Developing a powerful brand image is one of the most important and cost effective things you can do to grow your business. Whether you realize it or not your brand image is really the heart and soul of a business in the mind of a consumer.
I have found that brand image is an important topic to discuss with small business owners. Too many small business owners think they can’t afford to build a brand. They focus wholly on the brand side of the equation, thinking about how much it costs to get my name out there via TV, radio, newspapers, direct mail, etc… These mediums are important to get your message out, but there are many other things you can do to build your brand in the markets you serve.
I think it is important to share with everyone how the AMA – American Marketing Association defines brand and also how they define brand image.
This is the AMA’s definition of a brand. “A brand is a name, a term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers, and to differentiate them from those of the competition.” So according to the AMA a brand is primarily your logo, tag lines, etc…. Brand also includes your marketing, advertising & PR. Sure everyone can identify with the golden arches or the apple with a bite out of it. But as you will see in how they define brand image, these companies also focused heavily on their brand image as well.
So here is their definition of brand image. “The perception of a brand in the minds of persons. The brand image is a mirror reflection (though perhaps inaccurate) of the brand personality or product being. It is what people believe about a brand, their thoughts, feelings, expectations.” Do you see the difference; brand image is about how consumers perceive a brand. It’s why people read reviews online on Yelp or Angie’s List. They want to see for themselves how others view your brand image.
Brand image is something any size business can and should control. It is really the reputation it builds in the market or markets they serve. Brand image is how a business is perceived by their customers and prospective customers. It’s what customers say, think, or experience when working with a company. Focusing on this aspect of branding can be the most important thing a company can do to increase its share in a market; it can also be the most cost effective.
So let’s discuss what affects your brand image and the type of actions you can take to build a strong brand image. Each one is a building block to a strong brand image. At its core brand image is basic things like:
Doing everything you said you would? Not doing what you said you would is one of the quickest ways to lose credibility. Businesses must do what they said they would. Remember friends tell friends, whether it’s good or bad. You want people to be saying good things about you.
What is your service like? Do customers in your market think and say; you provide great service? You provide okay or average service? You provide below average service? The service level a company provides is important in the mind of customers and prospects alike. Customers want to know that you are care about them and your there to help them at every step of the process.
Do you stand behind your product or service? Do you repair or replace defective merchandise? Do you offer a warranty? How long is your warranty?
What is the quality level of products or Services? Do you only sell the highest quality products? Do you provide products of good quality? Or are they of fair or below average quality? Or do you offer a mix? Depending on the customer base you serve, this can be very important.
How do you resolve product or service issues? Do you resolve issues quickly? Do you ignore them? Do you take too long to make a decision? Companies that do not resolve issues in a timely manner are doing harm to their brand image.
What is your pricing structure? Do prospects and customers think you are fairly priced, expensive, bargains or value for what you offer? Some companies have area consumers assuming they cannot afford to shop at their establishment.
How is your customer’s experience? How do you treat your customers? Do they feel valued? Do they just feel like another sale? How is the relationship after they make the purchase? Do you send thank-you letters? Do you perform after sale follow up calls? If your customers experience is better than expected, it will pay dividends to your brand.
The above are just a handful of examples of what makes up the customer experience that affect your brand. Every interaction with a consumer plays a role, which either strengthens or weakens your brand image. In today’s economy people are researching more than ever before they make a purchase. People are trying to get the most bang for their buck. They’re getting more quotes, trying to determine who can best meet their needs. You need to be the company that instills the most amount of confidence. Consumers researching products or services have become easier than ever with how much information is on the internet or available on peoples smartphones. Technology makes providing an above average experience even more important. People are on sites like Yelp or Angie’s list to see what other people have experienced with prospective suppliers.
An example of a brand that has done a fantastic job of building a solid brand image is McDonald’s. Their message and brand image are of a consistent product that is fairly priced for what you receive. They are known as a value and have even named their meals value meals.
If you really think about it, they have put together systems and procedures where if you get French Fries in Maine, they’re going to taste the same in California. If you get a cheeseburger in New York City, it’s going to taste the same and have the same quality in Europe.
They’ve really put together one of the top brand images, one where you know what to expect every time you eat there. The policies are going to show you how long to cook each item, how long it takes to get the food on the tray. It’s a brand everybody knows. You may not like eating there but people know it and it does have a solid brand image.
The next example shows how fragile a brand image can be. Lance Armstrong admitted just last week he used performance enhancing drugs. The actions and admission will take him years to recover from professionally. Unfortunately, they were actions that were not congruent with his brand. The damage to his image has caused him to lose sponsors and being banned from competitive sports.
No company can afford to overlook building their brand image. Your brand image will either help your company stay competitive and relevant or make it very difficult to grow or have it going backwards. So you have to be sure that you’re breathing life into your brand. You need to commit to providing a clear direction about your brand image to your employees to ensure a solid brand foundation. Always think about ways of building your brand image up, it will make your company stand out from the competition.
Please share your thoughts and ideas about the importance of brand image. I look forward to reading your comments.
David Domos developed WhyBuyFromYou.com to provide content to help small businesses develop their branding, marketing and sales systems. In the past he held key leadership positions for a fortune 500 company. That company led the market in both sales and brand awareness and David was a significant contributor to its growth. David has been on the Amazon.com best seller list in their Direct Marketing, Communications and Entrepreneurship categories. He is a student of sales, marketing, branding & small business growth, continually focusing on the reasons people buy. Follow him on Twitter @WhyBuyFromYou or visit www.whybuyfromyou.com.