Your brand can blossom with a plan

By Nancy Garberson / Guest Column

Developing a brand takes a lot of planting, consistent work and the discipline to stick with it. Before you dig in too deep on what shade of blue to use on your logo, or what message and voice you’re going to use when engaging people on social media, you need to look at the big picture – the whole garden, so to speak – and draw a plan.

What is a brand plan?

A brand plan is long-term preparation for the development of an enduring brand in order to achieve clear goals. Your brand is much more than your logo, your business cards and your website. It includes everything from the feeling people have when they hire you and buy your products to how you answer the phone and treat your employees.

Here are seven areas to focus on as you develop your plan:

1.Why: Every brand makes a promise, but in a marketplace where consumer confidence and budgets are low, it’s not just about separating one brand from another – it’s about having a defining reason for being. Why do we exist? How do we help? What do we offer that is different and better? It serves as a differentiator between you and your competitors.

2. Uniformity: Are we consistent? Consistency means you always further your brand. There’s one simple question for everything you do: Does it maintain my brand?

Consistency contributes to brand recognition, which helps customers understand your brand and your business. Nike is a great example. Everything that Nike represents is about activity, staying fit and healthy – even their logo, the “swoosh” connotes activity. “Just do it” has been their tagline since 1988, yet the brand is alive and well and immediately recognizable. Take the time to define and cultivate your brand.

3. Passion: Why do some customers pay huge sums of money for a Mercedes-Benz, a Rolex or a diamond from Tiffany’s? In these three examples, status is important because some consumers care about what others think. When people purchase these brands, they believe they are buying the best quality.

The need for love, affection and respect drives many buying decisions. With more expensive brands, finding ways to connect with customers on a deeper level with a lot of status thrown in is what matters. Do you then feel a part of an exclusive family? Expressive, exclusive and deeply emotional messages can strengthen those relationships and cultivate loyalty.

4. Agility: Although I am pushing consistency, flexibility to make changes is also critical. Are you always watching market trends, doing research and making sure your relevancy is in place? You must be both consistent and flexible. Your image doesn’t change, but your message can be redefined as the need exists.

If you can, research your customers or hold a focus group, asking clients or users to weigh in on your messaging – who better to tell you if your messaging is still making an impact, or if it feels like you’re planting in sandy soil. Just connecting in new ways can make a huge difference.

5. Purpose: Give every social media platform a purpose. How are customers going to stay excited about who your organization is? If you think of LinkedIn as your business connection, you wouldn’t talk about your wedding anniversary or a family vacation, right? Along with consistent messages, it’s just as important to keep visitors interested with diverse kinds of content.

6. Employee participation: Are your co-workers all on the same page? They need to know how they should be communicating with customers and representing the brand. Employees and the public need to hear the same messages and believe the same brand positioning. Gaining buy-in from employees on what information the company is releasing to the public makes them better able to take the information and put it into their own words when speaking to potential customers.

7. Allegiance: Good customers deserve rewards, and not just thank you notes, but other kindnesses to develop deeper loyalty. If good customers love you, reward them so they become customer advocates.

Your brand is a unique flower, indeed – make sure you tend to it to keep it that way.

Nancy Garberson is the owner of Marketing & Communication Strategies Inc., in Cedar Rapids and an adjunct professor at Mount Mercy University, teaching managerial marketing in its Master of Business Administration and Master of Strategic Leadership programs.