Thursday, March 7, 2013

Make Sure That You Are Ready For a Brand

As I was working on my earlier list of tips on designing your own brand and logo, a notion kept niggling away in the corner of my mind. I didn't mention it in the other article because it was already quite long, so I will address it here.

Make sure that you are ready to bear the burden of a brand.

Burden? How could a brand possibly be a burden? Indeed, after my article extolling the virtues of good branding, it seems like something every sane company should do. And assuming certain things, that's very true. But a brand can also be an immense responsibility. It must be nurtured and managed as something that the company owns just as any other capital expenditure.

Think about what a brand does. You are creating -- through images, sounds, colors, and words -- a "face" to which people can attach values. If we assume good values -- basically, if we assume good business -- then this is a desirable thing. But what if you are only doing a job as a part-time thing. What if your heart is only half in the work. What if, frankly, you aren't very good at what you do.

In this way, a brand can backfire. People attach values to your brand, and if these values are bad, your brand becomes toxic. The power of brand also makes these bad values persistent... really persistent. Indeed, when people attach values to a brand, they hang on like remoras. Repairing a brand that has been damaged by bad values will cost a fortune, which is the reason why so many companies that had had their brands damaged will simply choose to re-brand, sometimes even going so far as to change the name of the company.

If you remain anonymous -- if you remain faceless, as it were -- this generally cannot happen. There is nothing to which people can attach bad values. This faceless world is a place where many lackluster businesses have flourished for decades, be they electricians, dentists, or contractors. Dave the plumber is indistinguishable from Joe the plumber, and bad experiences with one can quickly be forgotten by customers.More or less, you are safe here.

Obviously, as I point out in my earlier article, in an ideal situation, you don't want this. You want the ability to stand out! But precisely because this endeavor is valuable, you absolutely need to be keenly aware of the risks. And truly, even the risks themselves are good in a way. If this process was easy to implement and maintain, everyone would be doing it, and it would thus not be valuable. A good thing that is difficult to implement only makes it better.

If you want a brand, remember this point: a brand only develops value through the customer interaction with your company. Your primary concern is always behavior. You NEED to make sure that your behavior will attach positive characteristics to your brand, and this is time-consuming.

Likewise, a good brand requires a fair amount of money behind it. If your company is small, this isn't a big deal, but if you are a larger operation -- say, a plumber with multiple employees -- having a brand can be pricey. You will need to ensure that your customer's experience is branded from beginning to end. Cards, signs, letterhead, outfits, training, websites, etc.

If you don't invest the required capital in the implementation of your brand, it will appear cheap and encourage a negative reaction even before you have a chance to actually interact with the customer. As I said, a bad brand well implemented is better than a great brand that is poorly implemented.

If you do not have enough money and wherewithal, do not brand. Brands can be dangerous and you need to mitigate that danger. Entering the marketplace with a poor brand implementation (cheap signs, interior design, employee training, etc) will cast an immediate pall on your company that will require hard work to overcome. DO NOT saddle yourself with that deficit.

Brand when you are ready to do it well. Not before.


1:  Today, the Internet is casting some light on this shadowy realm through review websites that can attach judgments irrevocably to a name. Unsurprisingly, we have seen dozens of court cases where business that once thrived in anonymity suing the websites that enable users to post reviews. I find the lawyers suing to stop bad reviews the most ironic.

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