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The Right and Wrong Ways to Build a Brand

By Leila Rayburn, Senior Content Manager, 2/25/2016
Times SquareIf there’s any single skill every marketing professional should strive to master, it’s how to build a brand. Very little in business impacts your bottom line quite so dramatically as your ability to build and curate your brand. A strong brand can survive weak products, bad press, economic downturns, and any number of other stumbles and missteps with aplomb; a strong brand can raise margins, sees superior impact from its marketing, and finds it far easier to build meaningful partnerships with other businesses and organizations.

But don’t be too eager to jump out onto social media and start tweeting, or send your copywriters to work on endless blog posts. The question of how to build a brand requires nuance and care to answer, as important as enthusiasm may be—because there’s a wrong way, too, and you may not spot the difference until everything falls apart.

The Right Way

If you’re starting from a null state, with no real branding to speak of, you’re going to want to consider two factors: what you can offer while maintaining authenticity, and what your target demographics want. The overlap of the two is the crucial core that should become your brand. If you already have a nascent brand on your hands, or an established but underwhelming one, things look a little different. What you can produce without losing authenticity is greatly limited by what has come before.

Regardless, the path to building your brand in the public eye remains the same: develop a holistic strategy which brings everything–all of your marketing, sales, product development—to bear with a singular focus on achieving your company’s branding goals. This can mean looking at products or marketing endeavors which are somewhat profitable but contrary to the brand you’re developing and cutting them for long-term health; a bottom-tier budget line of products doesn’t work if you’re cultivating a high-class premium image, for example.

Consider the masterful rebranding of the fast-food chain Hardee’s in the early years. Around 2000, the company was circling the drain, dying in an increasingly competitive fast food scene as it struggled to offer more options, more choices, more appeal. That changed nearly overnight, and it was entirely due to branding: Hardee’s stopped trying to appeal to everyone, culled its menu down to big, fearlessly unhealthy, delicious premium burgers and sides, and started aggressively marketing on that image. It’s a stunning example of how to build a brand the right way–even if you’re struggling.

You want to communicate your brand in every action and every communication venue. Social media, blog posts, customer support calls, sales scripts, all of it should work together. This might seem quite difficult to get rolling, but let’s consider the other possibility…the ‘wrong answer’ to how to build a brand.

The Wrong Way

Plenty of companies know the brand they want to be, the perception they want the public to hold. Very few manage to achieve a perfect match between the two, for one simple reason: they let expedience and short-term profitability lead to a muddled, incoherent brand.

For example, consider the clumsy social media efforts seen from countless brands over the years; instead of building a consistent social presence, companies put interns and ‘hip’ marketing professionals in charge of Twitter and Facebook. You get followers, and shares, likes, retweets, lots of interest and noise…and none of it helps the brand, unless your brand is young, hip, and tech-savvy. It certainly doesn’t help when someone with not enough oversight drags the entire brand into a mess by interacting with the wrong people, wrong hashtag, etc.

It’s very difficult to seize every potentially valuable demographic, target every profitable price-point, appeal to every social group and political stance and lifestyle. Some major corporations manage to do so, primarily by branding themselves directly with their size and influence. That’s not something you can do out of the gate.

Parting Thoughts

Building a brand doesn’t necessarily need to be difficult. What it demands is consistency. Because that’s all your brand truly is. When you chase opportunities and profits without considering brand impact, you weaken your brand—and those opportunities and profits dry up, creating nothing more than an illusion.