Mind

Just as you wouldn’t attempt to offer a service or release a product your target audience wouldn’t want, try to keep this same thought in mind when planning your marketing campaigns and branding strategy. Do your target customers respond well to direct mail materials? Are they the type of people who like “larger than life” materials like print billboards? These are all questions you’ll need to continually address and re-address moving forward.

2. Simple, Simple, Simple

One of the keys to building a successful brand is the ability to communicate the company’s core values clearly and concisely. Keep it simple. Never use ten words when five will do. If you can communicate the idea behind what your brand stands for in an image, you may not even need to use words at all. Communicate your branding message in the simplest possible way for the best results.

3. Your Brand is Your Brand is Your Brand

Though your brand may naturally evolve as your business changes, it’s important to take things slowly. If all of your marketing materials reflect one version of your brand in Quarter 1 and a completely different version in Quarter 4, you’re going to develop a bit of a schizophrenic reputation among the people you’re trying to reach. If you make changes that are too drastic too quickly, you run the risk of confusing your brand with itself and creating the image that you’re actually two different companies. For an example of this idea in action, consider the mess Netflix went through when it attempted to split off its DVD-by-mail and Internet streaming components into two separate entities in 2011.

4. Consistency in Language and Intention

Every piece of marketing you put out into the world needs to feel like it’s coming from the same company. Start by developing a “style guide” that you’ll use moving forward. For example, if you write your direct mail materials at a specific reading level, include that in your style guide. Provide a list of acceptable fonts, color palettes, and guidelines for proper logo usage. Consistency is a key way to show people your brand knows what it’s doing without actually saying those words.

As your company ages, it’s naturally going to change and evolve over time. The products and services you’re releasing today will scarcely resemble the ones you offer ten years down the line. One thing, however, will never change, and that’s the power of your brand. No matter what the future holds, the four key steps to successful branding outlined above will never go out of style.

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What the Cola Wars Can Teach About Marketing

Imagine you are walking down the street and see a group of people trying to get volunteers for a taste testing. In the cups before them they have two identical-looking colas. They ask you to try both cups and pick which one you prefer. You will then need to try and identify which is Coke and which is Pepsi.

Do you think you would be able to tell the difference? Do you think you would actually pick the flavor you usually drink (in other words, if you usually drink Coke, would you actually select that one as your favorite)?

Shockingly, many people don’t. A number of different experiments have shown that many people are unable to correctly identify which cola is which. Even more surprisingly, in double blind taste tests, Pepsi often wins. It was this phenomenon that led to Pepsi steadily encroaching upon Coca-Cola’s lead in the market in the 1970s and 1980s. In an effort to win back customers, Coca-Cola introduced the debacle that was New Coke. The new formula was quickly rejected by consumers, and the company worked to gain back the trust of their loyal customers.

Coca-Cola managed to transition out of their problematic campaign and back to their original formula, but this left them in an interesting position. They still used the original formula, which customers said they wanted, but this formula was the one that often lost to Pepsi in taste tests. In the twenty years since this fiasco, Coca-Cola still manages to lead the market and has been holding steady.

According to what many people view as the unwritten rules of marketing, this should not be happening. Coke has two major points working against it.

  1. Coke’s formula is often deemed inferior by the consumer base in taste tests.
  2. The company completely alienated much of its loyal consumer base when it introduced New Coke without adequate market research.

Yet somehow Coca-Cola remains ahead.

Understanding why this happened and what companies today can learn from it can help you revolutionize your advertising campaigns.

Branding

Coca-Cola’s advertising works to develop a certain mentality in us. When we see the brand’s familiar script logo, we connect to the company’s rich history. We see small children walking up to drugstore counters to buy a Coke. We also connect with the company’s familiar advertising icons (its polar bears, for example) that are often featured in various advertising campaigns. Of course, Coca-Cola’s friendship ads help us feel connected to other Coke drinkers around the globe, as well.

The key here is the brand. Coca-Cola is now an iconic brand. It has become such a staple in our culture that in some regions, the word ‘Coke’ is used to mean any soft drink.

So what are you doing to develop your brand? Creating and maintaining a strong brand should be at the center of all your marketing. Customers make decisions based on the subconscious associations they develop between a company’s brand and its intangibles, including its quality, reliability, and history. Successful marketing helps to encourage positive associations in consumers’ minds.

Thinking about the entire customer experience

Taste tests often show that Pepsi is the preferred brand, especially considering it is slightly sweeter. While this might be better for short-term tastes, many people drink soft drinks in vast quantities. They don’t just drink a sip or two. They drink large bottles. Given the entire customer experience, it’s easier to see why the slightly sweeter brand seems to be less preferred in the long run.

