You've started a business. You've commissioned an agency to design a top notch logo, the fancy business cards have arrived, the website is up and running, and you've even gone the extra mile to invest in a robust set of brand guidelines. That's the branding process over and done with, right?
Wrong! You've created your brand identity, but the branding process is never over. It keeps going whether you choose to be a part of it or not. It's happening even while you sleep. As long as your brand is out there and people are engaging with it, the brand is in flux. One bad customer experience spread across social media can drastically alter public perception of a brand forever. You can either leave your brand to fend for itself and hope for the best, or you can actively engage with the day-to-day process of maintaining and nurturing it. I'd recommend the latter.
Here are 5 (relatively) simple and (almost) cost-free things you can do to keep building a successful brand after the basics are in place.
1) Don't forget your brand guidelines
We go on about this quite a bit on the Brandsworth twitter account, but only because it's such an enduring issue. I've seen too many companies go to the time, effort and expense to develop a brand guidelines document, only to completely ignore it from the moment the ink is dry. Not only do those companies end up with a series of poorly connected and inconsistently designed brand communications, they tie themselves (and their agency) in knots, as they struggle to reinvent the wheel for each new project.
Listing the benefits of brand guidelines would fill a post in itself, but for now I'll just say this; brand guidelines, when done properly, can be the cornerstone of a strong, healthy, world-class brand. Look after them, and they'll look after you. Change them if you must (see point 5), but never, ever ignore them. If you have any aspirations for your business beyond a small operation that pays a living wage, you need to give brand guidelines the respect and attention they deserve.
2) Build your brand culture
The idea behind brand culture is for you and your staff to live and breathe the brand, so that everything they do is infused with your brand identity and values. This might sound like a lot of effort, but it really isn't, and it can be readily incorporated into your existing processes and procedures. When you induct new staff, take a few minutes to explain the brand to them, and show them why they should care. Have your brand values or vision statement on display where everyone can see it (ideally incorporated into an inspirational office mural, but that takes a little more effort!). Ask employees to rationalise their decision making in terms of how it supports your brand identity.
Keeping on top of all these little opportunities to build brand culture will benefit your business both internally and externally. Not only will you have a workforce that's united and motivated by a sense of shared purpose, you'll also be supporting the growth of a strong and consistent brand at grassroots level.
3) Apply your brand everywhere
It goes without saying that you need to apply your logo and brand colours to things like product packaging, reception areas, email signatures, etc. What's less obvious is the need to weave your brand identity into the less tangible world of consumer experiences. This requires some creative thinking but it's possible, for example, for your staff to communicate the spirit of the brand in the way they answer the phone to customers - it's all about the style of language and tone of voice (again, brand guidelines will help here). You could design your product packaging so that the very experience of opening it says something about your identity and values, like the Nike Free shoe box, or the box for the limited edition Sad Toy.
Starting and running a business can be a very hectic experience (trust me, I know!) but try and make time to step back and assess how you can create a more rewarding customer experience by implementing your brand identity in less obvious ways. If you can pull this off effectively, your competition won't stand a chance.
4) Keep pushing the message
A great brand isn't much use if people don't know about it. This doesn't necessarily mean paying for advertising, although that could certainly be part of your strategy. If you're on a budget then our old (and fickle) friend social media comes into play. Ultimately though, how you get your brand into people's minds isn't hugely important - just make sure that it happens somehow, and that it's handled effectively. More important is finding creative ways to get your brand into people's hearts - packaging and delivering your messages in a way that doesn't seem like a sales pitch, is consistent with your brand identity, and makes potential customers feel positively engaged on a regular basis.
Again, this could be a whole post in itself, but leveraging your brand to drive engagement is an ongoing process. A typical example would be creating a blog that delivers useful and/or entertaining content that's relevant to your sector, in a way that's consistent with your brand values and tone of voice. However you choose to go about it, make sure that regular brand-building communications aren't forgotten in the day to day challenges of building a successful business.
5) Revisit, Refresh, Renew
Think of any major international brand, and ask yourself how often they've tweaked their logo, or changed their slogan. It happens surprisingly often. This is because the most successful organisations know that a brand needs to be constantly reevaluated to ensure that it's still relevant. It's rare that a brand will need to fundamentally change its vision and values (in fact if this becomes necessary then something has probably gone seriously wrong), but flexibility and renewal are fundamental to a brand's longevity.
Striking the right balance between consistency and relevance can be challenging, and changes shouldn't be made lightly. But it's perfectly acceptable to make very gradual, subtle changes to the way your brand identity is implemented, and the way your messages are delivered. Just remember that these changes should be driven by factors like thorough market research or the objective recommendations of an experienced branding agency, not by internal tinkering or a sense of vague unease about the company's direction.
If you're starting a business and appreciate the value of effective brand identity, explore the Brandsworth website and discover the affordable branding agency for startups in Wales.