Perception is reality, and the perceptions of today’s consumers are usually seeded in simple, clean imagery that comes at them short and sweet. That’s why proper branding is so vital in the market of today and tomorrow.
Branding a store or a product goes beyond developing a recognizable logo or a catchy tagline. The philosophy transmitted by your marketing image should carry through from your graphic collateral to your physical showroom.
Apple Inc. offers one of the best examples of how marketing graphics can create an image in the minds of consumers that is memorable and provides an emotional trigger. Apple’s logo has become one of the most recognized images in the world. When consumers spot it, they don’t think of fruit. They think about new, life-changing computers and mobile devices – and not just any computers and mobile devices. Among all other laptops, the Apple is distinctive in its sleek silver metallic-looking design and its reputation for reliability and efficiency. Apple’s innovative iPhone is the standard by which today’s mobile devices are compared.
When a consumer spots the Apple logo, those products – and the experience of using the products – come directly into his or her consciousness.
The company’s simple, clean logo also carries over into its Apple Stores, where uncluttered simplicity reigns supreme. The popularity of those showrooms is proof of the success of Apple’s branding. In fact, according to a May 2011 article in Tech News Daily, the most photographed attraction in Manhattan isn’t the Empire State Building, Times Square or Ground Zero. It is the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.
That exemplifies why Forbes magazine last October rated Apple as the top brand in the world.
According to Forbes, the Apple brand is worth 59 percent more than Microsoft, which ranks No. 2 in brand value. The value of Apple’s effective branding is evident in the fact that Apple spends about half as much as Microsoft spends on advertising to help get its message across.
But spending a pile of money is not the point here. It’s the commitment, experience and thoughtful plan, which uses all of the touch points to make the brand memorable. The goal is to conjure a perception of reliability in the minds of consumers. Even people who don’t buy Apple products know and recognize the brand as a symbol of quality and success.
The courage to change
Some kitchen and bath firm owners may be apprehensive about messing with their company’s image – particularly if it’s a business that has been around for a long time. But consider that even a brand as globally recognized as Starbucks was not beyond change. The company recently made a bold move by revising the way it presented its well known and trusted brand to keep up with global trends.
The change aimed to enhance the readability and recognition of the Starbucks brand through the strength of a strong graphic statement. Thus, the company name was dropped from its logo.
That kind of a move takes courage for a company of any size. But Starbucks recognized that a clean, uncluttered and highly visual look, in a bold format, would cross any culture and language.
What Starbucks did was convert its logo into one of instant identity – no words are needed. Like the golden arches of McDonald’s or the famous Nike swoosh, the Starbucks logo is now instantly recognized up close or at a distance.
Why not us?
Other companies are influencing our purchasing with these kinds of decisions in brand communication and identity. However, our kitchen and bath industry seems to be slow to embrace and adopt a more modern, clean and crisp visual branding.
Maybe that’s because it can be both costly and risky if it is planned incorrectly.
It’s true that the Apple and Starbucks illustrations are very different from the products we market. It’s also true that we are still a very fragmented industry with products that are not always recognized through the lens of a brand name by our consumers.
Although Starbucks is known for coffee, what it sells is a commodity. The brand is associated with service and an experience. The experience includes the look, smell and overall atmosphere of its coffee shops. It includes the way its products are presented, including the attitude and delivery of its employees.
Our marketing budgets likely fall short of those of Apple and Starbucks. Nevertheless, the importance of branding cannot be overstated.
In our new world of visual statements and storytelling, a simple logo and/or a distinct color scheme trumps a wordy, cluttered message in the competition for a consumer’s attention. Consistent image and a simple message are important in marketing your business today.
Having a potential customer simply notice your logo is not enough. Your logo and/or tagline must create an emotional association with the consumer from your Web site – increasingly the first experience with your business – to your showroom, to your products, to the way you conduct your business. Even the way your staff connects and engages visitors is a part of the package.
So how do your branding efforts connect with your showroom design?
Your showroom is your physical space. It visually shows visitors who you are in look, sound and feel. We know today that most consumers shop online before visiting a showroom. So a consistent look and message should carry through the Web site – and other first impressions – to your showroom and to your delivery truck if it includes graphic identity.
To create that first impression, it’s always advantageous to get input from a graphic design professional. Seek their input on style to refresh your look and image while also ensuring an authentic, respected and trusted impression. Be sure that your graphic designer understands the culture of your business in order to bring a holistic approach to your logo and marketing materials. This is where a younger Gen Y designer can offer valuable views and insights as to how this generation thinks and what attracts the young and influential wave of consumers today.
Don’t say “no” to change. Listen and learn instead.
Seriously consider new and out-of-the-box suggestions instead of dismissing a new, unfamiliar concept that is out of your comfort zone.
It’s difficult to see change sometimes on first review. But testing out the options is also part of the brand development process.
Be careful of inconsistency. Inconsistency in your message can create clutter and confusion among consumers. Branding takes discipline that goes beyond the planning phase. Consistency must be a driver every day and in all things that touch your company through its identity.
It’s likely that in a word association exercise, many people would connect “branding” with “logo.” But creating a clean, impressionable logo is only the beginning. As you begin to think about branding your business, consider how you will create consistency among the following aspects:
- Appearance of your logo and marketing collateral;
- The look and feel of your showroom;
- Initial greeting of consumers by your staff;
- Display merchandising;
- Selection areas;
- Your trucks and sign-age outside your showroom;
- Appearance of staff professionals;
- Who you associate with, i.e. professional or local organizations or accreditations.
A productive and emotionally stimulating showroom experience is essential in your branding efforts. Remember that the consumer will associate your visual logo with his or her experience with your company. Investing time and money into branding will backfire if the consumer’s ultimate showroom experience is negative. You don’t want your brand to become associated with a dated or unorganized showroom, an unfriendly employee or inferior products.
On the other hand, making your showroom into a comfortable venue for learning and interesting events can help your branding efforts. By hosting “how-to” promotions, cooking demonstrations and other in-store events, you can create a positive emotional connection between your brand and your showroom.
A complete experience
At the end of the day, branding makes a statement about who you are. Branding includes all of the touch points – from your showroom experience to an installation that is completed in a customer’s home. It involves all of the senses and plays on positive emotions.
Setting a realistic budget and a time frame for this work will keep you on track. Think about developing your brand in logical phases, as this might make the project less intimidating.
Creating branding standards without being too stifling is a way to set boundaries while still moving forward. Be sure to allow for progress, even if your budget and resources are restrictive.
The way your company is perceived by today’s consumer will affect consumer engagement and connections for gaining potential buyers. Having them connect to you and your business is key in making the sale.