In our previous blog, we discussed brand building: what a brand is, why it’s important and how to build it. In this blog, we will revisit a few of those points before delving into the finer techniques of how to embed and maintain your brand.
Brand and branding
What is your brand?
Your brand is the overall experience customers have of your company and your products. It’s your name, your logo, your look, your tone, your communication, your relationships. It’s the perception they have of your company when they interact with all possible touch points – products, packaging, website, emails, customer services. It’s what differentiates you from your competitors; what your customers, current and potential, think and feel about you; and how they know what to expect from you. It’s the result of your branding efforts.
What is branding?
Branding is a verb – it is the action of creating your brand. All companies have a brand – whether it’s good or bad, whether they cultivate it or not – because it is created naturally as a result of all customer interactions. Without a brand strategy and cohesive brand building, your branding will most likely be inconsistent, even contradictory, and only serve to confuse rather than entice customers. All good branding efforts should be consistent, have a purpose and be aligned with your overall business strategy.
Successful branding is like the tireless activity of a swan beneath the surface of the water, creating the simple and elegant presentation (your brand) to the world outside.
Why is your brand important?
Do you care what people think of you? On a personal level, people’s perception of you is not always important. But on a business level, when your income and success depend on what people think of your company and your product, it is important.
A good brand can elevate your company to the point where you don’t have to be the cheapest or even the best at what you do, because people value long-term relationships and trust over the more transitory aspects of their dealings with you.
Your brand can persuade new customers to interact with you, and convince existing customers to keep buying from you. It is a great internal asset, which can help to develop employee engagement and satisfaction. And it can help increase your business value, not only in terms of profit, but in terms of reputation within your industry or marketplace.
Refine your brand
We discussed previously how to build your brand:
- Identify and describe your brand
- Determine your target audience
- Stand out from the crowd
- Determine your brand tone
- Build a brand message
- Develop your company culture
- Integrate your brand into the rest of your business
Now we will give you a few pointers on how to really embed your brand. Company culture, quality assurance (QA) and user experience (UX) all have an impact on your brand, and they are all connected. By recognising the relationship between all these things, and implementing high levels of consistency across the board, you can really refine and strengthen your brand.
Branding and UX
User experience is ‘The overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use.’ UX forms a huge part of your company’s brand – it is the interaction that customers have with all parts of your business and therefore informs their perception of you.
UX as a concept is relatively new in marketing terms, but has existed since any form of trade began. It is only recently, with such increased competition, that companies are beginning to focus more on creating positive user experience at each and every consumer touch point:
User experience is not merely a design consideration – it’s about every way your customers interact with you. Martyn Reding, Head of UX at Virgin Atlantic, advises companies to ‘Start seeing that everything within business needs to have a UX strategy associated with it’. Think about when you go out for a meal – there are so many things that can impact your user experience, before, during and after you eat:
- Is it easy to make a reservation?
- Can you get advice on where to park?
- Is the entrance to the restaurant clearly designated?
- Is it obvious whether you need to sit or be seated, order at the table or at the bar?
- Are the cutlery and glasses clean?
- Is the menu clear?
- Does your food arrive in good time?
- Does the food taste good?
- Is the waiter attentive and helpful?
- Do the locks on the toilets work?
And so on, and so on…
The main consideration is whether the food tastes good. But even if it does, a collection of other negative user experiences, based on the above examples and many others, could dictate whether you return and the reviews you convey about your experience.
Good user experience is an incredible branding tool. And the above example shows, it’s not enough for one part of the user experience to be positive – all interactions with your customers must be positive. And also consistent. From birth, human beings learn through repetition. So by continually offering the same message, tone, design, images, sounds, experiences etc., you are helping to create and strengthen the connections in the mind of your customer.
This level of consistency is not easy, however, which is where quality assurance (QA) and company culture come in.
Branding and QA
Quality assurance is a term most often associated with manufacturing; however, it is a process that can be used in all forms of production, whether you’re producing marketing materials or fighter jets.
Quality assurance is ‘The maintenance of a desired level of quality in a service or product, especially by means of attention to every stage of the process of delivery or production.’ The details of a QA process will depend on what it is that you’re producing, but at its core, it is based on the consistent adherence to a set quality standard.
As part of your brand building, you will have determined your brand tone, message and visual identity. These decisions can then be collected and presented in a set of brand guidelines. The top companies will all have a style guide for their communications – some even have specific guides for specific customers, industries or regions. Your QA process will be based on your chosen style and tone, and can check for consistency across all of your marketing collateral and communications. Consistency creates the repetition required to embed your brand. Even simple things like the choice of one or two fonts used for all your company’s output, from emails to bill boards, will aid customer recognition.
Quality assurance and user experience are inextricably linked: QA checks whether something is what it needs to be in order to generate the desired positive user experience. And in return, user experience can be used to refine your QA process for the better.
Branding and culture
A brand is about people: both the customers who perceive it and the staff who help create and convey it. If your staff understand and care about your brand, the consistency of output will be easier and more natural. Chimmy Kalu, Freelance Senior UX Designer, says we need to ‘Understand that all teams should be aligning to solve the same problems.’ If you look back at the consumer touch points graphic above, you can see that they involve many different departments and influences. How can you expect to create consistency with so many interactions possible with so many different people? One answer is QA, but that still only applies to written or recorded output, and also would generally not take into account individual emails. If your brand voice is friendly and more personable, for example, anyone speaking to customers over the phone should offer the same tone as customers would see on your website, for a positive and consistent user experience. The only way to do this is to create a company culture where a clearly defined brand and its guidelines are not only a big part of staff training, but part of all internal interactions as well.
Your staff should live and breathe your brand, as it will be them who will help develop and cement it. Involving staff in the creation and development of your brand also increases employee engagement, increasing productivity and reducing staff turnover.
Some branding ideals to aspire to…
Think about some of the most successful brands in the world – Apple, Nike, Disney, Coca Cola, McDonalds, Google, Amazon. Their brands are obvious, consistent and instantly recognisable, not only visually and audibly but in the reaction you have to them. For brands to be so pervasive and impactful requires all the work and detail we have discussed above and more, but here are some general ideals to aim for:
- Be clear
- Be consistent
- Be simple
- Be honest
- Be real
- Be inspiring
It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is, or even how big or small you want it to be – your brand is an inherent part of your business. It will be created with or without your help. By actively branding, you can at least steer your brand in the direction you want. And remember… branding, UX, QA and company culture are not static, one-time considerations. People change every day and so does your business, so review them and your processes regularly to help maintain a successful brand and company.
If you need help with any aspect of your marketing strategy, please get in touch. Here at ExtraMile, we offer a full range of services including Web Design & Development, Search Engine Marketing, Public Relations campaigns and much more. Our team of experts can help guide and create every element of your branding and marketing output, integrating our services to suit your business needs and objectives.