In today’s world, we all know about branding because we are constantly surrounded by it and exposed to its effects. Even those that say they are immune to branding are subtly and subconsciously affected by its pervasiveness (trust me, you are). We are surrounded by brands and we buy into them to a greater or lesser extent on a daily basis. Actually, we are subjected to this on an hourly, if not on a minute-by-minute basis. Our respite is when we sleep.
We simply cannot help ourselves because brands are everywhere. For example, I don’t think that I’m overly brand-conscious. But I will only ever eat one brand of Baked Beans (one with 57 varieties) and I really don’t know why I am so convinced they are the best that I will never consider an alternative. I know it is illogical but it is true. I do truly believe these beans are best and I’m not going to be persuaded otherwise.
What is the purpose of branding?
Branding is essentially business short-hand. It is a quick and simple way for customers, employees and the general public to identify and understand the product quality and values of a particular company and their propositions. It is simple stereotyping and, as human beings, it is something we do instinctively because it is too time-consuming to undertake long mental evaluations and comparisons. We are just saving ourselves time. However, we do these evaluations continuously with even the most mundane of decisions. ’Which toothpaste should I buy?’ Brands make such commercial decisions quicker and easier.
Some may think that branding is the devil’s work and that it is the epitome of commercialism run wild. There was actually a book about ‘No Logo‘ (but, of course, logos and brands are different). For me, branding is simply a function of human nature. As humans, we study patterns (mostly subconsciously) and, when it is possible, we then use those to build short-cuts in decision-making. Some consumers worry that brands are expensive, unnecessary and remove choice. For us to be so seduced by brands would impart a degree of power that they just don’t have – we all have free-will; a choice to do what we want with our own money and nobody is compelled to purchase anything that they don’t want to.
Brands typically have been used as a short-cut to identify higher quality products and services. It allows us to quickly identify something worthwhile from a crowded and noisy market-place, saving us time and money in testing and deciding whether products are worth considering for our time, attention and money. Brands carry a cost therefore higher quality, more expensive products (and services) have typically invested in and employed them.
A: Brands influence but don’t compel action
Is it effective? Is it effective in a professional services environment?
Simple answer to both questions here: yes and yes.
How do we know this? Well, partly because so many people use branding means that it is effective. And time too. Branding has been around from the 60s (well before then actually but it was this point that advertising agencies put deliberate efforts into them). Frankly, business is all about maximising profits and branding would have died as a process if it didn’t work. In addition to this, you can check turnover and margin of similar products, some branded and some not. Even with the extra expense of branding taken into account, the branded products are more successful. Typically, this would be significant – +10% turnover and margin improvement is not unheard of. In certain markets, a strong brand would generate a +50-100% improvement over a non-branded alternative.
Professional Service branding is something a bit different. Firstly, we are considering a service so branding becomes something a bit more abstract. We are not talking about physical product but there are physical manifestations that hint to clients at what the service will be like. Think about the amount of expense and time that professional service firms put into designing and implementing things like the client meeting rooms and receptions. High quality and expensive furniture suggests something to new clients.
Beyond that, branding in professional service organisations can affect the look / feel of the working environment, communications (paper document, electronic documents, websites etc), uniforms (if worn) and, probably most importantly, the culture of the organisation. Get this right and you will differentiate your organisation in a very positive way.
Is it worth developing a brand? Do I already have one?
It is likely that you already have a brand even if you don’t think that you do. Your clients and prospects will have a set of thoughts and opinions about you based on how your firm acts now and in the past. This is essentially your brand. It is the shortcut of what you are.
Is it worth developing a brand you control? Yes, it is almost certain that you have a brand but it would be much better if you take it over and develop a brand in a more deliberate fashion. Do you not have a plan to provide office space for your firm? You also have a plan for training new staff and getting trainees through exams? Should you not take such a deliberate (but, admittedly, less frequent) control over your brand. Of course it is. The main question you have to ask yourself is, ‘How much should I actually invest in this?’ It is about identifying the correct value of investment.
Is it expensive to do this?
First things first, it will require investment to develop a strong brand and it will also require on-going investment to retain and even build on the strength of that brand. Why? Brands erode over time and, to be strong and relevant, they need to communicate something relevant to consumers on an ongoing basis.
What we are talking about is more than just design (although design is a strong element of this). Brands are build up of corporate values and they are physically expressed through design. So, you will have to consider investment in literature, websites, email signatures, PowerPoint and Word templates, business cards, signage, exhibition stands, car stickers, advertising templates (all external and internal communication devices really). You will dilute the effect without a consistency of approach.
What are we talking about in terms of expense? It depends on how deep you go. If you are going to chance everything then it will be more expensive. You could be talking multiple thousands of pounds. However, to get a good graphic identity and to implement that over your print and electronic media could be a small number of thousands and is a great first step. One piece of advice here – don’t do this ‘on the cheap’ with your printer. Pay for a proper agency to do it. It will be so much better if it is well thought out and focuses on strengths.
Does branding add value? Is this realisable?
What sort of value will a process like this add? Well, do this well and you will be able to defend and even stretch your margin. It will also increase the volume of new clients (well it won’t, but it will give you more enquiries). It will allow you to expand the size of your base. Why do we know this? Because we know that branded products (and services) are able to command better commercial positions. It will also help with the following too:
- higher levels of client satisfaction: because clients have a clearer idea of what you stand for
- higher levels of client satisfaction 2: will extend the average length of stay of your clients – they will stay for longer
- shorter sales cycle: again, clients don’t need so long to get to know you
- better margins: clients perceive that your service is higher quality
So, branding seems to be a worthwhile marketing activity. But it requires commitment and it needs ongoing investment to stay relevant. And lastly, even if many of the benefits are a touch intangible, there are things that even the most sceptical accountant (or other professional) can touch: new business cards, PowerPoint presentation and letter headed paper for example.
Another way of realising this additional value is via selling your business (bit extreme we realise). Strong branding will push up the valuation and you will make more money. And that is good business.
If you would like to know more or speak to us please contact Grant Sayer on M: 07588 444302 or John Stoddart on M: 07788 445903 or Email: email@example.com or see our website at www.centriclogic.com
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