Branding is a highly debated subject these days. Questions arise about when a business should worry about a brand, what activities should they be involved in with regards to their brand, how do they begin building a powerful brand etc. My feelings are that a brand starts the day a business owner decides to open their doors for business.
One thing that I feel is overlooked about branding is the fact that a solid brand starts from inside the organization and then spreads out to the public by way of the organization's actions towards the public. In a lot of instances the small business owner is the only one responsible for setting the tone of their brand. Pluggd.in defines a brand simply as: the perception an individual / community carries about the product/service/company.
The above definition is a simple portrayal of branding and the question becomes, when should you care about the perception that people have of your company? The answer to me is simple, you should care right away. This means overcoming some of the most common problems that small business owners face starting out. Problems such as: lack of vision, lack of planning, poor time management, incomplete follow through and inadequate back end controls that affect their customer service.
Performing poorly in the above mentioned areas starts to form a negative perception of you and your business which is essentially your brand. So what areas do you need to think about with regards to your brand without spending a ton of money on a brand management firm? Pluggd.in gives some great suggestions on some questions that you can ask to manage your brand.
The first question starts with who judges your brand. There are several different groups that judge your products and service. The customer is the first group but there are other groups that we don't think of. Groups like distributors, suppliers, the media etc. Sometimes we forget that vendors that supply us with goods and services can be a great source of positive feedback for our organization. That is, if you are treating them well by being a good communicator, paying your bills on time and look for ways to make the partnership and win/win.
The second piece to managing your brand are your internal actions. Start asking questions on why you are different and in what ways can you differentiate your business. Some of the questions that Pluggd.in suggested are: Can your e-mails differentiate you as a company? Can your financial policies send a message to suppliers that you care about their working capital problems? Can you use glass cups for coffee instead of paper to convey to employees that you care about the environment? These are great examples of questions that we don't ask at the start of our organization but maybe should ask. The best part is that coming up with answers to these questions cost nothing and acting on them is usually just as cheap.
In the end, actions are what define your business. Not catchy slogans and cute logos. While I don't suggest that you go out and spend thousands on branding your start up. You can answer some simple questions that help your business start out with the right public perception. You ultimately can't control your brand image in the public but you can certainly put your business in a position to make sure the message is a positive one.