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The expression "branding" is very popular on the web and in the marketing world right now. But few really know what this term means.  That is why I would like to offer a little explanation in this month’s article.

First, what does the word "brand" mean? What is the difference between the name of a company or a product and a brand? A name starts to become a brand when it is perceived and recognized by people in the targeted market thanks to its visual representation and the values/characteristics that become associated with that image.

So the term "branding" may very well be defined as the process of building one’s brand.

Is having a logo enough to have a brand? No. The logo itself is an image that represents the company/product. To have a brand, seeing this picture should evoke a vision, intention and emotion. These feelings evoked when one sees the logo are the brand. A brand becomes stronger when the feelings associated with the logo are in line with the message of the company, they are shared by a large part of the target market and the message dominates the background noise which I define as messages in contradiction to the company’s main message.

Having a brand is easier said than done, for several reasons. First and foremost, we do have control over the message sent in the market. But there is much less control on the perception of that message and the validation process that the receivers will perform via other sources. What do I mean? If, for example, you are a travel agency and you want to be perceived in the market as the most economical option, then your message will go in this direction. Now let's see what happens if, for some of your clients, you have not been able to offer the absolute best price (even if the price you offered was very good) and that they are very dissatisfied and very noisy. Well, the message that they generate in the marketplace will be in contradiction with the one you were trying to promote and in turn will somewhat change the corporate identity that you are trying to build.

So how can big companies have a message as clear as if no background noises were present? Background noise will always exist, and the bigger the company, the more sources of it: union negotiation gone wrong, suppliers’ complaints, unsatisfied franchisees, acquisitions that don’t go well, messy job terminations, and others. In other words, big companies generate a lot of background noise. However, large companies have several things in their favour. First, the company will dominate the communication channel that they select.  In addition, the company will address the background noise in a timely and adequate fashion to prevent backlashes affecting its image. Finally, the company will regularly poll the opinion of key segments of its target market to find out if the perception they have is in line with the image being conveyed.

You are your own boss and you want to brand yourself? How does all of this apply to you? You certainly do not have the financial resources and manpower of large companies. However, all the activities described above can still be done, but on a smaller scale. First, build a strong visual identity. I already wrote an article on the benefits of building a transferable image rather than building your business around you. Think carefully about the characteristics that make you the best option for your customers. Make sure your message is clear. Confirm that your message is perceived the right way by your customers and your target market by asking them. If you have complaints (background noise; everyone has them, no one is perfect), address the sources directly by asking what the problem was and then try to fix the problem. If that does not work, and nothing can seem to please that customer or he/she seems to have unreasonable expectations, make sure that the efforts you made are known. If these criticisms are made public or they come back to you, you will know what to answer.  

Branding is an endless activity. It must be added on top of your various other promotional activities. But you should take into account that having a brand is an asset; if you ever want to sell your business, the time and energy you have devoted to building your brand will be converted into dollars. It is very well worth your time to devote a bit of effort to it each week. 

Stéphane Elmaleh-Riel, B.Ed., MBA
Marketing consultant

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