Building A Smarter Brand


If you’re an entrepreneur in today’s market – my hat’s off to you.  You possess the power to see opportunity where others see obstacles, and you know how to act quickly to take advantage of that window to success.  Time, in today’s economy, is more precious and fleeting than ever as our lives move faster with technology and communications.

Besides endless hours of hard work getting your business financed and established, today’s entrepreneur wears an additionally daunting cap – broadcaster and market leader.  Building a loyal following of customers and fans is more important today than ever before – and the channels to reach them are increasing in complexity and reach with each passing day.

In the heat of the hunt for immediate results, many new (and existing) businesses dash past the brand development stage, and march quickly into delivering logos, websites and collateral from limited or multiple resources.  Who has time to ponder the personality of the language used to describe your product or service?  People just want to know about it, and hopefully stop long enough to pay attention.

Breaking that pattern of rushing to market is a key component to building a solid communications foundation that will serve you and your growing business for years.  Spending the time creating and defining your brand platform with a team of professionals will not only save you precious time, but precious funds in the short and long-term.  If done right, your brand platform will influence every single business decision you’ll make today, and in the future.

So what are the real bottom-line benefits you’ll get from establishing a solid brand platform and strategy?

1. Stand Out From The Competition

So much competition, and so little time to compare for too long, the window of opportunity to connect with today’s consumer is ever decreasing.  We multi-task on a variety of devices, all while maintaining several streams of conversation and potential distraction.  “New and Improved” simply isn’t enough to attract and keep consumer’s attention today; you have to prove your real, authentic value in competition with everyone.  Truly standing out in today’s market is harder than ever – and reaps even greater rewards when done well.

2. Communicate Your Value Quickly And Clearly

With a solid brand strategy and well-defined personality and language, you’ll be able to  speak with clarity and speed.  While speeding down the highway in your car, your billboard will have but a few seconds to be attracted and memorable to a stream of potential customers.  The internet is like a highway as well; with similar rules of quick and clear attraction requirements.  Keep your message concise and most importantly – make it memorable.

3. Attract Both Customers And Investors

Ask any budding young entrepreneur today who is just beginning to develop business ideas, and they’ll confirm that a strong brand is something they must have to secure funding.  “Build It And They Will Come” is notorious as a poor rationale to develop a product or service.  As humans, we want to believe that our realm of experience is similar if not exactly like our target market’s… which is often not true.   Spending the time to clearly define your target market, and give them reasons to buy from you from their perspective and experience is a critical step to financial returns.

4. Enjoy Lasting Marketing Returns

A well-defined brand platform is one business strategy that gives back for years if executed correctly.  As the company grows, so do you expand on the foundation that was established through a formal branding process.  Without that foundation, you’ll likely change messages and tactics enough to never gain traction in any specific market; and waste critical resources of time and money while doing it.  Developing a solid brand promise also translates into better information for creative expression; saving you time, money, and the sapping effort of going through rounds of creative attempts and evaluation.

5. Grow Faster With Purpose

One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is to stay on track. It’s hard to know which opportunities to pursue, and which ones to pass on. Particularly when you don’t have the structure and decision-making processes of a large company. A well-defined Brand should be used as a continual, actionable filter to review everything: products, partnerships, people for fit to your core values. If they don’t fit, even if they have merit, then pass.

Brand platform building, especially defining your target market and your unique positioning is a powerful need for every business.  Many businesses see the branding process as a challenge, and not an advantage.

How do you see branding in your business today?  Is your brand platform clear to you and your market?
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JC Penney Rebrands For Success


In their third attempt to reinvent a classic American brand, JC Penney has forged a new approach in all of their communications.  As for the company’s new red-white-and-blue logo, the new brand image evokes our nation’s flag and promises a commitment to treating customers “Fair and Square”. The square frame imagery is prominent  throughout all of the company’s marketing to remind customers to frame the things they love.

Needless to say, it’s critically important that the company solidify it’s relationship with decades of loyal customers while appearing new enough to attract new brand fans.  To help do this, the company will begin delivering millions of copies of its new monthly book, including nearly 100 pages of highlights for that month.  JC Penney stores across the nation will undergo a complete overhaul of in store signage and retail presentations.

The company’s president Michael Francis notes some important aspects of this critically important brand relaunch:

“We are redefining the JC Penney brand so we become a store for all Americans, by offering an experience they cannot get anywhere else. This will start by freeing consumers from the barrage of promotions and undifferentiated shopping experiences they have become used to and replacing it with something entirely fresh and new that is evident in every aspect of our store – new brands, new marketing, unique attractions, and much more. Beginning on February 1, our customers will see immediate changes that give a sense of how we will transform JC Penney over the next four years. It will be a breath of much-needed fresh air and give them reasons to visit JC Penney more often than ever before. Our objective is to make our customers love to shop again and across JC Penney, we’re very excited about the changes to come.”

