As someone that encounters a number of independent inventors or enterprising entrepreneurs, generally launching businesses based on an innovation or technological improvement sufficiently distinguishable to secure U.S patent protection, one of the major difficulties in going from concept-to-shelf is formulating a brand strategy that properly focuses on brand and brand identity development. There are many useful resources available, including a fabulous book by the faculty from the Kellogg School of Management, and a number of on-line sources, that can assist start-up business owners with such a strategy. I have attempted to synthesize this information into a more easily digestible format, although the source-material is rewarding and enriching with the information, anaylsis, and tips provided.
Deceptive in its two-syllable construction, branding is neither easy nor simple in concept or execution. Once one gets her/his head wrapped around the distinction between the slightly-more focused concept of a trademark and the slightly-more broad concept of a brand, the steps for creating, building, developing, and maintaining each are related and even overlapping at times, but involve many considerations beyond what one or two individuals in an organization find appealing.
Rather, and in sharp contrast, the more advisable approach is removing the business-owner hat and putting on the consumer hat – understanding what and how you respond to certain messages and visual cues. By putting oneself into the position of a consumer (since everyone is a consumer of something), the difficult but highly-rewarding task of creating a brand, brand identity, and brand strategy become more manageable than the standard approach of finding the easiest descriptive term or terms to print and package with a good or service. Developing a brand strategy from the outset will minimize costs and efforts in the long-term and prevent sometimes irreversible reputational damage to the organization.
Because a brand is as much a representation of who a business is as much as what the business offers to consumers, an organization's brand identity becomes the representation of a company’s reputation through communication of the attributes, values, purpose, strengths, and passions the company possesses. A company’s communication of its purpose and values evokes an expectation from consumers. Stated differently, brand identity creates a place for a product to exist, generates consumer emotion, and sets the groundwork for a market to be drawn to a product.
But how does a business owner get from here (concept) to there (brand identity)? Through a brand(ing) strategy. As one can imagine, branding strategies vary from source-to-source and expert-to-expert, but a common core of information surfaces that provides a sequence for branding success. The common strategy elements include:
- Having and articulating a purpose.
- Being memorable - both in brand name, but in message and reputation.
- Having competitive awareness, conducting a proper TOWS (threats, opportunities, weaknesses, and strengths) analysis, and understanding how to differientiate oneself from the competition.
- Commit to using compelling story-telling techniques and utilizing emotional triggers to connect the branding messages to consumers.
- Engendering or fostering loyalty from consumers and rewarding that loyalty.
- Developing consistency in brand and message, including the development and adherence to a style guide.
- Having flexibility to adapt to changes in the market, allowing creativity to alter the message that is consistent with the style guide.
- Get comfortable with and use data analytics. Find the handful of metrics that mean something to your organization, mine the data, and analyze the information to adapt and exploit the appropriate opportunities.