In the business world, character always outshines credentials. From philosophy to identity and associations, there is a process to build a standout brand. In his ongoing series on business asset management, next the author takes on how your brand can become your greatest asset. Your brand’s character holds the key.
All products have a story; any product without a story is a commodity! Let that sink in first.
You know it is reasonable to say we live in a time of abundant choices. It is rare to come across a product or service that is completely unique. In fact, think about a few other people or businesses who have similar offerings as you do. Whether that is hardware, software, subscription-based services, platforms of any kind, or anything else. For each of these types of options, there are more than three to four vendors in the market.
So, when the offerings are similar, where is the difference? Where is that competitive advantage? And if there is none, your product or service soon becomes a commodity that must compete in price. Commanding a premium becomes out of the question.
Now, we all understand that it is easier to catch up with any physical product distinction. The only elusive distinction, that is hard to nail down, is perception. How your customers perceive your offering, how much they feel connected to it and why. That’s what transforms your product into a ‘brand.’
For any brand to become a brand in the first place, being known, liked, and trusted is a basic requirement. Being known is relatively easy. Basic marketing or an ad budget can (almost) get you there. But the key is going to be—what are you known for? Why would people see you differently and place you on a separate chair in their mind space? Why would they like you?
There are three aspects you need to focus on when thinking of a brand as an asset.
What do you stand for?
Behind every great brand, there is a philosophy that sets it apart. This philosophy normally centres around the vision and values of the company.
In fact, if you look carefully enough, you will find that almost all the brands that you know and admire are rooted in some kind of philosophy. It is not just the philosophy per se. It essentially boils down to one thing; which is, what do you stand for? Which side are you taking? And of course, why you are taking that side?
Remember that the position you take may not necessarily have to be unique. It can be repeated, but your story, your reasoning sets it apart. For that philosophy or positioning to be an asset, it also needs to be clearly documented. People on your team, in your organisation, should be able to articulate it.
Because when it is clearly documented, it becomes easier to put it into your marketing assets, social media, website, pretty much everywhere.
Once this positioning is clear, we need a symbolic or visual attachment to this positioning. That’s when the next aspect comes into play.
What do people identify you with?
No, it’s not just about your logo or brand colours and typefaces you might be using. It is way beyond that. It is about how your services get delivered. It is about how your products are delivered. It is about how certain things are done in a particular way.
When things are done consistently in a particular way, that becomes your identity. When you deliver a product in this particular packaging over and over again, that becomes your identity. When your service delivery always follows a certain method or style, that becomes your identity.
Again, it needs to be clearly articulated, and documented, and people need to be trained on it.
Not only that but across various platforms, whether it is online or offline. In-person or virtual… anywhere, you come in contact with your existing customers or prospective customers; you have to do the same thing.
That repetition and consistency give a sense of reliability to your customer. And then it starts to become your identity.
One thing I would like to highlight is how often people try to be clever around their naming, logos, taglines and all that. One must remember—it is not about being clever or being smart. It is about how consistent you are. When you show repeatability and consistency in multiple places, people start to remember it.
Your logo could be as rudimentary as it can be, but if it is consistently repeated enough times, it will become your identity and that’s all you need. You don’t necessarily need a fancy logo. Having that would be good, but it is not critical. Because long after you start to get sick of your branding it the way it looks and all, your customers, your market will start to notice.
So that’s about identity. The third critical aspect of branding as an asset is your associations.
Who do you associate yourself with?
There could be many ways for companies to get associated or connected with certain names. These could be big Bollywood names, big sports stars, or any other similar ones.
Who you associate with often ascertains your values and how people perceive you. We have an interesting saying that says—Your personal identity is often determined by your five close friends. The same goes for your branding. If you are seen with an extravagant sports star or Bollywood celebrity, your brand will be perceived like that. That is why every association, including industry associations you become part of, is critical from a branding perspective.
It is often said that if you get your branding right, it will take you into new markets and enable you to launch new products or services easily. Over a period, it will add to the overall worth of your business, and therefore branding often becomes an asset.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a startup, a small business, or you are scaling up. Paying close attention to the branding, not at just a semantic or tactical level but at a philosophical and higher level, is critical.
Now one more bonus point—a thing that nicely binds all these aspects together. And that is your story and narrative.
The real character, the real philosophy, or the real crux of your brand will only come through your story and the narrative you are driving. This is why, often where you started, why you started, what are you up to, and where are you going becomes critical. Answers to these questions not only tell your story but also shape your narrative in the market.
This point is critical. These points are essential to be connected for building better perception. Because when it comes to credentials or specifications. Character always trumps credentials. And that character in the case of business is your brand!