The Importance of Branding

by Lane Baldwin, 2003

Many business owners think that salesmanship and marketing are enough to succeed in business. Bzzzt! Wrong answer! There's another level to which all businesses should aspire: Creating a brand.

Branding is not marketing. Rather it is an integral part of your marketing strategy. It's also an important part of how you interact with clients, prospects, vendors, employees, and anyone else with whom you come in contact. Branding creates an image. And, as Robin Fisher Roffer points out in her excellent book Make A Name For Yourself (Broadway Books), "if you don't brand yourself, someone else will" (p. 2). You may not like their brand, so best to create your own.

Proper branding creates loyalty. For example, what soda do you drink? What supermarket do you use? What's your favorite brand of gasoline? Take this exercise a step further. What image comes to mind when you think of the Sears? Neiman Marcus? Wal-Mart? Chances are that, unless you've had a bad experience at one of these stores, your perception is a result of branding strategy.

An excellent example of branding is a painting business with whom we worked. Their main goal was to become known as the highest-quality painters in their area so they could work in the upper-income subdivisions. When the two brothers were first starting out, however, they were tempted to cut corners in order to offer lower prices. This would have been inconsistent with their goal, and we encouraged them to avoid this tactic.

It wasn't easy to lose bids to competitors who were using low-quality materials and skipping steps, but the two stood firm and it paid off in the end. Within a few months, they won several contracts in an upper-market subdivision through referrals from a local realtor. Today, almost a decade later, they still have a crew in that subdivision, painting one house after another. They may never get that crew out of there because their company is known throughout the neighborhood as "not the cheapest, just the best." They have achieved their goal by remaining true to it, and by creating a strong brand.

Here's another example of branding, taken from my career as a professional musician and bandleader. Few musicians realize the importance of a total branding strategy. They worry about how their listeners will perceive them, often spending exorbitant amounts of money on image enhancements: costumes, stage equipment, T-shirts, posters and more. Yes, as a bandleader I did many of those same things. But we also went a step further and created a branding strategy for the agents, club owners, and other buyers of our services.

We were diligent in our efforts to be known as the easiest band in our region to work with. Especially in the early days, it was crucial to our success. We may not have had a huge following (yet!) but we always showed up on time, did everything asked of us, treated the staff with utmost respect, and - perhaps most important of all - we were loaded up and out the door less than thirty minutes after the last song. We quickly developed a reputation as an extremely professional unit, one that could be counted on.

As time went on, our following naturally grew. But what got everything started was the respect we cultivated from the buyers. They were willing to give us the chance to win over their customers because they appreciated our professionalism, especially when compared with how other bands ran the business side of their operation. The club employees became our best cheerleaders because we worked hard to earn their respect. That is well-executed branding in action. Later, when my guitarist left unexpectedly, forcing me to replace him with no notice to our employers and our fans, both sets of customers continued to support the band because of the loyalty we had created through branding.

If a band can use branding to increase business, and therefore profits, imagine what you can do by creating a branding strategy. If you already have a strong marketing program, branding will enhance it. If you are just beginning to create a one, branding will make it better. It doesn't matter what business you're in; branding can, and should, be an integral part of your success.