In what could only be considered a brilliant move, the retail giant aligned itself with an intensely popular celebrity that reaches a younger, female demographic – Ellen DeGeneres:

Beyond a series of light-hearted spots, the brand focuses its efforts on providing value again to its consumer base.  The promise of “Fair and Square” has become the company’s brand promise – reflected in every aspect of their marketing.  While the promise is more than serious, the approach has been fun and engaging – putting a truly new spin on an old retail brand.

Beginning this August, the company will begin a month-by-month, shop-by-shop strategy to update all stores with new and exciting merchandise and presentation. Two to three shops will be installed monthly, each and every month, over a four-year transformation period, including the debut of “Town Square” during 2013. All of these re-branding initiatives will  complete the company’s physical transformation by the end of 2015.

Response to JC Penny’s new brand position has been largely popular…but what do you think about it?  Will it create the kind of interest to reshape your thinking about the brand, and get you to give it a try again?

Cowboys Need Branding Too


I’m constantly amused by the fact that the business we’re in is often the most confusing and misunderstood – and yet it’s the goal to clearly communicate our value to business.  After all, branding is developing the strategy and communications foundation for marketing, advertising, public relations and social media.  And yet…when you suggest to someone they could stand to re-brand themselves or their business – the first think they think of is a new logo treatment.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.

With that rather broad description of our craft, it makes sense to understand that branding is not just about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.

The objectives that a good brand will achieve include:

  • Delivering your message clearly and succinctly (i.e. the “30 second elevator pitch”)
  • Confirms your credibility and uniqueness in your market
  • Connects you emotionally to your target prospects your target prospects, motivating them to action
  • Establishes customer loyalty to the point of referrals to more prospects

To succeed in branding you must understand the needs and wants of your customers and prospects. You do this by integrating your brand strategies through your company at every point of public contact – or “touch points”.

It’s true that your brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers, clients, and prospects. It is also true that your brand is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence and some that you cannot.

And yet… most businesses skip this critical step when marketing their product or service.  It’s critically important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand – BEFORE you begin to communicate it to your eagerly awaiting public.  After all your brand is the source of a promise to your consumer –  it’s a key foundational piece in your marketing communication and one you do not want to be without.

Take the time to clearly define your brand’s true values (not the ones you think it has) before you begin your outreach and communications.  It’s not only time and money well spent, but will save you countless hours defining and redefining your brand message in the future.

We have a tried and true process for helping you define your unique brand – or even reposition one that you’ve built for years.  If you need help, we’ve got the experience and team that’s just right for you.

6 Important Brand Strategy Steps


Spring is in the air, and this is the time of year businesses are energized about meeting and exceeding their goals.  I like to call it “new better bigger stronger” season.

It’s also time that many businesses consider a change in their marketing efforts and presentation overall to help reach new prospects and customers.  Many brands go as far as consider developing a refreshed positioning message overall to upgrade and uplift their communications to new potential clients.

If you’re one of those thinking hard about your brand’s real position in your market today, there are a few simple steps you can take that will get you down the path to a good start:

1. Conduct A Comprehensive Brand Audit: Take the time (and a survey) to listen in on how your prospects, customers and employees/vendor really perceive your brand.  This feedback is critical to discover any “disconnect” between what you think you’re conveying, and what they’re perceiving.  Once you find the gaps in your strategy, you can make appropriate changes for resolutions.

2. Take Time To Create Your Brand Architecture: It’s important that you take time to really define your unique value position, and prioritize it’s very specific features and benefits. Now is also a good time to define some important keywords that you’ll target your communications with for search engines and your various audiences.

3. Develop A Brand Strategy: Take the findings of your unique architecture and match that messaging with your various target audiences.  Make a list of where you plan to find and engage them, and what type of media or marketing support you may need.  Consider every possible media channel you can think of, from public relations and social media to traditional and interactive media.  Write them down and make a list!

4. Create Your Brand’s Story: By developing and writing out your compelling story that addresses your brand strategy, you’ll begin to be prepared to communicate with your market.  Be sure to think from your target audience’s perspective, and not from you own as an owner or employee.

5. Determine Your Brand’s Visual Requirements: Now for the fun part – from selecting colors, type styles and logo characteristics, you must visually reinforce your brand at every step of the way. Perhaps it’s a tweak of your existing logo that’s in order to update it, or an entirely different visual brand is needed – now is the time to make and execute on that part of the brand process.

6.  Develop Your Brand’s Operational Requirements: From logo use, to how the phone is answered – it’s important that you communicate the tone of the first five steps to every single person you engage.  Consistency is key to branding – and you now have the power behind your brand to communicate it with confidence.

Complete and document these steps with care, and you’ll not only see how you stand out from the competition, but you’ll be laying the foundation to grow faster than competitive brands in your same category – even in your same smaller community.

