The Rules Of Branding

*This post originally appeared on Talent Zoo’s Beneah The Brand blog.


Branding. It’s what smart businesses do when taking their marketing to the next level is the order of the day. Whether developed in-house or through an agency, crafting a public image and personality for a company is a vital step on the road to a business’s success. But there’s more to branding than getting your message broadcasted the right way. It’s not enough to put a message out there. When crafting your brand you have to abide by the same rules instilled in us from grade school. It’s time for some class rules.

Rule 1: Listen
Branding is a two-way communication. As my father likes to say: “When in doubt, shut up and listen.” Not listening to your customers can alienate them faster than an advertising campaign gone wrong. Just like grade school, everyone wants their voice heard. By taking into account customers’ thoughts and opinions, businesses can invoke a feeling of inclusion, which in turn ups the possibility of instilling brand loyalty in the future.

Smart companies, like Domino’s, are using the process of listening to their customers as a rebranding opportunity in itself. The pizza giant, aware of their flailing corporate image, turned the tables on their brand and started engaging customers to better the brand, asking patrons to rate their service, send in pictures of the pizzas delivered to their houses, and post reviews, whether positive or negative, on their company website, Twitter, and even on a billboard in Times Square. Now that says, “We hear you!”

Another classic example is the much talked, blogged, and tweeted about Gap logo incident a few months ago. When the mega-brand tried to change their logo, their customers spoke up, voicing their overwhelming disappointment in the change. Putting their social media networks to good use, the company didn’t just listen to their audience; they engaged them and asked further questions until they got it right. The resulting dialogues ended up re-endearing the company to customers who’d they lost touch with over the years. Since then the company has been continuing their redesign and getting back to the basics of what made them great to begin with.

Rule 2: Practice Makes Perfect
You have to practice what you preach. Saying your brand is one thing and not delivering on that message is just another way to alienate your customers. It’s something to consider, especially in these hard economic times.

Can branding be effective without taking into account what customers want? Of course not. Promising one thing because it’s what customers want to hear and failing to deliver is worse than not promising anything at all. Customers feel lied to. What’s worse, if customers feel a promise has been broken, they’re more likely to take to the social media airwaves and post negatively about your company. Small businesses are more susceptible to this pratfall.

Rule 3: Patience is a Virtue
Customer loyalty doesn’t happen overnight. A shiny new ad campaign may bring in a handful of new customers, but it’s their experience with your company that keeps them coming back. Flip-flopping tactics and redesigning your image every few months confuses people more than catches their eye. Customers flock to the familiar. They like to know what they can expect from you.

The easiest example of this is Apple. People just don’t love their MacBooks and iPads. They love the brand, its design, and the language it uses when talking with their customers. They love the hip, non-corporate persona of the company instilled from day one by the now-retired Steve Jobs.

When crafting a brand, it’s important to take your time and think its implementation all the way through. Then dig in for the long haul and stick with it. Having patience and faith in your brand is paramount. After all, if you don’t feel strongly enough to stand by it, why should your customers?