The cornerstone of a business’ identity, branding plays an essential role in enterprises of all sizes. However, the biggest and smallest of companies can have trouble when it comes to putting the right level of resource into their branding strategy. So, what exactly makes branding such an integral part of your work? What is the risk of failing to take your branding into account when starting or optimising your business?
What is branding?
Your ‘brand’ represents how your product or business is represented in the marketplace. An amalgamation of creative, technical, physical, and visual features – it is arguably one of the most important elements of running a successful company. Hard to cultivate, and often difficult to effectively and efficiently change, your brand allows you to differentiate yourself from competitors and set out your stall when it comes to client engagement. Developing the right brand and making the right creative choices can allow a small business to compete with much larger rivals.
Meanwhile, a successful strategy assists those bigger names to remain relevant and memorable in a communication space that is defined by change. Your brand is broken up into two elements: identity and image. Your brand’s identity is something that you nurture yourself and is the sum of all the efforts you make to shape the perceptions of your business. That can include physical advertising, online engagement, your logo and marketing copy. Managing this is the responsibility of your internal team, external providers, or – ideally – a combination of both.
On the other hand, your brand image is everything that happens once your efforts have ‘left the nest’. This covers the public perception of your brand and will be affected by an almost incalculable number of variables. That could include negative press about your products, internal scandals, public responses to your visual imagery and more. In a world of social media, it is easier than ever for brands to accrue negative and positive momentum with ‘memeification’, ‘cancellation’ and more, proving to quickly derail your best-laid plans unless pre-emptive or corrective action is taken.
In short, your brand identity is how you would like to be seen. Your brand image is how your business and products are actually perceived. Taking steps to understand or control both is an essential first day action alongside strategic and financial management.
Who needs it?
No matter the size of your business, it is essential to take time to track and – where possible – organically moderate how your products, services, and business are presented in the modern market. Failing to do either will quickly result in two issues.
First, failing to take steps to control your brand will result in missed opportunities and excessive resource expenditure. Setting out a stall for your brand can help dictate who, and when, it should be engaged with, letting you strategise in the long-term when it comes to engagement. This places a hand on the rudder and enables you to effectively shape how you are identified by customers, clients, and competitors.
Secondly, not taking time to study your identity or image will result in a knowledge deficit. Even if you have no branding at all, or your image is in the doldrums, understanding where you ‘are’ will help your teams make an informed decision about where you want to go. Undertaking continuous research is an essential step in the process and should never be overlooked.
What is branding’s purpose?
In addition to setting your identity and image, focusing time and resources on your branding carries several significant, concrete benefits. These include, but are not limited to:
Once an image is created, your teams and providers can work to ensure that your image is maintained. This can allow it to be modified to respond to a change in strategy or position in the marketplace or empower you to default to ‘neutral’ in the event of negative press or publicity.
Cultivating a brand allows you to forge a place in the marketplace and define what you stand for. This can be any combination of values, including reliability, honesty, social responsibility and affordability. In setting these values out, clients and customers can choose to engage with your business as the values it represents match with their own – or allow them to embody your characteristics through adoption.
Creating a brand allows you to dictate an effective value proposition to accompany it. This can be an emphasis on providing a quality service at an affordable price point, premium products with a matching price, or anything in between. This allows you to position yourself with your customers with expectations when they come to visit your website or physical location; in effect, doing your marketing for you.
Creating a brand constructs an entity that a customer can engage with and enjoy. This can craft a relationship with a product or service and secure one of the most sought-after elements in marketing – repeat engagement. Whether it is through loyalty campaigns, emotive marketing, or any number of marketing strategies – creating your unique identity can allow customers to want to engage and even provide support when it matters most. A highly flexible tool, branding can be used to bring a range of valuable benefits.
However, it is important to remember that no solution is ‘one size fits all’ and it is important to take time to understand your desired goals and current position before delivering a solution.
This makes it extremely helpful to seek guidance or support from a seasoned provider who can help ensure that the right approach is taken for the right situation.
What are the risks?
