Demystifying Branding – Startups, Are you Reading this?

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[This is a series of short articles started by Mayank Bidawatka, head of marketing at Redbus.in. The first part is 101 of branding, perception management and why startups should really care about it!]

What is a brand?

Without getting into a technical explanation, a brand is the perception an individual / community carries about the product/service/company.

The same product/service/company is different for different people.

So, Nike may be a good brand for Mr. X, who has heard good things about Nike, likes the swoosh sign and likes his Nike shoes.

However, Mr. Y has a lukewarm response if asked about Nike. His new Nike shoes tore in a few years. Usually shoes don’t last more than a year of hard use, but still, he had built up Nike so much in the head that he expected them to last a few years, at least.

On the other hand Ms. Z simply loves Nike. She’s never purchased a Nike product, but she’s seen her friends use it and thinks that they are cool. She loves Michael Jordan too and knows that if Michael Jordan says Nike is good, it sure should be.

You see? A brand is nothing but a perception. The perception may have a very good basis or none at all. As long as someone has an opinion about you as a brand, it should matter to you. It’s an opinion. This perception could be formed by various ways.

Branding is Simple! (Ripley's) Believe It or Not!
Branding is Simple! (Ripley's) Believe It or Not!

How is a brand formed?

This perception can be defined by:

  • A customer’s perception
    • from the use of a product
    • of the product as defined by someone like:
      • media
      • friend, relative or colleague
    • of the company’s share price and growth
    • of what the shop keeper has to say about the product
  • A distributor’s perception
    • of the product itself
    • of what customers say about it
    • of the kind of pricing strategy it adopts
    • of the kind of commission it shares with distributors
    • of the kind of advertising it adopts
    • of the way in which the sales guy dresses up and talks
    • of the car in which the sales guy goes to meet him
    • of the complaints a customer brings to him about the product
    • of the kind of gifts he gets on festivals from the company
  • A supplier’s perception (similar to the way a distributor forms the perception)
  • A media person’s perception
  • An analysts’ perception

Image management

In such an environment when people can be forming perceptions out of thin air and unverifiable reports they read in the media, it becomes even more critical to understand the role and importance of image management.

Image management / PR is not just getting written about by and in the media. It’s ensuring that the service rendered and the signal sent by the company to anybody is correct and well delivered. It means ensuring that whatever the expectations be, the delivery is more than what was expected. That’s how great brands are built.

For most, PR still means media management. That’s a very loosely held belief and fact.

Start-ups – Hit the road running

So, in case you’re a start-up and understand the need to maintain a particular image, you should be sensitive to every signal sent out by your organization. In case you plan to get a PR agency, ensure that you look at them as a partner that will consult you on every aspect of communication (not just media) and creating an image that can differentiate you from competitors. Every opinion matters in the game.

A formula that we use and that works well is to innovate in every aspect. Tomorrow you could be making visiting cards for the whole company. Before you create the standard visiting card and handover a template to your printer, the question you need to ask is, “Can I create a visiting card that differentiates us; that people talk about once we leave the room?”

Can your e-mails differentiate you as a company? Can your financial policies send a message to suppliers that you care about their working capital problems? Can you use glass cups for coffee instead of paper to convey to employees that you care about the environment? Can you give personalized gifts to employees on their birthday that tells them that they are more than a headcount? Can you call a customer to wish him on his anniversary rather than sending a mail merged e-mail?

Re-thinking every action and breaking down barriers set by tradition can ingrain innovation as a habit in the organization and build an arsenal of differentiators that will create an impact (assuming of course that the product and the delivery mechanisms are in place).

What’s your opinion?

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