Avoiding Six Common Ways to Sabotage Your Brand

Do you think branding is only for the big guys? If so, you're missing an important opportunity. Branding can increase and protect sales at every point in the selling process, from manufacturing to the retail kitchen and bath dealership.

Branding is the foundation that supports and directs all marketing efforts. Its importance can hardly be overstated. Mastering a few critically important branding principles could help everyone in the kitchen and bath industry, including most retailers and many manufacturers.

Branding creates top-of-the-mind awareness, so when a customer wants your product or services, they think of you, not your competitor. Branding also protects your pricing from the ever-present pressure to discount. In addition, branded products and companies weather slow times better and engender greater customer loyalty, an essential buffer when problems arise.

For kitchen and bath dealers and designers, this means being known and liked by local referrers builders, architects, interior designers and your own former customers. It also means that end users must see a polished, consistent image and a positive, targeted message throughout their contact with you.

Actually, it helps to remember that you have a "brand," whether you want it or not. It's an amalgam of your reputation, your history and your image. If it is inconsistent, inappropriate, weak or negative, your brand is hurting your business.

ACTIONS TO AVOID

Here are six ways that many companies sabotage their brands along with tips for how to avoid doing so.

1. Look like everyone else. To succeed, your company needs a different brand, one that stands out from the crowd. Begin by identifying your strengths and building your brand around them.

Imagine your brand as a personality one that would attract people in your target market. How can you infuse your marketing with that personality?

Brands also need authenticity. Your brand must reflect the reality of the products and services you sell. If you are what your customers expect, they will like what they find.

A brand is a promise, and if you promise what you really are, it's a lot easier to deliver.

Once you get a sense for "who" your product or company is, you can decide what to do to capitalize on or improve your image. Your brand must be executed visually and verbally in a way that resonates with the core of your target market. That's a job for experts the best marketers and graphic designers you can afford.

2. Run out of steam before you implement. Creating a brand involves doing market research; naming the company, products and/or services; designing a logo, and writing your key message.

It takes so much effort, in fact, that some owners collapse in exhaustion at that point!

However, once you have created your brand, pat yourself on the back and begin the real work, which is to use what you have developed. Print up signs, stationery and business cards. Use your new image for trucks, ads, direct mail and public relations.

Begin replacing all old materials with your new branding. You don't have to throw everything out at once, but the faster you use up the old, the sooner the new can go to work for you.

3. Underestimate the power of the Web. A recent study by the National Kitchen & Bath Association revealed that 80% of consumers use the Internet for kitchen and bath renovation research. Among trade professionals such as builders, architects and interior designers, that figure rises to 90%.

The fact is, people have changed the way they shop, especially for big-ticket items such as kitchens and baths. You now must orchestrate a two-step process, driving Web traffic first and then closing at the store.

4. Leave your brand at the door.

Your staff needs to understand and believe in your brand, and the store needs to carry your brand through to the point of sale. Bring your brand to life in the d''cor, signage, staff apparel and in-store events.

Examine every moment of the store experience for opportunities to demonstrate your brand. Maintain a store whose physical presence reflects the quality your branding promises.

5. Dribble away your precious ad budget. It's sad but too common that business owners get talked into putting poorly designed "business card" ads in every high school yearbook or community bulletin. Don't let it happen.

The success of your business matters more to your community than a few wasted dollars. Spend every ad dollar where it will make a difference to your business.

Consumer Spending & Attitudes reports that 70% of all purchase decisions are made in the store, so use your advertising to achieve what matters most get people to your Website

and then into your showroom, buying from you.

6. Keep changing your brand. Consistency is critical to successful branding. Once you establish a strong brand, work it.

Getting tired of your advertising? Good! About the time you get tired of it, your customers may have seen it often enough to remember it. You will need fresh messages now and then, but a good ad agency knows how to incorporate these while keeping your brand consistent.

When you have a sound brand, it lasts for years, although it will evolve over time. According to an American Demographics survey, "brand quality, image and reputation" are ranked as

the single most influential factor by consumers.

The branding opportunity

Large companies have given us many good examples to learn from. Their experiences leave little doubt about the value of branding or that it begins with this simple strategy:

'' Develop a strong brand.

'' Search out every opportunity to protect and extend it that brand.

'' Act on those opportunities.

Many dealers, designers and retailers in the kitchen and bath industry, as well as niche manufacturers, have relied on personal contacts, rather than branding. That means that the advantages of branding are waiting to be seized upon. Putting this crucial element into practice may be just what you need to take your business to the next level.

Rose A.O. Kleidon is professor emeritus at the University of Akron in Ohio and the v.p. and creative director of Kleidon & Associates, an advertising firm that has served manufacturers and retailers in the building products and construction industries for more than three decades. You can visit the company's Website at www.kleidon.com, or call Kleidon at 1-866-252-5766 for additional information.

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