I’ve had the good fortune to consult with and position a number of companies, big and small, about the authenticity, impact and trust of their brands. I’ve learned that a company’s long-term success is inextricably attached to its brand—the way it’s perceived, valued and experienced in the minds of consumers, and specifically a Company’s target market publics. Well-established companies often struggle with essential pieces of the equation from time to time.

I offer for your brief consideration, 11 practical points to better understand, guide and build or enhance your brand.

ONE: Know yourself.
Have you stopped to consider what makes you tick? Identifying the core values of your business is essential to building a meaningful and powerful brand. As people move from your website and marketing collateral to human interaction, your brand simply must ring true. No good will come of creating a smiley face to paint on and peel off at will. A brand is something that you are and something that you live. Therefore, you have to start by honestly evaluating your virtues, strengths and, yes, even your weaknesses.
When I say this, I’m echoing William Shakespeare: “This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

TWO: Know your market.
Think of your brand as a living organism within the broader market ecosystem. Like it or not, brands are not built in isolation—they’re complex systems that continuously change and develop, constantly influenced by the world around them.
You must start the process of brand building by understanding perfectly all of the industry trends, competitive forces, and consumer preferences that provide context for the environment in which your brand—which includes your offering—will live and grow. Understand perfectly who your competitors are, and what they are doing. How are they positioning themselves? Who are they selling to, and what are they selling? What areas of the market are saturated, and where do you see opportunities?

THREE: Know your buyer.
From the analysis of the market you’ve transacted with so far, you have a sense of who your customer is—now it’s time to get more specific. Whether you use surveys, interviews or focus groups, you need to talk to your customers, (and potential customers), to really understand them.
You’ll want to consider who they are and—more importantly—what is going on in their heads and hearts. What motivates them? What intrinsic needs are they looking for help with? How do they make buying decisions? How do they measure success? How do they communicate?
By answering questions like this, you can reach a very clear understanding of who your customer really is. These “targets” may be segmented into several different buyer types, which you can then neatly package into buyer personas, which are humanized characterizations of who they are.

FOUR: Differentiate.
Identifying and communicating what makes your company better than the competition, lies at the very core of creating a brand that people can latch on to.
Unless you can succinctly explain what gives you the edge over your competitors, you’ll be restricted to selling on price, instead of on value. And unless you want to sell a million widgets in order to make a million dollars, selling on price is not a solid business strategy. Walmart has already cornered that market.

FIVE: Understand the benefits your brand offers.
Your product or service delivers both tangible and intangible benefits. Performance benefits define what the good, or service does for the consumer, whereas relationship benefits define how the consumer feels about it. Said another way, performance benefits provide the rationale for a buying decision, but that decision is ultimately made because of the emotional relationship benefits the consumer is really after.

For example, you can justify the purchase of a luxury German sports car, because you want to get from Point A to Point B with superior handling and zippy acceleration, but you’re really buying the status and sense of accomplishment that come with the car.

Are you perfectly clear about the benefits your offering provides the market? Maybe you should talk to a few customers and get their thoughts on why they really buy from you.

SIX: Define your core essence.
Speaking of differentiation, what are you really selling?
If Coke sells HAPPINESS and Disney sells MAGIC and Simmons sells BETTER SLEEP, what’s the special je ne sais quoi—or essence—behind the wares you’re peddling?

Your core essence drives directly to the heart of the benefit you offer. And since consumers buy benefits before they buy features, it’s essential that you know precisely the value you provide. Once identified, your core essence will be a measure for everything you do and say.

SEVEN: Stake a brand position.
Let the market know who you are, and what role you play. If you don’t stake your claim, consumers will do so for you. Or worse yet, competitors may relegate you to a position that’s advantageous for them.

Be clear about what you want to accomplish and go after it. You’ll find that everyone in your organization will benefit from a well-articulated brand position. Write a brand positioning statement that defines your specific target market, references the industry you’re in, differentiates your company and provides proof points to add credibility to the position you seek to establish.

EIGHT: Create branded experiences.
In an era trademarked by ubiquitous advertising, information overload, material excess and hyper-consumption, most consumers aren’t just looking to buy products. Rather, today’s loyal customers are attracted and retained through buying experiences, that captivate their emotions and imaginations.
Picture the difference between buying a computer at Best Buy vs. the Apple store, or a trip to Target vs. a trip to Nordstrom. Powerful brands provide consumers with engaging experiences and cultures. How can you deliver your product or service in a way that makes people stop and say, “Wow!” and then share their experience on Twitter?

NINE: Analyze your brand touch points.
Brands are created in consumers’ minds, as they tally the sum of all the human and symbolic interactions they have with an organization, and its offerings. Analyzing your touch points, will help you determine whether or not you’re consistent in conveying the same messages and experiences. Mixed signals will leave people feeling disconnected, and your brand will languish in; in authenticity.

And don’t think that a brand’s most important touch points are embodied in branding visuals—it’s just the opposite. As with an iceberg, only a small portion of a brand’s heft is embodied in outward or visible expressions, such as logos, brochures and websites. Its real power lies below the surface, characterized by one’s actual experience.

TEN: Articulate your messaging.
Concise. Compelling. Consistent.
If these three words don’t describe the way you talk about your business—whether on your website, in person or through your marketing collateral—your target audience is likely missing what you have to say.

To be concise, don’t use 10 words when five will do—you’ll only create distractions. To be compelling, speak in terms of your audience’s self-interests. To be consistent, repeat your perfectly crafted messages throughout all your communications media. Most of all, be artful and clever, speaking to each audience in a way that will be emotionally engaging and hard to ignore.

ELEVEN: Train and protect.

Would you ever buy a valuable asset and not protect it?
So it is with your brand. The time and money you’ll spend building a successful brand is a significant investment—one that requires vigilant protection.

Establish buy-in across your entire organization, and train every employee on his or her role in living the brand. As you empower employees to proudly own the brand touch points they’re responsible for, you’ll find much greater success than you would by trying to police your staff at every turn. Your brand must become part of your internal culture.

Follow these steps to build a brand that cements customer loyalty, increases revenue and creates lasting value for your business. You’ll be surprised by how much you enjoy the process, and at how much you learn about yourself and your company.
It would be my professional pleasure to work with your team!