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How to Build a Brand

Brand recognition is key to growing your business. Your brand tells people who you are and what you do. Without a strong brand, you could get lost amidst all those other businesses competing for your customers. Building a brand takes time, consistency and commitment, but if you put in the effort, you can take your business to the next level.

Establishing a Brand

Here are the basic elements on which to build your brand:

  • Create an eye-catching logo. A simple icon that represents your business is all you need. Look at Apple as a prime example. The symbol of an apple with a bite removed is iconic. If you're having trouble coming up with a symbol, sometimes fancy fonts and bold color choices are enough. Coca-Cola's logo is a perfect example of that. You should work with a graphic designer to create a sophisticated image that captures the essence of your business. It's worth spending a bit of money on. You will place your logo on everything—so you better like it, and you better be able to live with it for a long time. Your logo may evolve, but the fundamental elements will probably not change much.
  • Write a slogan. Most businesses choose to create a short statement that gets to the heart of what they can offer their customers. Burger King's "Have It Your Way" and McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" represent two different but effective approaches to presenting their benefit statements. Burger King says "You have choices!" and McDonald's tells you "Everyone loves this food, and you're going to love it too!"
  • Consider a mascot. KFC's Colonel Sanders, Geico's Gecko and Little Caesars’ Pizza Pizza! Guy are instantly recognizable. Other brands are capitalizing on actor and celebrity recognition; for example, Allstate uses “Mayhem,” and Subway showcases a number of professional athletes in its promotions. Even if you aren't ready to go with animated characters, actors or celebrities to promote your business, you can become the face of your company. As rich, powerful and famous as Richard Branson is, he is still the face of Virgin Airlines.
  • Establish an identity. Do you want to be pithy and clever? Silly and humorous? Serious and sophisticated? It all should depend on your target customer. Imagine the type of person that will buy your products, actively use them and recommend them to others. Then write for that person—always. Nike's "Just do it" speaks to millions of athletes and non-athletes who know, in order to become great, you have to practice, work hard and … well … just do it. Nike is every person's personal trainer—a bit demanding, but inspirational at the same time.

Growing Your Brand

Once you have your logo, tagline, identity and mascot (if you chose to have them) in place, follow these rules to build brand recognition:

  • Build a community. You likely don't have truckloads of money to roll out marketing campaigns that will allow you to promote your brand—few small businesses do. However, in the age of social media, you can easily and cheaply connect to your customers. Spend time growing your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social media followers. Virgin Airlines has one of the highest growth rates on social media and a highly active community. All the employees, Richard Branson included, use their social media accounts to actively engage and entertain customers, solve their problems and monitor competitors. It's simple: Build a strong community that people grow to trust, and they will have trust in your brand.
  • Make your content reflect your brand. It goes back to the identity you've established for yourself. For example, The Motley Fool, according to its website, is the "#1 community for investors." Its trademarked tagline, "To Educate, Amuse & Enrich," gets to the heart of what the site does. There is a playful tone and distinctness to the writing that the company refers to as "Foolish." Make sure that your brand identity is the same across all channels. If you're humorous and lighthearted one day and serious the next, you'll confuse customers and come off as inconsistent.
  • Build a cult of brand advocates. Apple and Samsung have done very well at pitting each other's brand ambassadors against one another. There are people who live and die by Apple—and then there are Samsung users who take every opportunity to bash an iProduct. Other popular examples include Miller Lite versus Bud Light or Coke versus Pepsi. People are passionate about which side they choose and will defend their brands to anyone. Build brand advocates by creating great, reliable products or services and by providing outstanding customer service. Once you have a core following of loyal customers, you can offer them incentives for helping you build your brand. For example, DirecTV offers current customers $10 for new customers they refer. Or you can reward customers with a sneak peek of a product—musicians offer their followers sneak peeks of albums all the time—or with special discounts or giveaways. Engaged, happy customers will tell other people about you, and word-of-mouth promotion is the most effective way to build your brand. Not to mention that smaller businesses have a perception advantage; they may not have the funds for large-scale brand advocacy, but small companies can take the local/mom-and-pop angle, which many consumers have a visceral desire to support.