1What is a brand and what are the advantages of having one?
A brand is a set of characteristics - or an identity - that is easily recognisable and which enhances the reputation of your products or services.
A brand should embody the unique selling points of your product or service. An accountant could place a figure on some of the goodwill you have built up on your brand values.
Brands aren't just for big companies - they can make smaller businesses stand out from the crowd, particularly in competitive markets. A strong brand image will help you establish an edge over your rivals and can open doors to new opportunities. For example, other lines can be bought in, branded and sold as your own products.
The key attributes of a brand will include a name, a symbol or a design (or a combination of the three); this branding identifies a product, service, person or organisation as having a unique selling point. It can then be used across all marketing activity.
A successful brand invariably results in superior profit and marketing performance. A brand name can set a product or service apart and add significant value as a capital asset.
2Why do we need to develop a brand?
A strong brand helps to sell your message and benefits for you. As long as any new products and services you introduce are up to the standard of your existing offerings, it becomes a great deal easier to launch new branded lines. The brand is your ambassador and advocate, attracting customers and reassuring them. At the same time, it will help to bring in a flow of new customers.
3How long does it take to build a brand?
It will probably take you years to build up a widely-recognised brand - the sooner you start the better. Here are the first steps you need to take:
1. Try to think of a memorable and meaningful trade name that sums up what you do, making sure it does not conflict with any existing names in your field.
List the brand attributes you want to convey.
2. Commission an appropriate logo. When you have the right design, make sure it appears everywhere.
3. Develop a corporate image and colour scheme that can be used on your website, on stationery, vans, signs, staff clothing and adverts.
4. Ensure that all your products and services are reliable, compatible and of a good standard. A single weak link will drag down the value of the brand.
The time it takes to build a brand is the time it takes your customers to accept your brand values. These may include the belief, for example, that your product or service will give better value or be more reliable than competing ones. They may also start to believe that they will be happier with your product or service than any others and that your product or service is the most suitable for people like them.
Clearly these values are based on customers' perceptions of your company and its authority and reputation in its particular field, combined with the particular benefits provided by your product. Your customers' good opinion will be based on substance; continuing to deliver on your promises will ensure your brand is successful.
This kind of authority and reputation is not easily won, so building a genuine brand is likely to take time, some money and other resources.
4How can I develop a brand on a small budget?
Deciding on your values or what makes you special need not cost anything. However, communicating your brand message and style will inevitably require a budget commitment. The key areas you could budget for are:
- The development of a strapline or mission statement that succinctly conveys your message.
- Design needs, such as a website, a logo, business stationery and product packaging.
- Advertising and promotional materials that convey and support the brand promise.
- Staff training to make sure your employees understand your brand values and business goals.
5Do I need a logo to build a brand?
A separate logo, as a distinct way of writing your company or product name, is not an essential requirement for a brand. Many well-known and profitable brands exist without logos. Often they rely on their name to create the necessary impact rather than a graphic. However, the look of a brand name demands as much care and attention as a logo. It's worth using a designer to create a properly-conceived brand name identity, rather than just picking an attractive font.
6Will I need to register my brand name as a trade mark - and what would it cost?
Registration is not essential. But it will help in any future dispute if your trade mark is registered with the Trade Marks Registry (part of the Intellectual Property Office). To register, your mark must be "distinctive in relation to the goods for which registration is sought" and "not deceptive or contrary to law or morality". You will need to check that no-one else has already registered the same mark or something very similar.
7Can having an established brand ever work against me?
The only time having a brand name is counterproductive is when it has become tarnished by scandal or has come to be seen as being old-fashioned, out of touch or unreliable. In these circumstances, the brand is no longer adding value.
8 How far can I stretch my brand to cover new products or services?
A brand name can be stretched to cover new products or services, but only if the same brand values are appropriate to the new additions.
Richard Branson may have pushed it to the extremes, stretching the same brand to span everything from airlines and trains to music and wine. But until you have the market power that Virgin has, more modest ambitions should prevail.
9How much is my brand worth?
The only time a financial value is put on intangible assets is when a business is either bought or sold. A company's major asset may not be its premises or equipment, but its customer list and the quality of the relationships it has with those customers. Moreover, the brand is at the heart of reputation - attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.
Brand valuation is a major issue; successful brands are important company assets. Investing in a brand, to improve its image or positioning, may often yield better results than investing in other ways, like buying new equipment.
This is an area too important to be left to chance or guesswork. If you need to put a figure on the value of your brand, find an accountant who is an expert in this field.