Every major brand has a distinct personality.
Though they serve similar needs, you’d never confuse Walmart for Nordstrom, Microsoft for Apple, In-n-Out Burger for McDonald’s, Holiday Inn for the Ritz Carlton, or Southwest Airlines for Emirates. Brands develop specific attributes, most of which are earned through their actions. Smart brands always look to improve that list of attributes in order to attract the type of customer they want to serve in the future.
Having helped companies develop effective brand communications over the past two decades, I’ve come up with a handful of tips to help you improve the way others see your brand. Take time to really:
1. Know thyself, inside and out.
To enhance your brand image, you have to understand your starting position. Take a mirror and hold it up to your brand in the harsh light of day. (Give your brand a long, hard look, trying to be honest rather than aspirational.) Ask yourself these three questions: Why do customers choose us? Relative to other brands serving the same customers, how does our brand stack up? How would our brand attributes change if we better served our customers?
2. Figure out how to appeal to and attract the customers you want.
It’s not all about you. Your personal preferences, while interesting, aren’t particularly relevant. Your brand image should speak to what your target audience values. Engineering-driven technology companies sometimes create brand images that reflect the technical founder’s view of the world. That’s usually a mistake. Your customers may buy ultra-high performance networking gear from you, but what they really want is improved employee productivity, enhanced employee satisfaction, and the ability to fulfill their customers’ orders during peak seasons. You may think you’re selling boxes when what you’re actually selling is peace of mind. Intelligence is important, but when it comes to your brand, emotion is perhaps more important.
Let’s say you’re selling peace of mind. Think about colors, fonts and imagery that convey peace of mind. People will judge you, at least initially, by your appearance, so think long and hard about how to convey your brand image in everything you do, always putting the customer first.
3. Communicate your brand values throughout your company.
Your website and other outward brand messages aren’t the only things communicating who you are to customers and prospects. Every single person in your company is a brand ambassador. Hire carefully and build your brand promise from the inside out. Set and enforce the right tone, making sure everyone who works at your company knows what you stand for, how you operate, and what kind of a customer experience you intend to deliver.
For Zappos, the brand promise involves delivering superior service and selection to online shoppers. The company has very generous free shipping (both ways), and a 365-day “no questions asked” return policy. More important, perhaps, is that all Zappos employees are aware of the brand promise, and they’re given latitude in their interactions with customers. The result? About 75 percent of Zappos customers are repeat customers. That’s pretty remarkable, but then, Zappos has done the work to build a great brand.
4. Recognize that first impressions can be lasting.
It’s true you cannot make “old friends’ overnight and it’s “what’s on the inside” that counts. That said, many people will make snap decisions about your brand based on the first impression. If they like what they see, they’ll investigate further. If not, they’ll go elsewhere. It may not be fair, but that’s life.
Carefully review all of your potential customer touch points to ensure that prospective customers get a “brand-appropriate” first impression. What impression will they take away of your brand when they visit your website, stop by your trade show booth, connect with you on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, come to your offices or meet your employees? If it’s positive and consistent with your brand promise, congratulations! If not, you’d be well advised to make the necessary changes as soon as practical.
5. Be consistent.
A foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but a “smart consistency” is critical to building your brand and growing your business. Alaska Airlines is a great example of how consistency of interaction increases customer loyalty. The interactions I have with Alaska have a tenor I enjoy. On one occasion, I had an “off brand” experience, and the same day that I let Alaska know about that interaction, I received a sincere apology and a satisfactory resolution, preserving their positive brand image in my eyes. Smart.
Customers like knowing what to expect from the interactions they have with your company. This means you need to deliver brand-consistent experiences across sales, customer support, and accounts receivable calls, in all your direct marketing efforts, on social media channels, throughout your PR and advertising programs, on the Web, and elsewhere. It extends to the tone and personality your people and processes take when interacting with customers and prospective customers anywhere along the line.
Why do you need to ensure that your company delivers the same brand experience across every department? Because when people know what to expect, they come to trust you. And once they trust you, they’re more likely to recommend you to their friends, family and colleagues. The industry term for this is brand continuity, and it’s very important to your long-term business success.
Marianne O’Connor is the CEO of Sterling Communications. You can follow her on Twitter at @marianneoconnor. A version of this article originally appeared on the Sterling Communications blog.