The biggest brands in the world know from experience that a well-defined business brand will generate more leads, rapidly accelerate their sales cycle, and create solid returns to their bottom line in faster time frames.  No matter what size company you are, the same principles of success apply to you.

If you’re like most of our clients and need help clearly defining and positioning your brand, we’re here to help.

Building Brands By Blogging


Oh that blogging were as easy as pushing a button on your computer… and voila! – you’re published.  If you’ve ever had a blog, you know it can be a challenge to maintain and keep relevent.  Over time, you’ve likely abandoned it, and felt a little pang of guilt for not tending to it.  If you’ve not – then you are among the very few who have started and maintained their New Year’s resolutions.  Good for you! (However few of you out there).

While it may seem tedious and self-imposed, blogging really does provide a foundation for authority for any brand.  There is no other vehicle quite like a blog to help establish your authority in the market, while providing content that both engages, and excites your specific audience.  Think of it as owning your own broadcast station – and you’re controlling the programming (and advertising).

If you’re not creating content…you’re losing precious time establishing your brand in your customer’s mind, and certainly not keeping up with search engine optimization requirements today.  Everyone has some kind of specific viewpoint they can bring to blogging – and many voices are yet to be heard in this continually expanding part of today’s marketing mix.

Consider this:

You’ve got a uniquely personal brand, but nobody seems to know much about you?
Perfect – blog.  Do it ritually – twice a week for starters, more when news or the Muse strike.  Reward yourself as your audience grows…and keep at it.

Your blog let’s others learn how you can help.
If you simply blog about what you know, what you’re passionate about, and what you’ve done – others will feel as though they know you. Put that in your personal branding quiver.

Great blogs create buzz.  Great buzz creates recommendations.
Connecting to others with content they can share is the key to helping spread your brand with the most powerful marketing tool of all – word of mouth.

Integrate.
Sharing between social media channels today is easy, and a quick way to make your content simple to link back to and distribute.

Writing is cathartic, and authentic.
While often a struggle, writing provides insights into your personality and traits that are difficult to communicate in any other media.  For that, readers may reward you with following you.  What could be better than to have your own army of brand advocates ?

Blogging is here to stay.  Really…it is.
Journalism will not die anytime soon – with blogging taking a key role in the distribution of information and interests.  Don’t be left out of those conversations.  Get your brand’s unique perspectives known to your audience today, and establish a basis for referrals later.

It’s true – you may not have time to blog as much as you need – or as much as you’d like.  There’s a simple solution to that – hire a content developer or social media team to help you do it for you.  It’ll be worth your investment and in the long run, return with big dividends.

How to Interpret the Language of Branding


Branding professionals, like so many other types of work, often use terms that are both confusing and unknown to many of their clients.  While it’s true that branding terminology can be its own language, it’s not hard to decipher – just type “branding terms” into any browser for a bit of research.  But really, who wants (or needs) to rush to a computer in order to understand anyone who’s job is, in part, clearly communicating basic values?

I’m going to make the assumption that you’d rather have a quick overview of branding terms, rather than spend the hours it might take to review the (literally) millions of results you’ll get from an online search of brand terms:

Brand: There are many ways to express the concept of “brand”, but basically – they’re all the same.  A brand is a promise about who you are and what benefits you deliver.  This “promise” is one that needs to be reinforced each and every time people come in contact with any facet of you, your product and/or your business.

Brand Identity: In more common terms – a logo.  This mark can be made of many parts that represent the values of your brand.  It might include a specific logo design, color scheme, symbols and typeface(s).

Brand Image: Brand image is simply the set of beliefs about what your brand is…what it stands for…what your customer associates with you and your brand’s name.

Branding: Is the process of building positive perceptions in your customer’s mind.  Note: (not YOUR mind…your customers).

Brand Position: How your compares to (and perhaps collaborates with) other brands that are in your competitive market.

Brand Management: Is the process of controlling your brand’s identity and message throughout your entire organization, and through the all communication channels (including the media)

Brand Equity: Is the value of your brand’s assets – its qualities, reputation and recognition – and the demand it creates.  A brand with great equity creates loyal customers that carry their loyalty through to future revenues.

Ther are many, many other terms you’re likely to encounter when you enter a conversation about brands.  Brand message, brand strategy, brand revitalization, rebranding or even brand extension – just to name a few.  You don’t need to worry about these at first – as the basics will help guide you through.

Is Branding Important? Really?

From our experience, far too many companies jump to developing a logo or website before they really have a full understanding of the foundations of their brand.  Too many companies just want to rush to develop award-winning logos and impressive website or  launch materials only to have their sales go sideways when the customer has an actual brand experience.

You and I both know this – false promises don’t work in the end. Your brand must honestly, accurately convey who you truly are each and every time the customer encounters you, and every single other “touchpoint” every other of your brand.

It really doesn’t matter if your selling and marketing a product or service.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re a small company, or a large corporation – the branding process applies to you along with the same benefits you’ll receive from getting it right at the start.

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