Apple Inc. is still on a roll. The computer and consumer electronics juggernaut is the most respected brand of any American company. That’s according to Harris Interactive’s annual public opinion poll on corporate brands and reputations.
Apple beat out last year’s winner, search engine giant Google Inc., for the top spot.
Respondents rated companies on six qualities: leadership, financial performance, workplace environment, social responsibility, emotional appeal and the overall quality of products and services.
The Harris report said that for several years running, tech companies have been consistently associated with innovation, leadership, and strong sense of vision.
And who’s at the bottom of the reputation and brand rankings? Assorted financial institutions and big banks. AIG ranks dead last, behind Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.
But what exactly is a brand? Ask 20 different business or marketing experts and you might get 20 different answers, but most would agree at least in part that a brand – in the modern sense – is the essence of a company and the products or services it brings to the market.
An effective brand triggers images or thoughts that capture the identity or personality of the company. Perceptions are critical to good branding. Consider these brands and what they bring to mind: BMW (Quality). FedEx (Efficiency, speed). Harvard (Elite). Rolex (Prestige). Florida (Fun, relaxation). Ritz-Carlton (Elegance, class). Harley-Davidson (Powerful, edgy).
But forget the big guys for a moment. How’s your company’s brand doing? Your business does not need household word status to engage in intelligent branding. A good brand can build customer loyalty, attract the kind of consistent business you want, and even help you recruit the right employees.
Defining your brand
Answer three questions:
- Who are you and what makes you different? Apple has consistently connected with its customers by offering innovative, fun products of very high quality. And although the company’s fortunes have reversed dramatically in recent years, for a very long time Apple cultivated a rebel/underdog image that helped build customer loyalty.
- What problems do you solve for customers, or how do you make their lives better? It’s hard to imagine now, but FedEx more or less invented the overnight delivery business. Competitors have come and gone, but FedEx remains the standard for efficiency, reliability, and bringing peace of mind to businesses that need important documents delivered quickly.
- Who are you best-suited to help? Your market is not “everybody.” Consider FedEx again. The company never positioned itself as a resource for senders of birthday cards, magazine publishers, or junk mail. The processes the company was putting in place were ideal for speedy, reliable delivery of time sensitive documents, and customers were very willing to pay premium pricing for the service.
Building the Brand
Effective branding doesn’t happen overnight, but there are steps you can take to move the process along.
- Be consistent. This is most important of all. Always deliver exactly what you promote your brand to be. Assuming that Rolling Stone magazine wants to remain relevant and edgy, the editors would be foolish to put Pat Boone on the cover. If your company can’t make good on the perceptions your brand is trying to create, you’re better off re-branding as something different, or if you’re really missing the mark, re-thinking some of your business processes.
- Be an expert. This is not as hard as you might think. You likely know far more than you are aware about certain facets of your industry. Build your company’s brand by speaking at conferences and trade shows. Or write a white paper addressing a matter of concern to your customer base. Offer to consult with your state legislature on proposed regulations or rules that could impact your industry, and make sure these efforts are mentioned in local or industry publications.
- Be visible. Work with a professional designer to make sure your website, packaging, stationery, and anything else that carries your company’s name is uniform and portrays the image you’re promoting. Logos and trademarks don’t make a brand, but they’re still very important. If you decide to “re-brand” with a new corporate look, you have a ready-made event for media coverage, and a great reason to contact current, former, and prospective customers.
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