While there are risks to not having a brand, it is essential to understand that cultivating one carries significant risks if not planned or implemented with due care. These include, but are not restricted to:
Dealing with customer data is handled under systems such as GDPR and, if a breach occurs, the reputational and material costs can be high. If your business traffics in digital services or data management, this can be doubly damaging and result in permanent damage to your brand. While no-one expects disaster, this makes it essential to plan. At a minimum, it is important to establish end-to-end security protocols for your product or service and ensure the highest quality of care and training for employees at all levels. And, ensuring that your communications team and branding provider are fully briefed can help tackle issues when time is of the essence.
In the past, it might have been possible to weather customer complaints, but that time has long passed. Social media and digital comms has made it easier than ever before for issues to ‘go viral’ and quickly dominate a conversation around your company. While viral complaints can have a short shelf life, the nature of the internet means that they can stick around for a long time. This makes it essential to tackle complaints head on. In many cases, this can become a net positive if your brand is seen to be responsive, accountable, and ready to take meaningful action when the customer feels aggrieved.
Having a ‘toxic’ workplace culture is one of the most dangerous labels to attach to a brand and should be proactively avoided at every turn. Whether it’s being attached to a problematic individual, NDA’s, or lawsuits – it is important to set out how your company operates and be completely transparent about how employees are expected to behave based on your brand values, even better, recruit people based on your values in the first place to create a better performing team and a stronger brand. Establishing your brand can help dictate and display exactly how you plan to run your business and ensure that – in the event of issues – your company can effectively, and publicly, weather the storm and allow reputational damage to be mitigated.
Why is consistency so important?
One of the most important and overlooked elements of branding is consistency in approach and visuals. This allows customers to build confidence in a brand or business and spot it in their daily life. For example, a traveller may not be able to speak Arabic when they are travelling, but they will be able to spot the visual iconography of a KFC or McDonalds and pop in for a bite to eat. And while familiarity can increase engagement, failing to live up or maintain your brand can quickly see that confidence shattered. There is a reason why one of the most feared and detail-heavy marketing processes is a brand change, with many companies losing status or customers by changing their visual approach, ‘voice’ or identity, while everything else about their services remains the same. This makes it essential to set standards for marketing copy, presentation and branding. Doing so helps ‘template’ your work and make growth and expansion easier. Conversely, failing to do so can invite risk and weaken your brand’s position.
How can an external provider help?
When it comes to managing branding, even businesses with internal expertise and resource will reach out to experienced companies to assist with its management. Some benefits include:
Working with an external provider allows you to refine and finesse your brand image, often in ways that may otherwise be missed. This includes being able to respond to issues or changes in the marketplace that would require additional research to capture. It allows your brand to not only be established correctly in the first place but also to maintain a reliable tone in the years ahead. And, if attached long-term, a quality provider can help understand your brand better than you do and ensure that you stay true to your ethos when it comes to marketing new products or repositioning yourself.
When it comes to brand management, there is no substitute for experience.
While an in-house team may be brilliant when it comes to management, originating and consolidating a creative brand identity requires an extensive skill set that specialised professional experience will provide. While an internal team may spend hours researching and putting together potential options, a high-quality one with experience of branding across a range of different organisations will be able to give you the right, validated decision you need in a fraction of the time.An outside view on your own brand helps to see things in a new light and remove any negativity or poor communication from years if internal decisions.
This provides an external eye when it comes to your approach and allows you to spot issues that your in-house teams might simply be blind to. This helps support your long-term strategic goals and enables you to build your brand successfully – letting you put in place drives and initiatives that will bear fruit in the long-term or let you roll with the punches and allow you to respond to short term issues and opportunities with ease.
If you’re managing something as important as your brand, it is essential to do it well and do it right. Taking an ad-hoc approach can mean that internal teams are taken away from essential projects or spending time and resource where it is not needed. This can help keep margins and overheads manageable or achieve your internal goals – whether that is providing first-class customer experience, launching new products or consolidating your identity. Letting a dedicated team handle the work can ensure that you can tackle challenges with ease.
Find out more
If you want to learn more about how branding can add value to your work, the team at Dawn Creative is here to provide the professional support that you need. With many years’ experience, our teams collaborate with you to find a branding solution that works for your business.
You can view our full list of bespoke solutions or find out how our clients have benefitted from our work in the past. If you have any other questions or queries, you can contact us directly and let our in-house team know exactly what you need to optimise your approach and deploy a solution that fits your ethos and branding strategy.