Branding has never been the same, never been more critical and more purpose-led. The 21st century brands are building highly successful and powerful corporate identities that are everything many companies can’t compete with. Prestigious brands aren’t simply logos, colours, and designs: they speak volumes of what a company stands for, what they do, believe in, and are willing to do for their target audience.
Companies are no longer interested in creating mediocre identities – many brands today are keeping the customers more in focus; creating humanity-based services and products, building partnerships with discerning customers who don’t only want their needs to be satisfied – but beyond that also understand what the brand truly stands for and if their interest is indeed at the heart of the company.
The line has been drawn between company brands, what they provide, and their customers – with technology being the line that’s giving companies an unprecedented degree of influence, many brands have become widely conscious and responsible toward the people, community, and – yes – also the businesses they serve.
Now, the challenge is how ambitious small businesses can aspire to build brands that will deeply serve, influence, and genuinely shape their markets. Looking at how critical branding has become key in businesses’ successes, it’s even more indispensable that small brands do not see themselves as ‘small’ but be prepared for explosive creativity, committed to significantly investing time and money in building their brands – thus harnessing their potentials of becoming bigger brands.
The 21st-century brand
What is a 21st-century brand? But first, what’s branding?
In brief, branding is how customers recognise and experience your business – sounds simple? The process of building a recognisable brand and creating a memorable impression on customers is not only in simple words.
The power of branding can influence customer behaviour, build a solid reputation, and increase a company’s profitability. The 21st century brand is one that has a combination of the above and incredibly stands out from the competition. It is called the millennia age – mind-blowing creativity, disruptive storytelling, content – and consistency in conveying the brand’s message to the consumer and/or clients. Small businesses are not playing small anymore – these small brands are headed by fresh brains and an extraordinary drive for winning.
The pandemic, COVID-19, has taught and is teaching businesses the importance of branding and what the customers truly need at this point. It is not just teaching businesses but also customers as to what matters and which brand is paying keen attention to their needs.
The 21st century brand is also cutting-edge and thinks outside the box. The logo, brand colours, and hashtags are good – but not enough. Staying relevant means defining the experience for your clients. Branding sets the tone and represents the voice of the customer.
The true importance of branding
Excellent branding is what every business should be employing in this challenging global situation, as customers have become clear-sighted and less trusting – earning customer loyalty today is a difficult task. A brand’s identity, being the first thing a customer experiences, is important to create a memorable one. Today, in 2021, businesses can’t get away with bad branding – no matter how small the business is. Branding is crucial, as much as businesses making money is critical.
A company’s brand plays a key role in offering customers guidance and conveying expectations of the brand’s quality and support for their purchasing decisions. Although other factors are influencing a company’s brand identity, its importance cannot be overlooked. The customer is now exposed to many alternatives and open to options for better offerings – hence, creating customer awareness is one of the important factors of branding. Customer loyalty, product differentiation, unique identity, competitive advantage, are some of the important facets of creating a 21st century brand.
Making the major brand decisions
Brand success depends on many other strategic decisions; and for small businesses to win, these decisions must impact the aim of establishing a distinguished presence in their specific markets. As yet, I have covered the overview of brand development which comprises the image, logo, colours, content, etc. The other complex brand decisions are:
- Brand positioning
- Brand sponsorship
- Brand name selection
- Brand development
I am not going to expand on the decision list, but to briefly explain what it means for a holistic brand to be built on these strategic decisions to project the company’s images positively. A strategic decision is crucial to effectiveness – A brand’s strategy consists of the approach the company’s utilises to channel its brand. Consider brand strategy as the blueprint for how the world sees your brand. Some key questions to ask in establishing the basis of your brand should be:
- Does the company/product need a brand?
- What should be the brand’s name – should it be reflective or unusual?
- How should the brand be structured – as a manufacturer, private brand or licencing etc.? What strategy should you run?
