Brand Basics: Branding 101

February 1, 2015

by Forward Branding


A brand is created when there's a new story to be told. The trick is all in how to weave and tell that story.

At its core, branding is all about smart positioning. It's about defining exactly where you fit in the competitive market, so you can reach the right people, at the right time. It's about setting yourself apart and proving your relevance. It's about creating and occupying a new space in peoples' minds, solving a problem that others have missed (or created), filling a void, and defining a future. 

So you've got the big idea, the business plan, the investment... and now it's time to sell. So how do you tell your story to get maximum impact? 


Exercise: Affecting Brand Equity

In this exercise, it's essential that you remember your target audience and think from an outside-in perspective. They are your filter. In the end, your brand belongs to them. It lives in their minds and is translated through their interactions and interpretations of your message. Ask yourself, what do they want? How do I tap into what makes them tick? You have the capacity to alter the way people interpret the value of your brand.

Here's a simple 5 step process to achieving the ultimate in brand equity: loyalty. 

Step 1: Awareness

It all starts with awareness. Without it, you're not going to get very far. If people don't know about you, how can they choose you? You need to create impact and invest in awareness builders with targeted messaging.

Step 2: Proprietary Assets

Proprietary assets are the things that make your brand special. The facts (or "reasons to believe") that separate you from your competition and define your position in a competitive set. These assets need to be identified and leveraged. This is the meat and potatoes of your positioning work. 

Step 3: Associations

Just like every action has a re-action, every message you send to the outside world translates into beliefs about your organization. The goal is to use your proprietary assets (defined in Step 2) to build relevant, positive associations that make your audience(s) feel good about your brand.

Step 4: Perceived Quality

Once your associations have tempted trial of your product or service, you now have the opportunity to make a first impression. Human nature takes over as your customer naturally measures what you said you were against what you really are. But don't worry, if you've gone through Steps 1-3 honestly, there's nothing to be worried about in Step 4. This is just the realization of all your positioning work.

Step 5: Loyalty

Loyalty: the nirvana of branding. The powerful link to building awareness and strengthening the cycle of equity. You'll know you've got it when repeat business, word-of-mouth referral, market support and positive feedback starts pouring in. 


Tips for Success

Everything Counts

Your brand is the total representation of your business. It both subtly and overtly communicates who you are, what you do, and how you do it in both tangible and intangible ways. It's how consumers recognize and remember you, and it's the lasting legacy of your brand's promise. Everything your business puts into the world becomes an artifact of your brand. Everything communicates. 

Get Systematic

Much like our clothes, features, gestures, voices and actions define who we are as people, colors, fonts, graphics, images, words, destinations and employees make up a brand's identity. Often called an identity system, the use of these elements in a particular way (systematically) defines (or identifies) you.

When creating an identity, each of these elements needs to be carefully considered, selected and managed to support the associations you're trying to build, making your brand impactful and memorable. 

Think in 3s! 

Use plainspoken messaging and simple eye-tracking techniques to get your key messaging across. Try limiting yourself to 3 main claims. Research shows that people best process and retain information presented in groups of 3s! (Otherwise, if we try and make everything seem important, suddenly nothing stands out at all.)  

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. 

The only way to become well-known and recognized is to present your story to your audience. And then do it again. And again. And again. Be diligent with the consistency of your messaging. It takes time.  

Stand Out

Don't be another "me too" in your category. Too often, new companies focus on tablestakes and mimic existing groups to try to appear like they belong in a category. Yes, leveraging best practices from your competitors is a smart thing to do, but you also need to stand out. It's a fine line to both fit in and stand out, but you'll need to do both in order to get the impact you're looking for. 

Mining for Assets

When doing the hard work of good, competitive positioning, ask yourself these three pointed questions:

  • What makes my business unique and/or better than the competition?
  • What do I want my customers to think about our brand?
  • What are the tangible assets, or "reasons to believe," that I can use to prove we deliver on what they want?

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