Branding is Dead; Long Live BrandingI recently came across a couple of online articles touting the demise of branding, which prompted this post. The title, of course, is a play on the traditional proclamation made upon the death of a monarch to announce the ascension of the heir to the throne. So … is branding dead??

A recent LinkedIn survey revealed that 37% of small to medium sized businesses still view the company logo as the main focus of the company brand. And 32% see branding as relevant only to large businesses. Wow.

With such a narrow view of branding, it’s understandable that roughly one-third of small and medium sized businesses might think branding is dead.

Branding may be the most misunderstood concept in all of marketing. I often hear entrepreneurs and other businesspeople using the terms “brand,” “branding,” “marketing,” and “advertising” interchangeably. This confusion, tragically, often leads to disappointing results – not to mention wasted marketing dollars. Studies show that companies that market their products or services without first establishing a brand identity are unlikely to achieve their desired return on investment.

Crafting a winning marketing strategy is challenging enough even when you have articulated your brand promise; it’s darn near impossible if you haven’t. First you create the brand, then you raise awareness of it. Therefore, my advice is simple: If you have not yet discovered and articulated your company’s brand, don’t spend another dime on marketing until you have.

BRAND vs. BRANDING

Branding is not advertising, marketing, or PR. Neither is it a logo, a business card, a website, or the signage announcing your office is right this way. Branding happens before all of those. Branding is about getting your prospects to perceive you as the only solution to their problem. Once you are perceived as “the only,” there’s simply no place else to shop. And when that shift occurs, your customers will gladly pay a premium for your brand.

Your product or service is not your company’s brand. Your brand is the genuine “personality” of your company. The best definition of “brand” I’ve ever heard is this: “It’s what your customers think of you and say about you when you’re not around.” It’s what your company stands for and what it is known for. When trying to determine your brand, don’t stop at simply going around the conference table at your next management or board meeting; survey your past and present customers – even your vendors, suppliers, and professional colleagues – to find out what they think your company stands for. Settle on one or two brand pillars and build your brand around them. If you can’t define your brand, your customers won’t be able to, either. And the risk is that someone else will define it for you – probably your competitors.

YOUR BRAND IS A PROMISE

A brand is a promise, and branding is the act of communicating that promise to the world. What differentiates your brand promise from all the other brand promises in your category is your marketing.

When contemplating your brand promise, avoid thinking solely in terms of features – or even the benefits of those features. Train yourself to think in terms of solutions. People with problems don’t care about a recitation of the features and benefits of your product or service; they care that their pain is alleviated. Speak the language of solutions and your promise will stand out among the ever-increasing noise that is reverberating throughout your niche.

YOUR BRAND IS AN EXPERIENCE

A brand creates an image in the mind of the consumer. It says something is different at your firm – the way you think, create, solve problems, work, treat people, or do business. If your offering is perceived as a commodity, beware: Customers almost always choose commodities solely on the basis of price. When you’ve got a brand, you’re selling a lifestyle, a feeling, an experience – and that puts you in a very powerful position indeed, because no one can deliver that experience quite the way you do.

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© 2012 Linda C. Rooney

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Small business mentor Linda Rooney teaches aspiring, new, and evolving entrepreneurs how to navigate the New Economy with startup, branding, marketing, business & personal growth expertise. Get a FREE subscription to her eNewsletter, “Social Smarts,” at www.LindaRooney.com.

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