Big companies care about brands, small companies don’t, and that is a shame because any company that has aspirations of ever getting big, better figure out how to build and manage their brand. You can get sucked into all the hype about the latest social networking fad and waste all your time and money following this week’s Internet wunderkind or you can get your head out of your digital butt and build a business from the brand up.
Branding is simply how your audience feels about your company and/or signature product or service. Your brand is your personality, your identity, and every company has one whether they know it or not. One of senior management’s major responsibilities is to manage the brand, the perception your audience has of who you are, what you do, and why they should care. Major corporations understand this and use it to their advantage, but companies that fall into the “I’m not General Motors” category often ignore brand building fundamentals and satisfice with a logo.
A logo is not a brand; a logo is merely a visual representation of your brand, a visual mnemonic or reminder of what your company stands for in terms of the emotional value proposition you offer. You can offer low prices and more features, but if you don’t provide some emotional or psychological benefit you will never be able to create a sustainable brand identity.
It Takes a Universe
Building a brand is like building a self-contained world, a universe that has it’s own cultural, ethical and aesthetic perspective, and an image governed by a set of rules. Like any universe if you break the rules, you cause problems. The creators of successful television shows are experts in inventing brand universes. Programs like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Fringe’ are obvious examples of universes with their own set of rules that audiences will accept no matter how outlandish as long as the producers develop their plots within the context of those rules. Programs that meet that standard become franchise properties and cash cows for their creators. Successful corporate brands are no different. The best brands create a world of their own with a set of guidelines that govern how and what they communicate to their audience. Break the rules and you’ll lose the audience.
Your Website: An Opportunity To Create A Unique Brand Experience
The Web is an open business environment that provides every company, no matter the size, with the opportunity to create a singular brand experience. What better place to create a unique universe than on your website, a self-contained venue that offers multiple communication options?
Most of these communication tools are well within the financial and conceptual reach of even the smallest company. Big companies with big budgets can achieve brand identity faster but their mistakes and missteps can also be more disastrous.
The great equalizer is your website, a venue that provides you the opportunity to present yourself to the world and to build a brand identity as impressive as the big boys, but you have to have an understanding of what it takes, and the discipline to continually abide by the rules you create.
Sticking to the laws of your brand story do not have to be limiting, in fact, they can be downright liberating by allowing you to make better decisions faster and with more confidence.
The Small Company Dilemma
Owner managers have their hands full running the day-to-day operations of their companies; that leaves little time to worry about seemingly esoteric marketing concepts like branding, but branding is one of the key building blocks of controlling and managing a growing business. With all the elements of a brand universe in place, everything gets easier, from decisions on what to do about your website and mobile strategies, to what message needs to be communicated in your advertising, to hiring and managing staff.
Taking a step back can definitely help in moving forward, but the truth is most entrepreneurs and management executives are neither expert in, nor trained to develop a unified brand strategy. Finding an outside advisor you trust that can translate your vision into a brand universe complete with all the necessary components is critical to building a sustainable company that will grow and prosper under a consistent well-managed leadership team. Without an appropriate set of brand rules growth companies can easily fall prey to departmental infighting and destructive, petty turf wars.
There are many ways to define culture but for our purposes culture is a shared set of attitudes, goals, and behaviors that define and identify an organization. Corporate culture defines what makes your business different from your competitors; it’s what holds an enterprise together despite personality differences and personal agendas. If everyone is on the same page, moving in the same direction, decisions can be dealt with in an orderly efficient manner. In short, corporate culture is a shared vision and point-of-view that helps define and clarify your identity and style.
Before you dismiss the idea of corporate culture as something of little value to your organization think about the criteria you use to hire and train employees, to develop customer service policy, and to design in-store, website, and mobile experiences. Are they all in sync, all compatible, all working toward the same goal, and all delivering the same emotional value proposition to your interested publics?
Traditionally visual identity is what most people associate with branding. People understand they need a logo and maybe even a tagline to go along with it, but all to often logo development is a stand-alone exercise rather than an integrated approach to identifying and representing what a company stands for. Alone a logo is just a meaningless graphic symbol. The Nike ‘swoosh,’ the Kodak ‘K,’ or even Starbuck’s stylized mermaid mean nothing in and of themselves.
But even in the realm of visual identity, logos and taglines are not enough. The consistent use of a corporate color palette, iconography, language, typography, and even the look of the spokespeople used in videos, commercials, and in print must all be delivering the same consistent subliminal message.
If you’re serious about branding you must consider Sonic Personality. In an age of multimedia communication, sonic branding is the most sophisticated, least appreciated, scientifically complex, and emotionally charged communication tool you have at your disposal. Sonic identity consists of audio logos, music, voice, and sound effects. Sonic branding is the ultimate subliminal difference maker and you ignore it or misuse it at your peril.
Intel spends millions implementing their signature sound logo that is universally identified and synonymous with the company. Carmakers spend small fortunes creating distinctive sounds for how their car doors shut, and potato chip manufacturers create signature sounds for the crinkle in their packaging.
The voice of the actor used, the music that accompanies the message, and the sound effects that point to the key emotional moments of a video or commercial are the difference between success and failure, the difference between communication and noise. When people see the Nike swoosh, what sounds-off in their heads is not swoosh but Nike; it’s the sound that sticks in the memory, the logo is merely a visualization of that sound. Sound design may be the least talked about aspect of branding but it’s also the most sophisticated. Sound design is the next big thing in branding, especially for Web entrepreneurs.