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This article is not about searing cattle with a hot iron on the Internet. Coincidentally, branding is probably the most misunderstood marketing principle among business owners, entrepreneurs and even marketers. If you think branding means making your business into a household name or creating a good logo, business name and design; you're wrong. Yes, making your business a household name takes a well branded business. And yes, your logo, business name and design can be part of your branding; however, neither one in and of itself is branding.
What Exactly is Branding?
Branding is the process of personifying a person, object or organization into a trusted entity. Or in simpler English, branding is giving your audience sufficient evidence for them to make a quick and long lasting character judgments about a person, product or organization. Some of these judgements you have heard are: Microsoft is a bully, Apple is friendly, the government is corrupt, Honda is environmentally minded, Wal-Mart is cheap, your local grocery store cares about you, Enron is evil, Google is smart and Wall Street is greedy. These examples are results of an organization's skill (or deficiency) in the ability to conceive a strong brand. Branding is the ability to influence the general population, your audience and clients, to make specific judgments about the personality of your business. A well branded business builds a good trust between your business and the audience which will attract more clients and sales. A poorly branded business will build a bad trust between you and your audience which will repel clients and minimize sales.
Understanding the Importance of Branding
The brand image you portray can leave either a sweet or bitter taste in your audience's mouth about your business. As we examine the brand image examples of different companies mentioned previously, some images were positive and others were negative. By not taking the time to establish a well conceived brand for your business, you are opening up your business to judgment by chance because you are leaving no guidance. If you are in the business of leaving things up to chance, then go ahead and ignore branding; but if you like the idea of being able to influence your audience's feelings and thoughts towards your business, then an in depth understanding of branding is critical.
For example, if you would not be caught dead going into a Wal-Mart, you would probably one who thinks that Wal-Mart is cheap, but this is part of Wal-Mart's brilliant branding strategy. You might ask, "How so?" Because Wal-Mart has correctly identified their target audience: people that will sacrifice some quality to save a buck. They also have learned how to speak their customers' marketing language. To you Wal-Mart is cheap, but to Wal-Mart's customers, they are inexpensive and a great value. Wal-Mart understands branding, they understand although they alienate a few in how they portray their brand image, their brand image attracts a nich market. It turns out that this niche proves to make hundreds of billions in sales every year.
Branding your Website
The first thing to understand about a brand is that it is only as strong as its integrity. All communications from your website should agree with one other. This means that your design, font choice, images, language style and format should all be portraying the same brand image. The second part of branding is beyond your website, your business practices must follow the strict brand characterization to create an effective brand. Other aspects of your business that need to be in line with your brand image are price, logo, business name, location, furniture, employee dress, interaction with customers or clients etc. Portraying your desired brand image consistently through your website and business practices will build a good trust between your business and your audience.
Imagine this, you're shopping online for a new digital camera and you're looking for quality. You find what appears to be the perfect site, however it is selling an unknown brand of camera. Everything you see about a particular camera seems outstanding. Then you see the sales price, $19.99. Comparable cameras from known companies are selling for $400. Wouldn't something seem unsettling to you about this? Although everything about the website, the logo, design and word choice seem to point to a high quality camera, the price seems to scream out “CAUTION!” When presented with this scenario, many visitors would come to alternative conclusions of the product and company than quality. Thoughts such as, “This must be a scam,” “it will probably fall apart within the first week,” “there has to be something very wrong with this camera they aren't mentioning,” “if it doesn't work for me, they probably won't accept returns,” flood your mind. Even if all other aspects of your site portray quality, the inconsistency of the message the price sends can be very unsettling for your potential customers.
There are several businesses especially in the service industry, who make this fatal mistake of sending out messages of quality but low prices. They base their marketing on high quality, but at the same time their prices reflect a certain level of cheapness. If your product or service is based on quality, your price should reflect quality as well. In this way your price reassures your customer that the product or service is high quality. This assurance translates to trust, and the better your audience trusts you the more likely they will be to open their wallet.