Most of us associate the term “branding” with big, consumer-focused companies. While the power of a brand might be most noticeable for the likes of Apple, Toyota, McDonald’s and the rest of the world’s most valuable brands, it isn’t confined to the giants. Every business in every industry has a brand – it’s just a matter of whether yours is alive or dormant.
Any marketer will tell you that a brand is much more than a logo, color scheme and tagline. At our creative agency, we take this notion a step further by saying that the visual elements of a brand are actually the very expression of the brand’s core, where its essence lies.
A great way to visualize the anatomy of a brand is the classic iceberg metaphor. At the small sliver above the surface, you see the logo. Beneath the surface, you have all of the things that make a brand meaningful, including brand voice, values, positioning, company culture and personality.
People might recognize a brand by its elements, but it’s the essence that they truly connect with.
Where Do You Start?
If your branding process starts with graphic design, you’re doing it wrong. Before you can even begin to envision the outward appearance of a brand, there needs to be a brand personality. Who are you and why should people care?
That can be a tough answer to dial up, so we like to ask clients lighthearted questions such as:
- If your brand were a car, what car would it be?
- If your brand wore a suit, what type of suit would it wear?
- If your brand were a musician, who would it be?
These prompts don’t automatically give us true answers but they do drive a phase of discovery, arriving at a unique personality for your brand. I recently gave a talk on branding at the New York Small Business Expo, where I led this exercise. One by one, each attendee’s eyes lit up as they started to make the connection between their brand and a personality.
A Great Brand Means Different Things In Different Industries
All of this might still seem over the top for businesses that don’t live in the public eye or on store shelves, but I can assure you that no business is too boring for branding. It’s just a matter of identifying what makes an impactful brand in your industry. What do your customers look for in your type of company?
For example, a trucking company needs to convey reliability and capacity. Meanwhile, professional services firms rely more on images of experience and sophistication. The financial services sector is one where smaller local businesses – such as community banks and insurance agencies – can compete with national powerhouses by making concerted efforts to create more relatable brands.
In most B2B industries, competitors are offering the same products or services at a similar cost. That leaves branding as the differentiator. Consider an accounting firm, where benefits are often intangible and payback may be months away. The firm must rely on its brand visibility to attract interest. Therefore, critical marketing strategies should include consistent messaging and imagery, thought leadership and visible civic involvement.
For manufacturers and distributors, strong branding can pay immediate dividends because the branding bar is usually fairly low. A modern, easily navigable website with solid branding elements can do wonders. Keep in mind that industrial buyers are retail consumers outside of the office. They will respond positively to a well-positioned brand within their industry.
Your Brand Is The Heart Of Your Marketing
The most common mistake B2B companies make is treating branding like a project. Even when the visuals are delivered and updated, the mission is far from over. In fact, it has only just begun. Branding is an ongoing effort that should permeate all of your marketing and advertising, from digital to print, even to face-to-face communications. Treat every touch point like a brand message and you can become the Starbucks or Coca-Cola of your industry.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
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