Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Branding – Don’t let it be bi-polar

All companies in today’s business atmosphere need to be aware of the importance of branding.  Branding is a "clear identity" that conveys your promise to your customer.  Branding says, "This is what you can expect from my product or service".  Your brand identity should set you apart from your competitor in a positive manner.  Branding affects any business, but we are focusing on equipment manufacturers and products, primarily smaller manufacturers that cannot afford an entire department to maintain their branding strategies.

Are There Different Rules for Branding?
We all have different likes and dislikes, and the branding strategies will vary accordingly.  There are a lot of “do this” and “don’t do that” rules.  These rules range from where and how you advertise, the shape and color of your product, the design and content of your consumer documentation, the consistent look and usability of your website, and the list goes on.  What’s most important is that the brand has a consistent verbal and visual definition.  Consistency is essential to building the perceived value of your product.  Unfortunately, all too often, we see companies suffering from what we are calling bi-polar branding.

What is bi-polar branding? It’s the pitfall of having a branding image and message which is not consistently displayed throughout a company’s marketing materials.  This inconsistency is most likely due to the myth that a company's success is in the corporate mission statement, the logo design, the corporate colors, and having a unique business card.  The reality is that the brand identity is the message and theme you represent in the product, as well as in the brochures, ads, websites, and last but not least, the owner’s manuals that are used to sell and support this product.

We feel the number one rule for branding is a consistent look across all the platforms of consumer marketing.

Why Should I Be Concerned About Brand Identity?
Branding is the key for consumer recognition of your products.  You want a consumer to have a preconceived expectation as to the quality, consistency, and value of your products.  Here’s a true story for an example.  Someone says, "Think of a carbonated beverage in a red can with the name of the product in white lettering."  Most of us will instantly recognize the product even without the name being given.  That’s the power of branding.  That's the power you want to achieve.  Now let’s say you walk past a display of green carbonated beverage cans, but you notice that same familiar white lettering style with the product’s name on the can.  Something must be wrong.  Someone definitely did not follow the book for this product's branding requirements.  In this case the answer is the company is expanding its brand identity.  It’s a new product line containing healthier sweeteners in a green can.  It’s still the same company we have learned to trust, but it’s not what we have come to consistently recognize. 

The second rule to your success is having the consumer recognize and trust your brand because you followed the first rule.

Let's use the automotive industry for another example.  You watch the TV ads, go to the website, visit the dealership, see the banners, and look at the brochures.  All of these are tools being used to clearly and consistently define the consumer's opinion of the car.  It's the style, look of quality, the colors, the characters, and the message that all work together to reinforce your brand.  The brand also needs to apply to the owner’s manual and other technical documentation which should reflect the same theme and message of quality. 

Why Should I Care If I Have A Recognizable Brand?
How many of us have purchased lawn and garden equipment or a “some assembly required” product with user instructions that either looked severely inadequate or worse, a 10th generation photocopy you can't read.  Suddenly the perceived quality of this product falls into question.  If your consumer documentation is filled with poor illustrations, misspelled words, missing or hard to understand information, etc., then your customers will naturally question your product's quality.

Also, maybe you have shopped for a product where the printed brochure has a certain look, the website looks totally different, and their TV ad has yet another look.  In fact, we wouldn’t even call that bi-polar.  That’s more like multiple personality branding which really confuses a brand message.  Seth Godin would call that a “Meatball Sundae”, after his book with the same name.  Again, inconsistency can crush a company’s branding efforts.  With so many product choices available to the consumer, this is a pitfall you can't afford.  There are many small manufacturers with products that are very useful, of high-quality and affordable, but their bi-polar or multiple personality branding theme gives their potential customers the perception of a low-quality, and poorly manufactured product regardless of the cost.

How Can I Establish My One Unique Brand?
Technical Publication Associates (TPA) has been helping companies in many different industries to establish and maintain their brand identity by creating and managing their owner manuals, marketing materials, and basic websites.  Keeping your brand consistent throughout all your consumer sales and user documentation requires a focused effort.  We understand how small companies can dilute their brand because they have used one provider to produce their manuals, another for their marketing materials, and a third for their website.  So a typical manufacturer may do the manuals in-house, hire a small firm for marketing materials, then see John Doe for their website.  With three groups in the mix, you wind up with a discombobulated look and feel to your brand. 

If you’re going to use several different sources for creating your brand, then we would recommend starting with one firm for the most important piece of the brand identity (possibly your website).  Once the website is established, then create the marketing materials using the website as a foundation.  Then use both website and marketing materials to develop any consumer documentation.  With multiple groups, it's essential they all communicate with each other.  All the groups must align themselves with YOUR goal to develop a solid, consistent brand image.  Let’s say it again; the key to any good brand is consistency.

What If I Don't Know Where to Start?
Using a single source, such as TPA, for creating and maintaining your brand, allows you to focus on finding potential consumers and maintaining a high-quality product.  We focus on providing you with consistent branding materials and you focus on business.

If you are a company that is suffering from this branding disorder, then it’s time to stop and identify what clearly defines your message and your brand.  Once you have identified a brand identity source, use it as a starting point to change the other areas that don’t match.  Maybe your owner’s manual has the look and feel that represents your product's high-quality, if that’s the case, then have us create new brochures to reflect that same image and then we can move to your web page to do the same so everything works together and is well balanced.

If you’re a new start-up company, then it’s critical that you think through what you want your brand to convey.  If you don't use our services, you may want to hire a marketing advisor to help develop your brand.  Once you have a theme for your brand established, you need to ensure that everything that follows stays true to the theme of your brand.

The Payoff!
Creating a consistent brand will pay dividends in consumer awareness of your product and in increased sales.  A clearly defined brand gives consumers confidence in your product and assurance in you, the manufacturer.  As for the branding itself, it doesn’t even have to be that fancy, it just has to be consistent.