Ask any business operator if she's happy with her brand identity. Most stakeholders respond with some level of angst over missing brand elements, holes to be filled, next generation overdue, or countless other misfires. Branding means different things to each person. To me, it means credible identity visible to potential customers.

Brand evolution ideally rolls from wonderful to brilliant. Some companies lack essential brand solidity, greatly hampering brand advancement. No matter where your company lands on the invisible-to-stunning brand spectrum, the following two simple action steps can drive greater brand bang and visibility:

1. Compare yourself against the best.

I'm going to talk about musicians here. Bear with me.

Musicians learn early that it's important to be realistic about the quality of a record. Back in the day, I was an accomplished recording engineer. For a song's mix, I'd pore over great CDs, tapes, and records. The goal was to compare my song's mix with a best-in-class famous track--for oft-brutal comparisons.

Fleetwood Mac and the Cure had millions of dollars to make a perfect album. I had a small studio. Comparisons were painful.

Still, with hard work, I could get the sound close: match the general tone of Aerosmith's bass, mostly recreate Boston's snare drum EQ, or figure out Prince's vocal reverb. At the end of the laborious mixing process, differences between my track and a track from Rush were evident only to other professionals and refined listeners.

Try a similar approach for your brand. Identify top companies in the same industry for comparison. If you're an innovator and believe there are no similar brands, find the closest comparison. Be sure to compare against the best.

Assess websites, social profiles, shopping carts, and order forms. Fearlessly rank your iOS, Android, and web apps. Ruthlessly grade all your brand elements.

Mercilessly examine the value of your products or services. Compare design, style, and voice. Use free or low-cost search marketing intelligence tools--like SpyFu or SEMrush--to understand free and paid traffic to your website and competitors'.

You'll gain insights not available in Google Analytics for your own site, along with tons of data about competitors. Start a spreadsheet contrasting your brand with the best in the world. Review and revise it often. Such an endeavor should be an ongoing, disciplined exercise.

2. Appear to play in the same league.

In business, actually competing is sometimes scarcely different than appearing to compete. Remember, state of the art is what we do with the resources at hand. Some essential elements can be ticked off, usually for a reasonable cost.

If your value propositions stink compared with those of your competitors, the conversation may be over. You can't wrap a turd in a bow and sell it more than once. Reevaluation may be in order. Brand dazzle can't cover crap.

You'll probably find that your value stories are great, mostly on par, a mixed bag, or slightly behind competitors'. Great! Growing your brand can help.

Just call reality what it is. Don't be narcissistic about a mediocre product--which is more common than you think. Branding will help you appear to play in the same league.

The comparison exercise may unveil style gaps (design, images, voice). Designers cost money, so seek cost-appropriate options. If your website stinks, consider fixing high-traffic pages with killer design first. Install WordPress on your domain, and use the Yoast SEO plugin and other low-cost plugins that can quickly boost other functionality.

You may discover competitors are crushing you at social media. Easy-to-use automation tools like IFTTT can auto-post content from your blog and complementary sites and publications. Automation can help you catch--or pass--competitors in social.

Driving keyword traffic from Google and other search engines is essential, and many brands are still trying to get to square one. If SpyFu or SEMrush tell you Google isn't sending traffic using your most important sales keywords, potential customers won't find you. It's as simple as that.

You might not be well versed in search engine optimization. If that's the case, get help right now. There are two relatively easy do-it-yourself ways to get sales-focused free search traffic through basic SEO:

  • Fix technical issues, such as broken links, bad metadata, and other variables.
  • Revise your web content to better reflect the words that define your authority on themes and topics. It's crucial to effectively incorporate the words people use when searching for your product.

Still, free search traffic isn't sustainable. Learn AdWords or get outside help.

Comparing yourself with the best can be humbling, but your takeaways will be priceless. Lay it out on a spreadsheet. Be your own toughest critic, element by element. Prioritize fixes on the basis of resources.

Done well, precious few will know the difference between your brand and the best in the world.

Published on: Dec 11, 2017