Corporate branding is a vital aspect of a company's overall marketing strategy. Branding consists of a number of tactics, actions and guidelines that establish the identity and unique values of a particular company and its products. However, a corporate brand transcends what many people may think of as branding that simply uses a logo, a tagline or a particular color scheme. Successful corporate brands also reflect the company's core values, personality and mission in every point of contact a company has with its prospective, existing and past customers.
Marketing and branding experts often formulate their preferred definitions of corporate branding in varying ways. Sometimes the differences between popular definitions are slight, but on occasion they can be quite significant. One working definition from Business Dictionary.com is: “The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme.” But no matter how you define the phrase, the objective of corporate branding is differentiation. In other words, the overarching purpose of a branding strategy is always to help distinguish the company or product in question from other potential solutions and direct competitors in the marketplace.
Branding certainly starts with the very name of the product or the company, whichever is the subject of the branding effort. A good brand name is the linchpin of a solid strategy. It’s the first aspect of the brand with which prospective customers will usually come into contact. As a result, it should be memorable, unique and preferably short. A successful corporate brand extends far beyond the name into things like logos, color schemes, fonts and more. The core of the brand must be a unique name that the company can successfully trademark and protect from use by competitors or future brands.
Branding is often confused with the process of marketing, but the two are actually very different concepts. However, they do play a similar role in helping the company stand out in a crowded marketplace. Marketing is the practice of promoting your business to its audience of prospects and current customers. Branding is the collective group of signals the business uses in its marketing and advertising, as well as in all of its points of presence in the world, both online and in the day-to-day "real" world to distinguish itself from all of its competitors.
Technology, especially the internet, have combined to lower the barriers to entry into the global marketplace. That’s great for fostering a healthy level of competition in all fields or niches. Some marketing professionals view the difference as one between the strategy of branding and the tactics of marketing. But marketing can also be seen as including both strategic and practical task-oriented aspects.The corporate brand should always help guide all marketing programs and plans.
A carefully devised and diligently executed corporate brand helps increase a company’s brand equity by contributing to the positive perception of the brand in the minds of both future and existing customers. Brand equity is basically the value of the brand to the company. Strong brand equity translates to a number of positive benefits to the corporation and its shareholders, including:
- Bigger profit margin: A brand with a significant amount of brand equity can charge more for its products and services. Customers will happily pay a premium because they trust the brand and identify with its values and personality.
- Greater return on marketing investment: A brand with strong brand equity finds its marketing budget stretches farther and is more effective, allowing the company to focus on the most productive tactics to promote that brand.
- Higher share value: A strong brand value also translates into an increase in the value of the company’s shares.
A brand’s value is not something that can be artificially influenced or created overnight by a company, and it isn’t determined by visual branding elements like logos and taglines. Rather, brand equity reflects the general customer experience with the brand’s name and identity over some period of time. As months and years pass, and more positive experiences accumulate, the brand’s value naturally grows.
Brand equity can rise or fall with the reputation of the brand and company. For example, at the height of the technology boom in the late 1990s, the internet company, Pets.com, developed significant brand equity fairly quickly. By the time it went public in early 2000, the company’s share value started at $11 and rose quickly to $14. But on the day the company announced it was filing for bankruptcy just nine months later, its share value had plummeted to 19 cents, along with its brand equity.
Brand equity can be considered a part of your company' goodwill. In the corporate context, goodwill simply means the positive feelings customers have for the brand. It’s a measure of an intangible asset the company possesses, which doesn’t usually lend itself easily to being assigned a specific, numeric value, but is included in the valuation of a business. Goodwill includes such intangible concepts as brand equity, name recognition and brand loyalty.
Feelings of trust, purchase satisfaction and brand loyalty may also be viewed as increasing the brand’s value as a whole. As a general rule, the more goodwill the customer base feels towards your company, and the higher the brand’s value, the higher the overall value of the company.
