The Branding Report Card

9 Questions You Need to Answer to Develop Your Brand

Princeton Graduation 2013Many businesses, large and small, underestimate the value of branding. As the combination of tangible and intangible elements that create an easily recognizable shorthand for your offering, consistent branding can reduce the need for additional marketing and enhance the value of your company.

Sitting at Princeton commencement last week, I realized the true value of branding as the audience filled the lawn with a sea of orange, the university’s color. Graduation festivities at Princeton extend over three days focusing as much on the parents, grandparents and alumni, as on the graduates themselves. Each detail is planned and executed with care down to the orange plastic ponchos in case of rain.

Graduation puts a face on the Princeton brand. The cumulative goal reinforces the fact that a Princeton education is an investment in your child’s future and that their connection to Princeton doesn’t end with graduation. Similarly your brand’s power doesn’t end with purchase.

Here are nine points you need to include on your branding report card.

  1. What’s your name? Skip Romeo and Juliet. The reality is that your moniker is core to your brand identity. While it’s easy to take an owner’s name or use your physical location, in today’s branded world, it’s often better to use a made up name that has no meaning until you start using and advertising it. Actionable Marketing Tip: Use your name consistently. When choosing a brand name, consider how it sounds versus how it’s spelled. Can your audience spell your name and find you easily online?
  2. How do you define your brand? Often this is condensed down to a tagline. Chris Brogan recommends the use of three words. IBM used “Think” and Apple used “Think different” as their respective slogans. Actionable Marketing Tip: What position do you want to have in your prospect’s mind? (Trout and Ries’ book, Positioning, the Battle for Your Mind, is a classic on this subject.) Consider your brand’s associations. For example, every woman knows exactly what to expect when she gets a small, light-blue box.
  3. What’s your brand’s story? Listening to stories is part of our heritage. It’s much easier to remember a story with a beginning, middle and end than a bunch of unrelated facts. Don’t believe me, read Made to Stick by the Heath brothers. Actionable Marketing Tip: Find stories in how your firm or product was developed or where you’re physically located. Also, go to your employees and customers. Remember in today’s social media world, your fans own your brand.
  4. What are the elements of your visual identity? How does your brand look? What colors, presentation, typeface and other design elements are part of your special look? Actionable Marketing Tip: Create a set of brand guidelines that define how your employees and agencies can present your brand online and offline. Make sure that they are distributed and followed.
  5. What sounds does your brand make? In a video and podcast world, think in terms of product sounds, company spokespeople and audio branding. This extends to the type of language you use. Is it PG-13 like Disney or is rife with four letter expletives like Erika Napoletano? Actionable Marketing Tip: Ensure that your target audience and the public can identify your brand by the way it sounds.
  6. Why does your target audience need your company and/or product? Another way of looking at this is to answer the following three questions: “What problems do you solve for your customers?”, “Why does your firm matter?” and “Where are you positioned relative to competitive and substitute products?” You can’t stick your head in the sand on this point because alternatives are just a click away. Actionable Marketing Tip: Answer the key questions your prospects need to know before they buy to build your brand and set it apart from the competition.
  7. Where can prospects, customers and the public find you in real life, online and on social media? Your brand must be findable online. This means that you need to own the URL with your name in it as well as abbreviations and negative options. Where possible use a dot-com extension over other alternatives. Use signage to make your business easily findable in real life. Actionable Marketing Tip: Ensure that your brand is on the map, literally. Be consistent in the brand name you use across social media platforms and profiles. Don’t waste your precious resources by selecting a cute social media handle.
  8. How do you treat your customers, employees and the public?  You’re only as good as your last customer experience, especially in today’s social media connected world. Actionable Marketing Tip: Don’t assume that your customers are happy just because they don’t complain. Make good on your brand promise or they’ll tell family, friends, colleagues, social media connections and strangers about it, face-to-face, on social media and on rating engines.
  9. Who represents your brand? Is Tony the Tiger, your CEO or your Social Media Manager the face of your brand? While it’s important for the public to know your senior executives, remember that your brand will live long after they’re gone. Actionable Marketing Tip: Consider who owns your company identity online and on social media platforms. What happens when employees leave? Do they take your followers with them?

Just as Princeton was consistent in its presentation, your branding requires consistent presentation across all of your businesses’ activities and communications. While supporting advertising helps build your brand more quickly, the key is utilizing every piece of communications.

What else would you add to this list of branding elements and why?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Hat tip: This post is dedicated to my oldest nephew who just graduated from Princeton. I’m very proud of him and his accomplishments.

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Photo Credit: Heidi Cohen  (Use approved under creative commons if you link to this blog post.)


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