It’s been a while since we’ve talked about branding, and in our current marketing environment, there’s a lot more to consider when thinking about brand development or rebranding. We’ve put together this useful guide as a crash course in brand development for B2B companies.
What’s in a brand?
A brand is much more than a logo, a slogan, or a piece of corporate paraphernalia. A brand is how your potential buyers perceive and experience your company, along with its products or services. It brings a sense of identity to your clients and employees alike, and it can often be a deciding factor when it comes to doing business with your company.
There are several key factors in branding:
- Brand identity defines your business’s personality and messaging
- Brand awareness is how well-known your brand is among your target audiences. Brand recognition, on the other hand, refers to how well your brand can be identified beyond its actual business name (through a logo or slogan, for example)
- Brand trust is how much your customers believe and rely on your brand among its competitors, and Brand equity is the perceived value of your brand according to its recognition and trust.
- Brand development is the practice of strategically strengthening, managing, and promoting your brand.
- Brand maturity is how far along the marketing journey your brand is. This would be the sum of brand recognition, awareness, trust, and equity.
Where do we start?
It’s important to start by considering two things: your brand maturity and your target audience.
If you’re a startup with no brand recognition or trust to start with, then you have a blank slate to work with and all the possibilities in the world to create a brand identity from scratch. You also have a longer journey ahead of you than more established companies.
If you’re a growing business looking to have a breakthrough and elevate your branding to the next level, you may be in for a refresh or even rebrand. We’ve discussed re-branding before.
If you’re an established company with wide brand recognition, trust, and equity, then your decisions around branding should probably be more conservative. Focusing around strengthening and managing your current brand while leveraging established trust factors to further cement your reputation are usually the best paths. However, widely recognized brands may often decide to periodically reinvent their image or even recall past branding to play on nostalgia; this is all relative to each business’s unique case.
The other main point to consider before any branding exercise is your target audience. After all, the final purpose of any of this is to get more customers while keeping the ones you already have. Your brand is supposed to speak to them and mean something to them, so their interests, wishes, needs, and preferences should all be critical deciding factors when it comes to developing your company’s brand.
Choosing the right approach
For our next approach, you can think of it as one of those old “choose-your-own-adventure” books. New companies can start at point A; SMBs can go to point B to start; tenured companies can jump ahead to point C. You’re more than welcome to read the whole content regardless of your brand maturity as well!
Each segment will cover: The Audience, The Messaging, The Visuals, and The Applications.
The Audience is the primary variable that conditions everything you do with your brand. The ultimate goal is to get that audience to consume your brand, so each and every move needs to take the audience, and their response, into account. You may not have much luck trying to offer jet skis to people living in the desert, but you might be able to sell them a swimming pool. The audience defines the purpose of your brand, period.
The Messaging is what your brand says to your audience. Messaging can be literal words and phrases associated with your brand, but it also considers your visual image and what it communicates to the audience. Messaging is the primary vehicle for brand identity and is how your audience comes to perceive the meaning of your brand and how it makes them feel. Getting the messaging right means connecting with your target audience on a personal level.
The Visuals are every visual asset associated with your brand including its logo, fonts, photos, and graphics. Your visuals are your golden opportunity to score a winning first impression with your target audience; get them interested by stunning them with appealing visuals and leverage that first impression by getting the right messaging across at the same time. Keeping consistency with your visual and messaging elements will require establishing brand guidelines or a brand book, but we’ll cover more on that later in the article.
The Applications are how you use and apply your brand in your organization’s day-to-day. This means everything from email signatures to web pages, business cards, ads, etc.
A: Starting Fresh
A new company laying its foundations has the best opportunity to create an exceptional brand. Since brand awareness is either zero, or close to it, then you still have full control over what you expose to your target audience. If you are a startup without any established branding, your best bet is to find guidance from experienced marketing and design experts that can help you get it right from the start.
Your audience engagement and loyalty are probably non-existent at this point, but you should have a pretty good idea of who you want to sell to. Marketing research such as buyer persona exercises will help you identify and classify your target audience members; once you identify the different players you’ll be able to set up a strategy on how to best reach each one. Competitor research can help you identify what already works, and social listening can give you a good idea of customer expectations from a brand in your industry. Use these insights to shape your messaging and visuals to cater to your target audience.
As a new brand, your messaging needs to captivate and appeal to people who have never heard about it before. It needs to resonate enough to get them to want to know more and possibly interact with your brand despite being new in the game. Trust elements go a long way and your brand might not have many, so leverage anything you can: existing partnerships, your team’s credentials and past experience, etc. Your best chance at an impressive first-time messaging is having an angle that addresses a known challenge in your industry with a new and distinctive approach; anything that marks a differentiating factor among a sea of similar companies will help you stand out.
Visually, you have full-control at this point over what image you want to show your audience. As a new company, something modern and fresh that offers a distinctive image from your competition might seem like the best approach, but your image should reflect an understanding of its audience and market even if it is new. This means you may have to consider some boundaries as to how different you can be from the competition before it starts confusing your target audience about what your company does; this is why defining the audience is such an important starting point.