A successful corporate brand consists of a singular and consistent look and feel that’s carried forward on all channels, from personal correspondence and email to company websites and social media. First and foremost, a successful corporate brand is built on the company’s authentic nature – the foundation of the company’s values and personality. The company's values are typically identified by corporate owners and leadership and may refer to principles, such as service, joy, respect and other intangible characteristics.
The business’ personality, on the other hand, is more immediate. It’s how the company behaves and interacts with others, including its customers and prospects. For example, is the company relaxed and humorous? Or is it more traditional, conservative and reserved? Just like individuals, businesses have a personality, which can help them differentiate themselves from the competition.
The corporate brand should always rest on a foundation of its corporate values and personality. However, it should also consider what purpose the company’s products and services fulfill and why the company’s proposed solutions are superior to all others. Finally, the brand should take into consideration the benefits of the corporate products and services to the customer. These benefits should be clearly stated in a written corporate branding strategy, at least for internal purposes.
Beyond the corporate brand name, a successful brand strategy will include a number of other visual, graphic and textual elements. Chief among these is a short, catchy phrase, called a tagline, that helps distill the essence of the brand for the consumer. A good tagline is essential to a successful corporate brand. It creates a memorable anchor around which the other branding elements can orbit. It helps prospective and existing customers identify the brand, its core values and its personality. A great tagline captures the essence of the benefits of the brand to customers and makes them want to buy from that brand.
On the other hand, a bad tagline is probably worse than no tagline at all, and can do serious damage to brand equity. Picking a phrase that doesn’t resonate with the business’ core audience or worse, actively offends them, will create negative associations in customers’ minds.
Visual branding elements are likewise critical. The brand’s logo is a contained graphic design or image that helps visually cement the brand. It will usually include the brand’s core color scheme. Most graphic designers experienced in logo design limit color choices to two or three tones in order to keep the logo simple and easy to visually recall and identify. By the same token, branding elements should incorporate carefully considered font choices. The right font, or typeface, can have a profound impact on the resulting brand identity, while the wrong font choice can fall flat and fail to make any impact at all.
Another, less tangible aspect of brand identity is a brand voice that’s consistent throughout all marketing and communications channels. Blog posts, social media, advertising copy and the website’s static content should all sound as if it’s being communicated by a single entity – the brand itself. The brand voice includes tone, vocabulary and an indefinable style or personality that conveys to readers a sense of what it’s like to interact with this business as a customer or client. Brand voice guidelines may also include a list of traits that the brand voice should avoid. The more help a brand can give future content creators, the more precisely they can follow those guidelines in the future.
It is critical to keep one thing in mind: Your company will have a brand, whether you take steps to design and implement one or not. That’s because a brand is in large part how the world sees your company. Your customers, leads and prospects, as well as your vendors and competitors all form an opinion of who you are, what you do and how well you do it. They will all form perceptions of your brand’s values, personality and reputation.
In that sense, a corporate brand is much more than simply a collection of fonts, images and taglines. Rather a brand will inevitably develop, even in a vacuum, over the course of the corporation’s lifetime. Given that a brand will inevitably exist, it makes more sense for a company to take the lead to affirmatively create its brand. This helps the company ensure that the brand accurately reflects its history, values, personality and mission.
Developing an accurate, successful corporate brand should be a process led by the CEO, owner or other leader based on the leader’s vision for the company. The brand should always be consistent with the overall company goals and objectives in order to reflect the true essence of and the unique philosophy behind the business.
The CEO or other head of the process should incorporate the assistance and input of an experienced marketing team, and customer input should be solicited and considered. After all, a significant aspect of a corporate brand is the customer perception of the brand. Working with the perceived strengths will strengthen and simplify the process.
Finally, the corporate brand should always be open to refinement and even full revision, if future circumstances warrant. Businesses evolve, as do products, markets and societal standards of what is acceptable. When that happens, the corporate branding should evolve, too.