Building brand reputation is like running a marathon – you must be prepared to commit to long hours of work and you should not give up when it gets tough. Growing a brand requires companies and people to prove themselves over and over again, so that their clients put their trust in them and become loyal. Once achieved, protecting your brand reputation is again a skill that should not be ignored as reputations are frail: one single incident can destroy a good reputation that has taken many years to build.
Professionals define brand as a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of these, intended to differentiate the goods and services of multiple sellers. In my experience, it is a good idea to answer the following questions when formulating your brand:
- Who are we?
- What do we do?
- How do we do it?
- Why do we do it?
For smaller companies, one of the key tools for building brand reputation is to link to the culture and the people behind the brand. Digital channels have made many companies ‘faceless’. Trust is built between people, not between email addresses; ‘People buy people’, as the saying goes, and larger, faceless corporates struggle to reach the hearts and minds of their customers. If a business owner – a hairdresser, restaurant owner or retailer – has a trusted personal reputation, then people are more likely to do business with them. Trust creates credibility and makes customers more likely to recommend the business to their network.
One of the biggest advantages of personal branding is that it doesn’t require a lot of financial investment. Building a strong brand will depend on how aligned there three key points are with the outside world: what you do, what you say, what you are.
As long as these three areas are broadcasting the same message, the brand will be perceived as authentic, trustworthy and reputable. Customers, potential customers and employees, suppliers and competitors are creating an image of your company at every point of interaction, from the way you answer the phone to the quality of your products or services.
It’s important to consider what impression you want to convey and then make sure it’s managed carefully. Being consistent with who you are and what you’re all about makes it easier for people to understand your brand and buy into it.
When formulating a brand, it is good to keep the following in mind:
- Focus on what makes you different from the rest of the players in the market. Be clear on what you stand for and what you are promising your customers. If you aim to be a high end beauty salon, then aggressively cutting prices and participating in endless promotions will not portray your business as the quality provider with the excellent experience you are hoping to be known for.
- Be consistent in your message to the world and do not falter. A consistent brand message and customer experience are critical elements to building your brand, especially when you hope to gain momentum through word of mouth. Your audience needs to believe in you and your values. Every available channel needs to be employed to spread the message. For example, a building company can make sure that the messages they disseminate – from website to flyers – all enforce the same core values of the business – quality, fairness, peace of mind, etc.
- Become a leader in your area of expertise and make sure everyone hears about it. That is, of course, easier said than done. We spend most of our time actually working on the business and not developing our skills, or the skills of our employees. To become a leader in any industry, time must be dedicated to activities that will allow you to be innovative, to experiment and to improve. That is what makes one player stand out in the market over the rest.
- Have integrity and honesty. If you offer something you can’t deliver, then the work of building your brand will be in vain and almost impossible to repair. Do not offer response in 24 hours unless you can do it 100% of the time. Do not offer nationwide service when you only have the capability to do that locally.
- Be persistent – get your brand message out there. Then get it out again and again and again. Some statistics say that customers begin to recognise your brand just as you are getting tired of repeating it. People are inundated with a myriad of messages each day. It’s not only critical that you try to stand out from the competition, but it’s equally important that you are not forgotten.
There is one more key element that is likely to influence the development of your brand, and that is time. Business doesn’t wait, customers and clients don’t like to be put on hold: but they all know time is the one issues we all have in common.
You can’t control time, but you can learn how to make the most of what time you have by putting all you have into growing and nurturing your brand. The dedication and effort will come across, adding extra value to your work.
Dessy Ohanians is the Managing Director of London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) Executive Education. Her role is to define the strategy and oversee the implementation of that in the area of Professional Development and certificate programmes. Dessy has been working in the education industry for over 20 years, with extensive experience in the private and public sector.