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Above: It's hard to think of Lancôme without the unique lettering that makes up the manifestation of the company's brand

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    Branding your business

    How does a business go about branding itself? Marketers have put forward numerous theories but few have come up with a succinct guide. Julia Ptasznik remedies this in her guide to branding

    EVERY DAY, we are bombarded by millions of messages. They’re everywhere, from print media to highway billboards, local supermarkets, public phone booths, our mailboxes, radios and television sets.
       Add to that the explosive growth of the internet and the new communication opportunities this medium presents, and today’s business owner or manager has a near-impossible task at hand: making his or her message stand out among the noise generated by others.
       Corporate giants long ago figured that the first and most important step in accomplishing this goal is maintaining a continuity of corporate look and message in all their communications. Practically everyone is familiar with not only the names, but also the visual identities of well-established companies such as Citibank, Lancôme, and Mercedes-Benz, as well as the newer web-based businesses like America Online and About.com.
       While all of these companies operate in drastically different industries and have entirely dissimilar agendas, they have one crucial thing in common.
       In a nutshell, this "thing" is what marketers refer to as "branding" one’s business. Why, you ask, should a smaller, and, perhaps, privately held, business worry about such complicated matters?
       The answer is simple. Clearly, a smaller business doesn’t need to aspire to the level of global recognition achieved by the aforementioned firms. However, there is no reason why it cannot become a household name in its primary geographic area or a narrowly defined industry segment. And that can only lead to one thing—growth and continuity of business, despite the economic situation at any given time.
       While it is impossible to cover a topic as broad as branding fully within the body of one article, there are some recommendations that can be made for businesses that have not had previous experience in this area.

    Visual identity
    The first of two crucial components of branding is visual identity, the core of which is the business or product logo. The most common mistake made by smaller businesses is either neglecting this aspect of promotion entirely, or taking a very simplistic, do-it-yourself approach. A good example of the latter would be to consider an acronym of the business name, set in all caps in a "nice" typeface, an adequate solution to the logo problem. It isn’t. Without getting into an in-depth discussion of design, an effective logo should:

    • be unique. For instance, if you are based in Texas, it is not a very good solution to use a star as a key element of your logo—first, because that in itself doesn’t say anything special about the business, and second, because hundreds of other Texas-based companies have done the same;
    • instantly communicate the nature of the business, product, or service. This can be interpreted in two ways—literal or abstract. An example of the former is the well-known Burger King logo, a burger. Enough said. On the other hand, Citibank’s "blinking eye" symbol (used prior to Citicorp’s recent merger with Travelers Group) was more abstract, having nothing directly to do with banking, but representative of the company’s tagline ‘The Citi Never Sleeps’;
    • be appealing to the target audience. A good case in point here is use of colour. If you are selling a sophisticated service such as banking, for example, using hot pink as a corporate colour is probably not a good idea. The consumer is never going to take you seriously. On the other hand, if you are a florist, bright colours are definitely the way to go;
    • be able to withstand the test of time. Remember the popular culture "punk" style of the ’80s, when everything from hair colour to fashion, art and movies was very colourful, eclectic and somewhat light-hearted? The movement lasted for a decade, to be gradually replaced by a more serious, streamlined and minimalist style of the ’90s, forcing us all to buy new clothes. Well, when considering a logo design, you don’t want to go shopping for a new one every couple of years. Thus, it is never a good idea to stylize the design to such a point that it will become unusable once the current fad goes out of fashion. Classic and timeless are the words to keep in mind;
    • be able to work in context of all potential communications’ media. For instance, if your logo only looks good in colour and you advertise your product mainly in local newspapers, this will present a production problem. The symbol will become distorted, if not unreadable. Another good example is the use of type in logos created for web-based businesses. Typefaces that look good on paper, such as those that are elaborate, illustrative, and fancy, do not translate well to the screen at low resolutions. In those cases, one should stick to the less complex fonts.

    The most important advice to be given to a business that needs a new logo is: don’t do it yourself. You hire an attorney to represent you in court; you hire an accountant to do your books. Hire a professional designer, preferably one with a speciality in identity development, to design your logo.
       Finally, visual identity only begins with a logo. A business truly needs an entire identity system, which takes into account the fonts, colorus, and many other parameters to be adhered to when creating varied promotional materials. Consistency is at the very core of successful branding, and this is yet another reason to hire a professional designer to do the job from start to finish—from initial logo design to its applications to advertising, packaging, corporate literature, web sites, and whatever other promotional materials a business may need.

    continued: Positioning

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    Copyright ©2000 by Julia Ptasznik. This edition copyright ©2001 by JY&A Media, a division of Jack Yan & Associates. All rights reserved.