Branding conceptTo brand or not to brand, that is the question. Nowadays, it is difficult to avoid anything having to do with 'brand', so it begs the question, "what's a brand anyway?"  The short answer is that when it comes to satisfying customers, brand is everything - everything and anyone that has anything to do with your company - brand marketing, brand strategy, brand identity, and the list goes on. We know one thing for sure: it takes time to build a brand, it takes even longer to develop brand-loyalty but... it only takes seconds to destroy it.

Back to what's a brand anyway? It is how anyone who comes in contact with your business feels! Each time and every time. Take this answer for a spin and test it out: When I say Apple how do you feel? Exactly. Don't get me wrong, Apple is far from being perfect but Apple is a brand that is admired by everyone.  When positive feelings tip the scale they lead us to continue and buy products. That means long-term sustainability for any business and it does not happen overnight. Yes, better products or service can erode your own brand by comparison and that’s where your true brand identity plays a critical role.

Branding is not a difficult concept, nor do you have to compare yourself to mega brands like Apple, Google or Coke. For example, make a quick list of companies you do business with on a daily or weekly basis - your grocery store, gas station, favorite lunch hangout. Here's the test: if a competitor opens next door, would you switch? Why? If you answered yes, your reasons reveal serious brand gaps.

Another example: U.S. Post Office, UPS, FedEx. How do you feel about each company? Feelings drive buying behavior, so which of the above instills a confidence level that your package will be delivered and on-time? See what I mean? Both the UPS and USPS have made remarkable improvements over the years but...there is something to be said about how you feel when you see that FedEx truck.

The good news for all business owners is that you do not need a mega budget to develop the kind of 'feeling' among your customers that leads to brand loyalty. What is required is a thorough  understanding,  to a finite level of details, of what drives customers in your industry. Then, identify, again in finite details, how you will create value for those customers and focus on consistent execution.

One of the biggest failures of any brand is a lack of consistency, otherwise known as congruence. If anyone on your team takes their eyes off-the-ball your brand is exposed. Exposure leads to split-second decisions that can destroy everything you've built up. We know one thing for sure: the 21st century has turned everything into a “buyer’s market” because information and choices are available everywhere and anytime.

How do you guard against inconsistent brand exposure? Take nothing for granted. Question everything but most importantly measure every aspect of your performance to ensure that you are meeting the type of expectations your brand stands for. Successful brands got there because they committed to resources that will make them a leader! Resources do not mean mega ad budgets either! Resources mean, training, performance testing and the size of the team that is needed to deliver and keep excellent customer experience.

While the internet introduced an element of convenience to communications (email, social media, web forms), it has also raised the bar on execution! All of your customer communications channels must be monitored in real-time. Make sure no one waits for an email reply more than a couple of hours. Same with #(hashtag) comments on your social media channels. And, in a world where a "contact-us" phone number is a guarded secret, when and if you get that call or voicemail, make sure it is returned immediately!

Oh, and BTW, here's a great tip for branding - put your phone number in size 48 font front-and-center on your website! Go back and read my comment on resources. You simply can't deliver unmatched customer service when you're hiding behind a twenty five nested menus on your site. Be brave, take the call, it could save your brand.