When we contemplate the concept of branding, we often think of multinational corporations like Nike and McDonald’s with massive budgets and globally recognised logos. But branding encompasses far more than a logo and marketing collateral, and fortunately this means you don’t need an outsized bank account to build a memorable brand.

 

1. Get the intangibles right

A brand is a character and reflects your company’s values. It is therefore less tangible than a logo or an image, even though you may decide to use these to represent your brand visually.

If you’re launching a new business, identify some of its values, assess where you will sit in the marketplace, and compare and contrast your values with those of your competitors.

For businesses considering a rebrand, the first thing to ask is ‘why?’ Do you have solid evidence that clearly indicates a makeover is necessary? Don’t just assume the problem lies in your outward image. Many brands reinvent themselves only to alienate their existing market or find themselves spending big bucks on a sleek new colour scheme or design for little gain. If the right customers recognise your existing brand for the right reasons, why do you need to change? The money may be better spent elsewhere.

If you conclude your brand really is holding you back, however, the key is to determine which values and attributes you wish to retain, if any, and identify those you need to newly incorporate. Did any elements of your old brand work? How do you know? Did your brand resonate with a particular segment of your target audience? How can you create a new brand that won’t leave this group out? While it can help to think like a new business, and to approach the process with fresh eyes, don’t forget that you have the benefit of experience to inform and guide you in a way a new business does not.

2. Preparation is key

Taking the time to carry out this values process up front will enable you to clearly define the kind of impression you’d like to convey to your market, which means the design process that follows will be easier and faster. You’ll be able to provide a coherent brief to your designer and avoid numerous revisions, which will save a lot of time and money in the design process.

This is also the case for any text you want to use in your branding, from the name of your business and your slogan to the copy on your website. What values or benefits are you trying to convey? Do the tone and language you use accurately reflect these? Draft your copy in advance so the designer can scope the work and give recommendations from the outset rather than partway through the design process.

3. Test your brand

Put your new brand to the test, not only with your  staff, friends and family, but also with your target customer base. Hold informal focus groups – the offer of beer and pizza is often enough to get current or prospective customers together for an hour to give you feedback. Explain your business and brand and share any visual designs, and then bite your tongue. Listen. Be completely open to feedback of any kind, focusing hard on whether the values you’re trying to represent come through for the respondents.

Conduct one-on-one ‘focus groups’ via email if you can’t gather people in person. Get as much feedback as you can, and then consider whether your brand is ready to launch or whether refinement is needed. While the latter can prove frustrating, making the necessary adjustments now is surely a better use of your money than recalling ill-conceived brand collateral later.

4. Prioritise what you need

Some new businesses are so enthusiastic at the prospect of having a wonderful website and matching stationery that they take their eye off the ball in terms of what they really need. It’s important to prioritise: what aspects of your business will your customer interact with first?

New businesses don’t require everything at once. Often businesses launch with a logo and a business card. Brick and mortar businesses can go without a website initially, although it may be wise to purchase your preferred domain name as soon as possible. It’s easy to waste time and money perfecting a website few customers will see, so unless you expect a large return on investment, perhaps consider other, less costly ways to test the return of online traffic for your business.

If you’re keen to build an online presence, use free social media platforms such Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and dedicate a few minutes a day to updating each. It’s a great way to build customer engagement with minimal investment – all you need to brand it is your logo.

5. Use your brand consistently

Once you’ve settled on your brand, stick it on the wall and live and breathe it: these are your values and should embody everything you do. Inconsistency results in discord when customers approach the brand space, which can negatively affect sales. Consistency strengthens your brand and increases its longevity, which should boost sales and reduce the likelihood of having to rebrand.

Branding begins with values and finishes with graphics. The Nike ‘swoosh’ is a simple logo that cost just US$35 in 1971 yet represents the dynamism Nike wishes to convey in its products. It has not changed in more than 30 years. The cost of a design and the collateral can fit any budget if you first put your effort into identifying the values behind it.

 

 

Jason Sew Hoy
BY Jason Sew Hoy ON 17 March 2012
Chief operating officer and GM Asia at 99designs