Building your brand strategy

First published 17 December 2018 • Updated 18 October 2019

A designer works on a company's branding materials

Your company’s brand can be a major asset – potentially the biggest asset of all. A recognisable brand builds trust, inspires employees, makes it easier to spread word of mouth and helps you create consistent and impactful marketing. We tend to think of brands in terms of large corporations, like Coca-Cola, Apple and Amazon, but all of these benefits apply to small businesses and can be equally important.

In this simple introduction you’ll find out the fundamentals of branding, including:

Remember that your brand has a monetary value that should be factored in to the value of the business. Talk to your accountant about how to value your brand.

What is a brand?

You can think of your brand as your business’s personality. If your business were a person, who would they be and what would they be like? That should immediately give you some idea of what your brand is.

Put in basic terms, your business is what you do, but your brand is who you are. However, bear in mind that a brand doesn’t just come from you, and may be very different from your own private personality. The brand is how your customers view your business, and the values they associate with it. Your task is to make sure that this customer perception is as positive as possible – and just as importantly, that it’s a good fit for your core customers. So how do you achieve this?

What is brand equity?

Brand equity is the extra monetary value to your business that comes from having a recognisable brand. A good example would be the price difference between unbranded ibuprofen and a famous brand like Nurofen. The branded product can be many times more expensive than a virtually identical, unbranded one.

John Stuart, CEO of Quaker Oats from 1922 to 1953, put it very well: ‘If this business were to be split up, I would be glad to take the brands, trademarks and goodwill and you could have all the bricks and mortar - and I would fare better than you.’

Brand equity comes about because a recognisable brand generates more business. It does this via:

  • Brand recognition – more customers notice your product
  • Brand loyalty – customers tend to buy what they’ve bought before
  • Brand associations – your brand can inspire positive feelings in customers
  • Brand trust – customers may feel a well-branded product is more reliable

These combined factors may result in more units being sold, or enable you to charge higher prices. A well-developed brand should therefore pay for itself over time.

What is brand positioning?

Your brand positioning determines how your customers perceive your product. What does your brand make people think of? What are its connotations – its personality? What demographics does it target?

The easiest way to understand this is to compare the brand positioning of superficially similar products. For instance, Coca Cola and Schweppes Tonic are both fizzy soft drinks, but their brand positions are very different – Coke is a fun recreational drink for all ages (but mostly younger people) while Schweppes is associated more with sophistication and adulthood, and as a mixer with gin. It’s worth nothing that Coke too is often used a mixer with alcohol, but that this isn’t reflected in the brand positioning.

One trick that can help you fix your brand positioning is to think of three words that, when used together, will uniquely describe your product or service. Think of these as the X, Y and Z coordinates that fix its position in space. Avoid generic words like ‘quality’ (everyone wants to claim that) – think about what makes your product special. Here’s how it might work for our two examples:

‘Axis’

Coca Cola

Schweppes Tonic

 

X

Fun

Sophisticated

 

Y

Young

Mature

 

Z

Traditional

Traditional

Note how the two brands share the same Z axis.

Once you’ve found the three words that best describe your product, you have your brand positioning. Now you can build the rest of your brand around that.

How can you define your brand?

You may have a very clear idea of your business’s identity. Then again, you may be so busy that you haven’t a clue. The first step to building your brand is to take a step back and see your business from the customer’s perspective. This will form the foundations of all your branding and promotional activity.

Know your customers

First, think about your customer. A huge variety of people may use your products and/or services, but most businesses have an ‘ideal customer’ who is most typical. Focus on this kind of person and how you might appeal to them. For example, it’s no good having a brand that appeals most to middle-aged parents if your core customers are teens.

Create a profile of your customer base, starting with your ideal customer and working outwards to include more casual consumers. Ask questions such as:

  • What’s their age range?
  • Are they male/female/either?
  • Are they single/married/either?
  • Do they have children?
  • Are they working or retired?
  • Do they have a high, medium or low level of income?
  • Do they mainly live in the country or the city?
  • What do they value most (e.g. quality, speed, friendliness, convenience)?
  • What might their other interests be?

This is just a short list of the possible attributes that you may want to consider. Work to build as clear a picture of your customers as you can.

Identify your unique selling points

Next, move on to thinking about your USPs. Identify what makes you different from your competitors, such as service, innovation, value, convenience, quirkiness, quality, friendliness and so on. Then think about the one or two that really stand out – you need at least one aspect that sums up what you’re all about and where your energies are focused. If you can’t easily find one, go back to your ideal customer and find out what they appreciate about you most.

