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The case for branding: lessons on how to raise your company’s profile

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If I were asked to name the single most important thing a new company should be thinking about, it would be branding.

Having done that, the second most important thing a company should consider is… branding.

And the third most important consideration? You get my drift. Branding.

Three lessons about brandsLesson 1 A brand isn’t a logo. Think of almost any recent re-branding exercise that failed (the Post Office becoming Consignia?). Almost certainly, the root cause was a management team that confused re-branding with dressing up the corporate logo and company name. As they say, you can try slapping lipstick on a pig, but it’s still just a pig.

Lesson 2 A brand isn’t a product. A pair of jeans from Marks & Spencer is just a pair of denims, but Levi 501s are a brand. Even if the products were identical in cut, fabric, colour and quality, the Levis would still command a premium price.

Lesson 3 A really strong brand can be worth more than the whole of a company’s physical assets. To quote the late CEO of Coca-Cola, Roberto Goizueta: "All our factories and facilities could burn down tomorrow, but you’d hardly touch the value of the company; all of that actually lies in the goodwill of our brand franchise and the collective knowledge in the company." Forbes magazine put a brand value on Nike of $19bn and on Harley Davidson a value of $15.7bn.

So, what is a brand? A brand is a collection of “perceptions” associated with the product/service/company. That sounds gobbledygook, but just think about it. We all seek out brands to make statements about ourselves:

• "I am a high achiever" – Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Hermès• "I am on my way to the top" – BMW, Tag Heuer, Armani• "I am an individual" – Apple, Swatch• "I am a world citizen" – British Airways, Benetton• "I care for the environment" – Co-Op bank, Body Shop(Source: Goodchild & Callow)

David Ogilvy, the grand-daddy of brand values, went as far as suggesting that products have personalities, just like people.

Take Volkswagen and Škoda as an example. Both are part of the same business, and their cars share lots of components. VW has evolved a brand personality around quality and performance, while Škoda has a personality built around low cost coupled with reliability. Neither is right nor wrong; they are just different as a result of being targeted at different sectors of the market.

Conversely, people can become brands. The obvious example is Richard Branson. Another successful brand is Victoria Beckham, who revealed in her autobiography: "Right from the beginning, I said I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic." The girl done good.

And once people have bought into brand values, they perceive them even when they’re not there! Over the years, in “blind” tastings, Pepsi has outperformed Coke. So, on taste alone, when people don’t know the name of the product, they choose Pepsi. When they get to the supermarket, they buy Coke. Wow, that really is branding.

What does your product or service say to your customers?Ask yourself (better still, ask others) what feelings and images your product or service evoke – prestige, sophistication, excitement, romance, style, fashion, mystery, modern, tradition, quality, fun, bargain, convenience, family, healthy, or individual.

Corporate branding vs product brandingWith fast-moving consumer goods, the product usually gets the branding. I bet you never go to the supermarket to buy Unilever washing powder or Kraft coffee. Nah, you choose something like Persil or Maxwell House. Product focus at the expense of the company makes good sense when, like Unilever, the company produces a number of products competing with each other.

For most organisations, though, the company is the brand. Marks & Spencer is a brand and, just like an old acquaintance, we know its personality – solid, good value for money, long wearing. Matalan is a brand and its personality is young, wear it once, move on.

What about small companies or start-ups?I have been talking mainly about big brands, but that was simply to make sure you would recognise the examples. Small companies can also develop a brand and, if done successfully, can grow it to become a world leader. That’s exactly what I did with Flowcrete – a two-person company (me and my dad) that has now grown to a multi-million pound, global leader.

Anita Roddick achieved similar growth from a small shop selling body oils and fragrances. The Body Shop brand was built on a very strong value system that was just right for the times. The rest is history. Same is true for a coffee shop called Starbucks.

Perhaps the biggest advantage a brand brings to a small or new company is the freedom from having to compete on price. Rather than being trapped in a cost-plus strategy ("My product costs X. I need to make a profit, so I will charge X + Y"), with strong branding that reflects your customers’ values you can begin to charge what you are worth.

Remember, we are all willing to pay more for a brand we have an affinity with. That’s how Starbucks maintains such a fantastic mark-up. Let’s drink to that.

Editor’s note: Dawn herself is going through a major branding exercise and over the next few months we can expect the launch of a major new lifestyle brand called Barefoot. To keep your eye on what Dawn is up to, visit her site www.dawngibbins.com

Related article: 27 ways to raise your company’s profileRead more of Dawn’s columns here.

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