Early applications of your new brand will most likely have the purpose of reaching new audiences and communicating that there’s a new player in town. This is your best opportunity to show consistency and discipline in your branding applications, which is why its important to have robust guidelines that your team should follow from day one.
B: Breakthrough Branding for a Growing Company
A growing company needs to continue to grow its customer base and it also needs to earn loyalty from its existing customers. At this point in its marketing journey, an organization needs to solidify its brand and become established and recognizable. This can happen by reinforcing its existing and budding brand, or it can sometimes mean a rebrand that helps it break out of a shell that may be holding it back.
You’ve got your clientele and now it’s time to cast a wider net, but don’t forget the people who got you to this point. Customer loyalty is critical to further growth as their satisfaction will serve as proof of your quality of work. Your existing customers must continue to identify with your brand as you appeal to others, so be mindful of this if attempting to rebrand. Your newer clientele might be expecting a bit more from you; modernizing your brand, rather than fully rebranding, may often be the wiser choice at this point.
Trust and experience sell, and that’s a fact. Most customers would rather work with an experienced partner over a new company, but many of them prefer the more personalized experience of working with an SMB instead of a major corporate entity. Success stories and other unique content play a big role in helping your messaging achieve your growth goals. Online marketing success will be key during this phase, so your messaging needs to appeal to people online; Social Selling can also be one of your best tools for success. You’ll be putting out a lot of messaging online, so you need to make sure it always stays on brand and in line with emerging trends in your industry.
Whether you’re going for a 180° rebrand or a brand modernization, consistency is key. You’ll want to maintain at least some element of your previous identity so as to not alienate those who have come to appreciate your brand, but understanding how design trends continuously change over the years is a must. There’s a major difference between embracing some retro design elements and just having outdated designs. Looking up-to-date and within current trends shows that you pay attention to your environment, which always reflects well on new or younger customers.
As a growing company, you’ll also want to reflect the maturity that you have accrued over the years, so milestones like a 10-year anniversary can come into play in your visuals. You’ll also want to make use of partner and client logos as trust elements to strengthen your brand equity.
The most important thing to consider here is, again, consistency. If you’ve rebranded and made a big announcement and social media campaign about the new brand, you have to make sure this is reflected across every brand application you have. Document headers, email signatures, business cards, printed materials, PDFs, and every other client-facing documentation you may have needs to be updated to reflect the new brand. This can be an extensive exercise, but it needs to be done exhaustively; going off-brand in any client-facing application can rapidly hinder your brand development efforts.
C: Revitalize or Reimagine an Enterprise Brand?
As a well-known brand in your industry, any branding effort needs careful consideration. Unless a major change is happening like a merger or change of ownership, any drastic changes to your corporate image are often discouraged; however, looking the same for too long can seem stagnant. Modernization is the most obvious choice for an established brand, but depending on the situation, bringing back elements of legacy branding can sometimes prove useful. It all comes down the purpose of the branding effort, and the expectations, needs, and desires of the audience.
Your audience knows you and trusts you, but with a lot of competition from newer companies, you might worry their fresh appeal will bite into your market share. If you can continue to offer what your audience needs with the same quality and consistency as always, they will stay with you, but they also want the security that comes with knowing their brand of choice can adapt to changing times. Chasing new audiences will always be a goal, but working with your existing customer loyalty should be a top priority at this point in your marketing journey. Nostalgia can also be a great tool to use with your audience as part of reinforcing brand identity.
At this point, messaging has been consistent for years and there are words and phrases that your customers tie directly to your brand. Consistency is of utmost importance in any communications to customers, partners, and employees; everything must be On Brand, 100% of the time, with close monitoring and quality control.
If a rebrand is happening, the messaging will need to evolve to reflect the changes the company is undergoing. It is important, however, to keep key messaging identifiers close to home. You will still want to be recognized as the evolution of your previous brand and not a completely new company unless that is specifically the marketing goal. A good example of this is how McDonald’s changes its visuals on a fairly consistent basis but stays on its “I’m lovin’ it” primary slogan regardless of graphics.
Whether you are reimaging or reinforcing your established brand, evolving your image or returning to your company’s visual roots, design elements and current trends need to be taken into close consideration. As we said before, there’s a difference between using retro design elements and just looking plain outdated. You can return to vintage branding to play on nostalgia while also using modern design elements to achieve that. You can also evolve your branding into something fresh while maintaining key identity factors such as color palettes and slogans.
It’s best to explore several options from a conservative modernization to a more “futuristic” look in your visuals, all depending on what you wish to accomplish with your audience with these brand development efforts.
We won’t lie: rebranding for an established enterprise can often be costly and burdensome. There are often a lot of assets out there with legacy branding, and you will likely need to rollout a controlled update strategy.
The best approach is one that avoids having to do anything drastic like recalling products or changing infrastructure to get on brand. If an image change can easily blend in with your previous brand identity, then you should have a much easier time performing a gradual update of assets. Think of it as shedding skin rather than undergoing metamorphosis.
We hope this quick guide sheds a better light on branding and brand development as business practices. Feel free to contact us with any questions!