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Branding Today: The times are changing and so should your approach to branding

By Mark Wardell @MarkWardell |

The average business owner thinks about branding in terms of their logo and general appearance. In actual fact, branding is much more than this. It is the experience your customers and potential customers have with your business - whether it's a visit to your store location or a visit to your website, blog, or Twitter stream.

The essence of your brand emerges from your company's market position. In other words, your brand must fully reflect the unique reasons your customers buy from you. Think of branding as the voice that shouts your market position from the rooftops, to all who will listen. This may be done through logo design, adverting, corporate uniforms, or even through the way your telephones are answered. The possibilities are endless. The more clearly your market position is defined throughout your organization, the stronger your brand will be.

If you lack clarity around your market position, you'll struggle to build an effective brand strategy. So my advice is not to spend one penny on branding until you've come to some conclusions about your market position.

To be effective, a pervasive understanding about your company's brand can't be confined to the top few in your organization. Brand clarification needs to be understood by everyone in your organization- from your Salespeople, to your Webmaster, to Accounts Receivable - in order to reach and be understood by your customers.

A great example of strong branding is YYoga in Vancouver. Everything from their customer service to their decor is consistent. Their brand is the experience customers have with health, fitness and well being in YYoga's spa setting. They've recently launched an app that does and excellent job serving to strengthen their brand presence each and every time their customers/potential customers use it.

I reached out to the digital agency they worked with, Pound & Grain, to find out why YYoga has been so successful. Managing Partner, Sandy Fleischer explained, "YYoga has systems in place to ensure a great customer experience happens and is consistent across all fronts. This is the key to multi-platform branding."

So true. It's essential to spend some time to define what and who you want to be as a business. If you haven't decided who you are, you can be sure that other people have decided for you, and you're missing out on the opportunity of connecting with your customers in more positive, meaningful ways. Your customer's perception is your customer's reality.

So, how do you strengthen your brand?

The first step is to conduct a brand audit. I recommend you do this via three different perspectives.

Start by looking at your business from your customer's point of view. If you have a physical location, walk up to it and take a critical look at your business store front, signage, all brochures (every page), your front staff, the cleanliness and dècor of your location. Try to critically see your business as a customer would see it. Does it look professional? Does it represent what you do? Does it have a defined presence? Do your team's manner and dress speak to your business competence? Are your printed materials up to date and reflective of your market position? If you don't feel you can be objective, hire a personal shopper or task another objective colleague to provide this input. Do the same for your presence online as well. How welcoming and professional are your online platforms?

Next, look at your business through the eyes of your employees. How are employees greeting one another? Are staff rooms clean and inviting? What does your place of employment say to your team, the valued employees who carry your brand forward? If you want a highly motivated, professional and driven team, you need to provide them with the atmosphere that builds that culture. If your employees are using an intranet, blog or any other tool, ensure these spaces are working and making their jobs as effective as possible.

Finally, look at your business through the eyes of your suppliers. How is your credit rating? Do you pay your bills on time? Are you active in the community? Is your team professional when they deal with suppliers?

Step two is to review all Customer Contact Points. A customer contact point is any point where your customer and your business intersect. Not only your physical location, but your website, blog, and any other points of customer contact. You can review customer contact points yourself, elicit objective help, or use surveys to help you. There are a ton of great tools from Survey Monkey to Twtpoll to Tiipz to help you gather critical feedback.

What would an Ideal Customer Experience look like? At each and every point where the contact is less than ideal, write a description of what changes need to happen to strengthen your brand at the point of contact. If you want to do this really well, it will take time. From every page on your website, to every page in every brochure, to every (possibly scripted) staff encounter. Systems are everything here.

Whatever you discover during your brand audit can be used to fuel the rebranding process. As noted above, there is a lot you can do yourself and this doesn't necessarily need to be a hugely costly undertaking. I've seen businesses make significant positive changes within a week. However, the more time and strategy you invest into your brand, and consideration for its future evolution, the stronger your business will be.

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