Explore your culture

Now look at your culture. This is the way you do business and what you’re generally like as a company. You can use the spectrum below to plot where you think your company falls on the scale.

Brand values

For example, Coca Cola would appear close to the Fun and Friendly ends of the scale, but also close to Traditional. Barclays Bank might be Serious and midway Friendly/Formal and Innovative/Traditional, while Nike is very Innovative but mixes Fun and Serious elements, and so forth.

Think about your own business’s culture in these terms. What you discover can form the basis for how you present your brand, and so ensure that you communicate a consistent personality.

Creating a recognisable brand for customers

Building a recognisable brand requires much more than a logo. Here’s an overview of all the touchpoints you have with your customers, which work together to form a brand.

  • Customer service – How you interact with your customers will leave a lasting impression. Think carefully about the way you deal with day-to-day contact, delivery options, procedures, complaints and ongoing support etc. Make sure it’s consistent and that your team all follow the same processes.
  • Your products and service – What do you deliver and what makes it different or better than your competitors? Your customers need to know why they choose you and will come to expect a specific experience, so be consistent with what you offer.
  • Values – In what ways do you think your business is making a positive difference to the industry, society or the world? This is what your company values are – or at least the ones you should promote as part of your brand.
  • Tone of voice – This is how you speak to your customers, e.g. friendly, to the point, expert, professional and so on. This will affect all of your communications, including what’s written on your website, emails, letters, phone calls etc. If you’re not good with words, get help here – it can make a huge difference to your brand perception.
  • Visual style and logo – From the colours and fonts you use to the pictures you choose, your visual style is how customers will physically see your brand. It’s worth getting expert support on this as it’s a complex aspect with deep rooted psychological and social parameters. Nothing is more off-putting than amateurish design.
  • Tagline and mission statement – An example of a tagline is L’Oreal’s ‘Because you’re worth it’ or Ronseal’s ‘Does exactly what it says on the tin’. A mission statement is generally less catchy and more explanatory, and will be largely for internal use. It’s a short sentence or paragraph that reminds your people and your customer what you’re here for. An example is Tesla’s, ‘To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy’.
  • Marketing – All the messages you put out about your business, from newsletters to advertising and your website, will help form your brand. Make sure they’re consistent in tone, visuals and messaging.
  • Name – You might already have a name that you don’t want to change, but remember that your name is part of your brand. See below for ideas on finding the best one.

How to come up with a brand name

How important is your brand name? It ranges between, ‘Essential’ and ‘Not much at all’. There are famous brands simply named after their creator (e.g. Hoover) or the product itself (e.g. KFC). Others show more deliberate thought behind them (e.g. Virgin, Facebook, Tesla). It may be impossible to know how big a role your brand name will play – but it’s best to assume that it will matter.

Although there’s no magic formula for coming up with a great brand name, you could try out your ideas against these tests. The more tests a name passes, the better (maybe!).

  1. Is it short?
  2. Is it easy to say?
  3. Is it original (i.e. not already used)?
  4. Is it invented (i.e. not a word in the dictionary) so you can trademark it?
  5. Are good URLs available that use the word?
  6. Does it reflect your product, service or ethos in some way?
  7. Will it look good in a logo / on packaging?
  8. Do people respond well to it? (Offer them a range of options and see).

It’s worth consulting a specialist branding copywriter to get help with your brand name. Brief them about your business, its products and its target customers, give them some examples of other brands you like, and ask them to give you half a dozen alternative names.

Developing your brand identity

Now that you have the various brand elements in place, you need to check regularly to see if they having the desired effect. You want your brand to be strong enough to create customer loyalty, not just customer recognition. Therefore it will probably need to evolve and grow as the business environment around you changes and more competition appears.

Your brand should be something you’re constantly building and protecting. This process should follow a strategy that incorporates your goals, values and style guidelines, which is sometimes called a brand plan. Like a business plan, the brand plan sets out what you want to achieve and how you propose to do it. As with every strategy, you should keep testing it against reality to see if it needs adjusting.

Your brand is your single biggest touch-point with your customers, and the channel through which you’ll build those long-lasting customer relationships that keep your business healthy. So put lots of care and attention into your brand, and treasure it!

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About the author
Nick Green
Nick Green
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.