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Defining Your Brand

Defining Your Brand: The First Step In Your Marketing Strategy to Build a Local and a Global Brand

Truly defining your business is a critical first step in developing your marketing plan. Through a continuing series of stories, we've been examining how to build a compelling brand experience that will drive customer loyalty -- highlighting the principles of big brand marketing so that small business owners can replicate those kinds of successes. But before you can start building your brand's experience for customers, you need to take some fundamental first steps to define the kind of brand you want to be.

To guide our marketing plan, we need a very well-crafted statement of the type of business we are in, the type of customers we serve and how we serve them. We have to define what we stand for and the types of products and services that our customers can expect from us. This truly is the first step in the branding process.

At first glance, defining your brand may seem easy, but it takes some soul searching, decision making and data gathering.

Take, for example, someone going into business as a lawyer. It's pretty easy to define that brand -- a person who practices law, right? But to build a brand around his practice, a lawyer needs to determine specifically what kind of law he focuses on and what kind of client he is targeting before any marketing can begin. That means thinking through what regions of the world, categories of law, style of service and other offerings he brings to the table.

When defining your brand, put as much clarity as possible into how the brand and business is described, so that you can build a specific brand experience to match it. Here are three key steps to help you get there:
  1. Make an inventory of your skills. List out what you are especially good at and what you want your customers to think of when your brand comes to mind. Your unique set of skills will form the basis of your brand definition.
  2. What are your customers' needs? From your list of skills, identify those that your customers particularly need. Think through the kinds of things you do that your customers will come to you for. You should define your brand based on your ability to fulfill such demands.
  3. Focus on what differentiates. It's important for your brand to be different than other similar options available to customers. Of course your brand experience will ultimately differentiate you, but being unique starts with deciding what attributes set you apart from others. Your goal is to be different and better than your competition.
Let's revisit our lawyer example. A well-defined lawyer wouldn't just say he "practices law." He would be much more definitive and specific about his focus if he wants customers to see his business as a brand. So instead of calling himself a "practicing lawyer," he may define his brand as a "compassionate attorney specializing in family law in the state of California, servicing women who need help getting through the tough times in their lives."

Notice the clarity in the brand definition?

While it's important to be as specific as possible, you also want to be careful not to box your business in with a tightly constrained brand definition. For example, if a hair salon only defined itself as providing "women's short haircuts," it would close itself off from business that could come from customers seeking other hair styles, salon services like coloring or straightening and other demographics like children or men.

If it makes sense to be super specific because you have identified a strong niche market, just be sure to do this consciously. I've seen many salons that specialize in just curly hair or blowouts. If the business is large enough, those could be very well-defined, successful brands. Just be careful not to define the brand too strictly, which would close out future business-building activities.

The trick is to balance specificity, focus and differentiation with the ability to expand. When defining your brand, make sure to describe the type of business in a way that allows for growth over time.

Strategies to Build a Global Brand

Building a global brand requires more than just launching a website that's accessible from almost anywhere in the world.

From language missteps to misunderstanding cultural norms, veteran branding expert Barbara E. Kahn has seen it all when it comes to the missteps of launching a brand across borders. Here, she shares five tips to help entrepreneurs avoid the pitfalls.

1. Understand customer behavior. 

Just because consumers have certain buying preferences or habits in one culture, doesn't mean that such preferences are universal. "It's astonishing how many retailers haven't made it because they haven't studied how consumers shop," she says.

For example, Walmart's mistake in choosing locations in China that were near industrial parks when consumers were used to shopping closer to home instead of near work.

2. Position yourself properly. 

Good brand positioning includes truly understanding your competition and then looking at your competitive advantage. Who are the providers of similar products and services that you sell in this country? They may not be the same providers as in your country.

For example, if you sell athletic clothing, look at where people are buying their athletic clothing. It could be from specialty stores, online retailers, or sporting goods stores. If you have a high-end brand and you're going into a market where the preferred buying location is discount retailers, it may take a different strategy from the one you use in your country. 

You need to understand how people shop and how your brand will fit into that mix.

3. Know how your brand translates.

A clever brand or product name in one language may translate into an embarrassing misstep in another. For example, the French cheese brand Kiri changed its name to Kibi in Iran because the former name means “rotten” or “rank” in Farsi -- not exactly the association you want for cheese.

In addition to ensuring that your brand translates well into other languages, consider which colors are favored in various markets. In the U.S., blues and greens are favored, while reds and yellows are frequently used in some Latin American countries and may be appealing and familiar to audience members from those areas.

4. Think broadly. 

Since your company may need to expand into offering new products based on regional market demands, it's important that your company name be broad enough to accommodate those changes.

For example, Boston Chicken changed its name to Boston Market because it had expanded into other foods,. If your company name is Brian's Computers for example, consider whether that will be limiting in other markets if you also sell peripherals and services, she says.

5. Find good partners. 

Work with your attorney to protect your intellectual property overseas, filing the appropriate trademark and patent protections in the U.S. and elsewhere, if applicable. Find trade representatives who come recommended from colleagues or state or federal trade offices, since they're more likely to be reputable.

If you decide to license your product or service name to a manufacturer or provider overseas, exercise tight controls to make sure that the provider is reputable and won't misuse or misappropriate your name and will adhere to your quality control standards. When you put your brand name on a product or service, you want a consistent experience so that every time, people have it, they understand the values of the brand.


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