By Jonathan Poston
If business "branding" were as simple as its namesake might lead us to believe, then it would just be a matter of heating up the iron and swiftly searing it deeply into the hides of the jumpy target market. Effectively branding businesses involves tagging targets who, unlike their four-legged friends, have already been lashed with hundreds of hot pokers from more established ten-gallon hat ranchers. But, with a steady hand, and a solid grasp of effective technique, there's still room among the herds for new firebrands to make their mark.
Here are three rules to follow before heating up the branding irons.
1) Brand names aren't everything, but there are caveats to keep in mind when choosing one. Some marketing firms, perhaps the ones that like to charge 10-20k to conjure out of thin air a slick new name for their clients, will say a name can make or break a business. While partially true, it's not everything. But here's the part that is important: Select a name that a) is easily remembered b)completely original c) doesn't offend in any language d) can be purchased as internet urls (web addresses) with all available suffixes (.com, .net, etc.) and e) ideally relays or connects the mission of the company, even abstractly. Any name meeting the above criteria, even those that don't sound so pleasing at first can be effectively branded.
2) Establish multiple channels through which to broadcast the company signal. People aren't just reading one newspaper anymore to stay engaged and informed. It's so easy for marketing departments to oversimplify distribution strategies and just focus on one outlet, like Facebook, or building a $30k website, but unfortunately there's no magic bullet these days. Successful companies know that evaluating all platforms and building a significant presence upon the ones that make the most sense for the given business model is the way to go. And remember, these platforms are rapidly changing, so reevaluate every 6-12 months!
3) Branding is a long term effort to gain mindshare among an increasingly attention deficit consumer base. The challenge is: How does any company churn out enough marketing to fix a company name and slogan into the minds of the masses who can barely remember what they had for breakfast? Serve them up hot loaves of branding throughout the day, every day possible. Marketers today know ads flashing great deals can attract stampedes, but they've also learned that when the treats have been lapped up, customers dry up as well. That's why branding must be handled differently than advertising, and carried out in a sustained effort that involves building a reputation that simply can't be gained through deep discounting. Give it at least three years before dismissing the efforts to stand out.
Of course there are more helpful tips to glean before undertaking the long journey of building a powerful brand and gaining permanent visibility among the relevant crowds, but lasso these "big three" and they will take you far, partner.
Jonathan Poston is currently a professor of business at Warren Wilson College. He has years of experience working with top internet retailers on developing sound marketing strategies (social media, branding, intellectual property, international market penetration).