Year-long, brand loyalty is vanishing because of customers’ enlightenment; so when making the best but tactical brand decisions, remember to keep them simple and unique. Shifting the orientation toward brand clarity and simplicity, and helping customers to confidently identify with a brand and its offering, requires companies to indulge in the new and rethink disruption. Small businesses can learn some tricks from leading brands. To help clients evaluate options, brands should describe their differentiating offering and benefits. For emerging brands and competitive small brands, the need to take a fix is necessary.
Building the most rewarding and influential brand
A brand should be coercive, consistent, not disconnected; and compelling even when replaced. Many organisations, especially small businesses, suffer from multiple brand crisis – a total mismatch of what they portray to stand for; a contrast between intent and perception. Their brand stories are not consistent and lack a solid identity. The way forward in a competitive yet challenging business situation is to be ‘sticky’ and original, without leading customers down a confusing identity path.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Nothing about growing a successful business brand is easy and cheap. There are millions of existing companies and emerging brands every hour of the day, and each with a distinctive identity.
But a rigorous approach to building a rewarding and influential brand is doable, and here’s how:
- Be purpose-led
Branding through the crisis is hard-biting. Having all the fancy, colourful content and brand identity resources is awesome; but without an ultimate purpose, aim or goal, it all becomes just a beautiful creation. Businesses should define the goal for their brand, making it easy to achieve brand success. What is the brand beyond profit? Again, the reason for the brand’s establishment is the core, the purpose that informs the brand’s vision and mission, and more. Defining the purpose not only improves customer loyalty, but also creates customer empathy and association – and even better, improves profitability.
A goal’s destination is as important as the purpose itself. A brand’s target is not the same as its customer-focus. Let us understand it this way: it is like having a specific product in mind to purchase as a customer, and then that product directly featuring your preferences to highly satisfying the desire. Then, a product is built for a specific customer with the importance of the customer in mind; not for the brand, but built for the customer. Who the brand is designed for is the customer the brand has in mind – the target.
Understanding the current ‘crisis customer’ preferences and behaviour is key to serving their needs endlessly. What does the customer need at this moment? How best do we fulfil that need? What should guide our principles toward offering delivery? These are critical times – like the infamous phrase “we’re not in normal times”, and customer satisfaction should not be considered normal. The days of the customer doesn’t know what s/he wants is yester-year.
Technology-enabled trends are addressing customer’s preferences, allowing competitive brands to influence these preferences. Brands are also using technology to power their content and tell their brand’s stories – be inspired, be connected, and get tech-savvy
- Narrative-based – telling the brand’s story
The best brands are storytellers. What’s the story? It has never been cheap telling another’s story. Consistency, uniqueness, and relatable content-sharing go with originality; to unify all brand components with one shared brand story. How many customers make purchasing decisions based on statistics? Emotional entreaty is the fastest way brands connect with their customers – stories are the most powerful method for winning customers’ hearts. Go tell your story.
>>> the writer is a business development consultant and writer. She’s the founder and CEO of Commec Group LLC, formerly, Commec Ghana Ltd, a business development company. Business activities of Commec Group include Consulting, Business Development, Publishing, and Marketing. Our companies are Commec BD (Business Development and Consulting Firm), Dots n’ Commas (Content Writing and Publishing), and Hub 100 (startup support center and hub).
Harmony is a three-time awardee by the CEO Global South Africa as Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business & Government 2016 Awards finalists, 2017 Regional winner – Ghana and 2018 and 2019 Regional and Country winner for Best SME in Ghana.
Awarded the best female-owned Corporate Marketing Company in Ghana by the MEA – Awards 2016 (Middle East Awards) and listed as part of 100 Most Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs 2017 – Ghana, by TSN – Women-Rising. She is also a YALI 2015 alumni (A president Obama – Young African Leaders Initiative, Regional Center West -Africa)
For her hard work and achievements toward becoming a leading entrepreneur, and her successes as a business consultant and entrepreneur, she was nominated as a New Leader and member of The Crans De Montana Forum for Tomorrow Leaders (A Swiss-based Organisation) for young global leaders and among other awards and nominations.
Harmony is open to business partnerships and freelanced contracts. For business inquiries, consulting, engagements, and any other information, please send an email to [email protected] Or visit www.commec.group /Phone: +233 593158837 / 265805201