Today, brand is everything, and brand identity is communicated with each customer transaction as well as with the product itself. The first step in developing a brand is to agree on one coherent and focused message and consistently communicate it throughout the company. If the company isn't clear on what its message is, no one else will be, either.
"There can be huge misunderstandings from outside the company if everyone within doesn't understand the essence of the brand," says Kevin Roche, CEO of Fitch North America, whose client roster includes Maytag, Chrysler and Bath & Body Works.
The idea is that once the brand is well defined and every employee understands it, that message will be communicated to customers.
"It's important to remember that your brand has meaning, so that when a customer sees or reads the brand name, an association forms in his or her mind," says Greg Allenby, professor of marketing at The Ohio State University.
Once the brand's message is agreed upon within the organization, it can be clearly communicated through marketing and advertising channels, as well as daily customer interactions. Employees are a vital link to a company's customers, and if they can accurately and enthusiastically reflect the core brand values in everything they do, that reaches everyone from customers, to friends and family.
And that word of mouth advertising has a huge impact on a company's overall image.
So why is branding so important now?
Thanks to the Internet, companies compete on a global level more than ever, says Vince Parry, a branading expert who heads Columbus-based inChord's new branding arm Y, in New York City.
"Because customers can see what is available almost worldwide on the Internet, there is increased competition," he says. "The world is a smaller place."
Add to the mix a slow economy and fickle consumers, and there is a greater need for setting yourself apart from the competition.
Experts say that it is in a slow economy when branding is need the most.
"When there is a strong competitive environment, it is essential to have sustainable brand equity," says Roche.
Defining your product
Allenby recommends clearly defining your product's positive attributes with a strong name.
"Your brand name has to have meaning and it has to be associated with particular attributes," he says.
Take for example, Tupperware. The product was not catching on when it first hit the market. But as a result of its branding efforts, the company went on to become one of the most recognized household products.
"Tupperware began using the brand phrase 'Use Tupperware to show your family you care,'" says Allenby. "That worked."
Branding may seem like an abstract concept, but it has a huge effect on the success -- or failure -- of a product. And developing a successful brand means stepping back and focusing on the company's strengths and the value it offers to customers.
"You the need the ability to look at yourself from different directions. And it is tempting to be everything to everybody, but that doesn't work," says Bruce Rooke, chief creative officer of Columbus-based Gerbig, Snell/Weisheimer & Associates (GSW), a division of inChord.
inChord, a global market research and advertising firm, practices what it preaches. Using its own branding finesse, it has grown from $3 million to $75 million in revenue in just seven years.The company attributes its success to the ability to recognize its own strengths and messagem all the while doing the same for its clients.
"We began to grow significantly in the mid '90s," says inChord chairman and CEO Blane Walter. "Our clients were large pharma companies like Astra Zeneca and Eli Lilly."
Walter found a common need among his clients: branding. "We discovered that branding was critical to the success of the products our clients were marketing," he says.
A large part of branding is sticking to a single direction to create confidence in the company and its products, which is attractive to customers. Rooke says that's exactly what Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Co. has done over the years, and it's why the brand continues to be so popular.
"Customers sense that a company with confidence knows what it's doing," he says. "Harley-Davidson stuck to who they were."
Once you've established a brand, you can't let that brand image gather dust.
"You can update your brand image, but stay true to the basic premise of who you are," says Rooke of GSW. "Don't be predictable or complacent. Be new and fresh in how you communicate your company's promise."
As intangible as it may be, there is real value in a successful brand.
"Building brand loyalty and equity is the most important line on the balance sheet," says Roche of Fitch North America.
Brands can go along way in determining a company's success and can have as big an impact as a new plant or a breakthrough in technology. And a strong brand can help a business through tough economic times, allowing businesses to continue to command a premium.
Rooke emphasizes that creating a brand messages is as critical to your company -- perhaps even more critical -- than the product or service you sell. Spending so many resources on an intangible may seem extravagant, but industry experts say that a company without a brand image is like a ship trying to steer without a wheel.
"Branding is like corporate DNA," says Roche.
What makes a successful brand?
Knowing that branding is an important part of business is just the beginning of the battle. Pinning down the ingredients that make up branding is difficult.
"It's one word that describes everything that exists in the mind of the consumer at large when it comes to a particular company," Roche says. This is especially true for retail where a good brand is the sum total of the customer's experience, from the time he or she enters the building until his or her foot hits the gas pedal on the way out of the parking lot. Each element of the experience generates an impression that lends to a company's brand definition.
Roche says many companies are recognizing the importance of creating a unique but unified brand image.
It all boils down to to developing long-term relationships with customers, says Parry, of Y.
"People make buying decisions in nonrational ways," says Parry. "Branding is that intangible quality associated with a company and its products -- a perception that they are better than others. Branding gives companies a competitive edge."
Parry cites the example of the automaker, Volvo. After years of sending out the same message, the company has created a strong association between Volvo and safety. Whether the statistic back that fact up or not is irrelevant; the public perception is that a Volvo is safer than other cars.
"Because of that reputation, clients come back again and again," says Parry. "That's creating brand equity."
How to reach: inChord, (614) 543-6650, Fitch North America, (614) 885-3453