Good branding is all about communicating values. The Nike "Swoosh" logo is often cited as one of the greatest bits of branding in the world, but this has significantly more to do with the fact that the business has poured billions of dollars into communication and endorsement strategies to attach values to the device than any artistic genius on the part of the logo itself. Thankfully, great branding can be accomplished for somewhat less than billions if you understand the process.

"Quality", "Professional", "Experience" – These old chestnuts are not particularly useful in the brand development process of a business. The truth is that if you are offering a commercial product or a professional service, essential competence is taken as a given. The commercial world is a savage old place and any business that ISN'T all of these things and more, will not be in business for very long.

Brands are like people, some are characters, some are bores. Some you like, some you don't. The mistake many people make is that they understandably want their business to be loved by everyone. But just like in life, this is simply impossible and to try will ultimately lead to frustration, uniformity and blandness.

Beware of input from friends and family in the brand development process as they come burdened with very definite and well-formed ideas of the values they associate with YOU over the years they have known you. For a commercial entity this is often far from helpful, as the business may need to occupy a very different value space than you do personally. This is when an experienced external pair of eyes can be worth their weight in gold.

Look to the small things, the individual ticks and quirks which are unique to your product, service or organization. Even the way you answer the telephone, the formality, or lack of it, of your e-mails, the speed you respond to enquiries are all representatives of your brand that sends messages into the marketplace. Over time, these build into a set of values that clients, customers, staff, competition feel when they consider your business. The use of the word "Feel" is important – I very deliberately didn't use "Think". Effective branding produces an emotive response which is not necessarily a conscious reaction.

It's not always an easy process. But it is a hugely valuable one. Real brand differentiation will allow you to pitch your business out of the commodity and retain a premium. It will mean that instead of searching for your product or service in Google – people search specifically for your brand and in one fell swoop you have just avoided the financial tar pit of the search engine optimization jamboree.

Beyond the accounts and the clinical assessment of your balance sheet, a truly distinctive brand will add significant value to your exit plans. Nurture it, develop it and live up to it and it will reward you many times over.

Article by John Tait of Lazy Grace Ltd.

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