Your company brand is your mark of distinction; it's what sets you apart from your competitors. When you establish and adhere to a brand management strategy, your level of commitment reassures consumers, suppliers, and anyone else that your company does business with that they can trust you.
Brand management is so important that Reputations Corporation, a Vancouver-based consultancy group, reports that 72 percent of consumers say reputation influences their buying decisions; 80 percent of employees will accept less pay to work with a company with an excellent reputation; while another 89 percent say reputation is a tiebreaker between equal products. Whether you're trying to influence key decision makers or attract and retain top talent, you'll want to consider the following tips on managing your company's brand.
How to Manage Your Company's Brand: Finding the Right Marketing Vehicle
There are many marketing vehicles that can drive home your brand message, including:
• Public relations and publicity
• Trade shows
• Phone directories
• Online (your website, blog, social media such as Twitter and Facebook, advertising)
• Broadcast media (television, radio)
• Print media (newspapers, magazines, specialty publications)
• Print displays and direct mail (brochures, fliers, signage)
• Professional assistance (consultants, designers, and agencies)
It's best to choose the communications vehicle that you're comfortable implementing and that will reach your intended audience, says Kirsten Dixson, a Boston-based Personal Branding Strategist. Otherwise, "If you don't enjoy the mediums you use for marketing, you won't use them often enough to keep your brand top of mind," she warns.
Another aspect that business owners often overlook, Dixson says, is to think about how to maximize those brand communications activities that you currently use. For example, if you are going to be speaking at a conference, how can you use social media to publicize that event, get feedback on the content your audience would like to hear, and use that content in an enduring way after the live event (like video clips)? "What happens most of the time is that we show up at the event, deliver our speech, hand out a few business cards, and cross our fingers that it turns into something more," says Dixson.
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How to Manage Your Company's Brand: Utilizing New Media
Ed Roach, founder of The Brand Experts, a brand management consultancy in West Leamington, Ontario, goes further to suggests that even if you're not 100 percent comfortable with social media you should make an effort to learn it. Branding strategies have expanded to include smartphones and phone apps, mobile websites and mobile ads as well as social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Ning.
"Social media has one very important perspective to share with brand management - the conversation. Like branding, social media is all about the conversation and building effective relationships. They are perfectly suited to one another," says Roach, the author of The Reluctant Salesperson, a free e-book available at www.thebrandingexperts.ca. The rules for brand messaging through new media versus traditional channels haven't changed, but "the game sure got better and more interesting," says Roach.
It's not enough to have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, you must participate in the conversation by making regular posts and replying to direct messages from your customers.
Ron Smith, president and founder of S&A's Cherokee, a public relations and marketing firm in Cary, North Carolina, agrees, adding that you'll want to stay on top of what people are saying about you and your brand online.
"Monitoring social media is a must for all companies. Social media has shortened the time frame for company responses to complaints or accusations. These days, companies need to acknowledge any issues and control the messaging in a matter of minutes instead of hours or days," says Smith.
Dixson adds, "In the past, if a customer had a gripe, their recourse would have been to write a letter or call customer service. Now, he can Tweet his concerns for all the world to see."
Dixson suggests that the most basic thing is to have a website that serves as a mashup of a consulting site, a portfolio with proof-of-performance content, and blogs from company leaders packed with relevant key words. The website should be powered by TypePad or Wordpress for easy manageability, and the domain name should include the name of the business. With a strong domain name and consistently new content from blogs, the company should rank high in search engine results.
"Search engine optimization strategies are a constant exercise. It's important to keep information flowing and to harness key search words that can lead searchers to the brand. Like any advertising media it's all about awareness," says Roach.
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How to Manage Your Company's Brand: Always Keep a High Profile
S&A Cherokee's Smith says your brand must be visible in good times and bad. "The foxhole mentality of waiting out economic downturns will put you behind your competitors when things start turning around. Trying economic times can also be opportunities to fully engage your creativity and explore alternate means of generating revenue. If you don't like the way the game is played, change the rules," says Smith.
Smith offers several tips for keeping your brand top of mind in the marketplace during trying times:
• Network with your local Chambers of Commerce and professional associations. You never know when an acquaintance or colleague will pass along a lead to you.
• Barter with companies for exposure. For example, co-exhibiting at an expo or negotiating a trade of your service for ad space.
• Encourage your staff to become active in local charities and boards of directors. Again you never know where that next lead will come from.
• Hold webinars for free or for minimal fees. Share knowledge and promote your company as an industry leader.
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How to manage Your Company's Brand: Establish Brand Consistency
Whether, it's your company website, your ranking in search engine optimization, or your Facebook and Twitter pages, you should strive for consistency in image and reputation in managing your brand. It will save you money and eliminate any confusion about what your brand stands for in the marketplace, says Roach.
"Look at your competition," advises Roach. "Are their images and positioning strategy different than yours? Do you all blend in - same colors, same slogans, same offers?" If so, Roach says you may want to reevaluate your strategy.
According to Sam Waltz, founder and president of Sam Waltz & Associates Business and Communications Counsel of Wilmington, Delaware, most audiences are way too sophisticated to get distracted by flashy drawings that designers tend to hold in front of executives as being what branding is all about. "It's about finding, creating, and perpetuating a resonant win-win relationship with your critical stakeholders," says Waltz.
To stand out, Dixson adds, you need to have an understanding of your competitors and peers. "If you are strongly known for something–because you are very clear and consistent with that message–then the people who benefit from your offering will come to you instead of your competitor," says Dixson.
She recommends doing a same-different analysis of the competition initially in the personal brand discovery phase and then doing quarterly or biannual check research of your competition. "Too much concern over what the competition is doing isn't productive. You aren't moving forward as fast when you are constantly looking over your shoulder," Dixson says.
A good example of this strategy is UPS, says Roach. "Most delivery companies' color palettes are bright. UPS on the other hand is brown. They own brown in their category so much so that their color icon has become their slogan – 'What can brown do for you today?'"
Ultimately, you should be prepared to develop, monitor and constantly push your brand message in the marketplace. Your message should be simple and as consistent as possible in every marketing venue you choose to ensure that when people think of your brand that their perception is inline with your perception of your company.
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