Branding and considering the entire customer experience have both had an enormous impact on Coca-Cola’s ability to hold onto its lead over Pepsi, despite taste tests and marketing troubles. When you keep these criteria in mind for your company, you’ll also be able to boost your success. So grab a soft drink, sit down, and work with us to begin determining how you can better market your company. Call us today at 847-768-2679!

Transparency and Authenticity: Two Keys to Marketing Success

Trust is essential to success in today’s business world. It’s not enough to offer a terrific product or service. You need to back that offering with the type of high-quality brand experience people won’t find anywhere else. Doing so doesn’t just create customers — it creates advocates. It creates a legion of followers who are willing to champion your brand to their friends and family members, extending your reach farther than you ever could on your own. In order to achieve this, however, you need to focus on two key qualities: transparency and authenticity, especially in your marketing message.

What is Transparency in Marketing?

At its core, transparency means being truthful about your business at all times. Far too many business leaders believe that acknowledging problems or mistakes is akin to showing signs of weakness. As they see it, letting people know your business may be going through a rough patch is proof that blood is in the water and the sharks will soon begin to circle.

In reality, transparency is one of the best ways to establish yourself as a trusted brand. If you make a mistake, don’t attempt to sweep it under the rug. Instead, lean into it, take the heat, and use the experience to better your organization. From that regard, transparency isn’t a weakness at all. It’s a way to show your organization is run by human beings who sometimes make mistakes but who always care about their customers above all else.

Consider the recent surge in data breaches that have affected some of the biggest companies on the planet. There are commonly two types of reactions to these events. Some companies try to pretend like a data breach didn’t happen for as long as possible. This never ends well and only damages their reputation. Others step up, take full responsibility, and go to great lengths to do right by their customers. These are the companies that survive the PR disaster that a data breach represents.

Authenticity is Key

Gabe Newell is the co-founder and managing director of the Valve Corporation, a highly successful video game development and distribution platform. When asked about the early days of Valve and the major success it had with digital distribution when so many other platforms were faltering, Newell said the key was simple. “One of the things we learned pretty early on is don’t ever, ever try to lie to the Internet,” he said. “They will catch you. They will de-construct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.”

Newell understood what so many others failed to: authenticity is no longer a recommendation for business professionals. It’s a requirement.

Building a following for your business is always a challenge, especially as new competitors crop up with each passing day. Transparency and authenticity are two of the most important resources you have that will move you toward that goal.

Building Brand Awareness Requires a Consistent Brand Experience

Building brand awareness is one of the cornerstones of successful marketing. People need to see you as the trusted leader you know you are. Every message you put out into the world — from flyers to advertisements to the content on your website — must reinforce that core ideal. The goal is to create a consistent brand experience across every marketing channel.

To illustrate just how important a consistent brand experience is, take a look at a company that has mastered it: Apple. Apple is notorious for the strength of its brand. Say what you will about its products and services, but you can’t argue with the fact that when that shiny white “Apple” logo appears on a computer, portable music player, or advertisement on television, a very clear image of what that logo represents pops into your mind almost immediately.

The major theme of Apple’s company over the years has been simplicity. The lengths to which the company has gone in its effort to reinforce that concept are actually quite astounding. Apple has long been lauded for its television commercials. Instead of relying on flashy graphics, loud music, and other tropes typical of traditional television advertising, Apple displays key products on stark white backgrounds with a basic music track not unlike what you would hear in an elevator. In a word, the ads are incredibly simple, just like the products themselves.

If you take a look at Apple’s website, it’s almost like one of the company’s television commercials brought to life. The website features a stark white background and large, simplistic lettering. The products themselves are clearly the emphasis. Simplicity rears its head yet again.

This extends even to the print marketing materials that come packaged in the box along with Apple’s products. Instead of the extensive user manual that accompanies most products, you get a short and painfully straightforward pamphlet with basic tips on how to get started using the device you just bought. The only other item in the box (accessories notwithstanding) is a sticker with the Apple logo. Simple, simple, simple.

Apple succeeds because every last bit of marketing it puts out into the world harkens back to that core message of simplicity. The avenues it uses to communicate that message may change, but the look, feel, and emotion behind the message remains the same.

This isn’t a phenomenon unique to Apple. If you think of the biggest companies in the world (or even the most successful businesses in your area), the one thing they all have in common regardless of industry is the consistent brand experience they deliver. By focusing on your own marketing message and clearly communicating it in a straightforward and consistent manner across all marketing avenues, you, too, can build awareness and create the same type of consistent brand experience for your company.