Brand basics

Brand basics

Branding is the process by which you try to become the first business a person thinks of when considering buying goods or services in your category. 

Branding is the process by which you try to differentiate your business from your competitors. Just as a brand will allow your horse to be recognized among the rest of the herd, your company's brand must also differentiate it. Although your name and logo are important features of your brand, there is much more to it than that.

You must "own" your category in the minds of your customers

The absolute best way to create a brand is to invent a new product or service. Being the first to market is a huge bonus. Coca-Cola has turned its "secret formula" into a 70% market share of cola drinks worldwide.

However, most of us conduct business in categories full of competitors. What's the best way to build a strong brand?

The secret is to narrow the focus of your business until you've created a new category where you can be the first.

From Ford to BMW

Consider the automotive industry. That lowered their costs enough that millions could afford a car. Being the first to have an affordable car allowed Ford to dominate the category, even though there were literally hundreds of auto companies in America by 1910. That is a powerful brand!

So how did other automakers develop successful brands? If you are looking for a "safe" car, Volvo is probably the first brand that comes to mind. If you are looking for the "ultimate driving machine", BMW has that category. Buyers looking for an expensive luxury car think of Mercedes Benz.

Keep in mind that none of these companies tries to be everything to everyone. They narrowed their focus until they had a new category where they could be first. Although other auto companies might make claims about the safety of their cars, they are unlikely to impersonate Volvo in the public mind. Volvo "owns" the category of safe vehicles.

Two examples of fast food

When Tom Monaghan owned a small pizzeria near a college campus, he began asking his customers what changes they would like to see in their business. They wanted a higher quality pizza? No, the quality was fine. They wanted a cheaper pizza? No, the price was fair.. Thus, Domino's Pizza created the new category of pizza delivery, and although others offer the same service, being the first allows Domino's to enjoy a dominant share of the market.

Little Caesars saw another opportunity. If they focused on take-out pizza, they could save money on delivery and a great restaurant. That would allow them to earn money even if they sold two pizzas for the price of one. Pizza. Pizza. Sparkly.

Apply these ideas to your business

If you are trying to grow your business, it may seem logical to expand your offerings, but it is unlikely that you will be successful in the long run. As these few examples have shown, it's often best to narrow your focus until you've created a new category where you can be the first to do so. If you are a specialist, people will consider you more an expert in your field than a generalist. .

Let's say you are a photographer. If you live in a town or city of any size, you certainly have a lot of competition. Look for opportunities to separate from the pack. Perhaps he could be known as the only one in town who calls for action shots during kids' athletic games. Or maybe you specialize in sepia-toned soft-focus mother and child photography. Fly fishermen. Architectural details.

Our photographer could expand her business by staying focused by publishing a book, printing greeting cards and calendars, or giving lessons, all in her specialty area.

She will know that she has created a powerful brand when her name is the first to appear in the heads of parents when they want a "hero photo" of their young soccer player.

Advertising first, advertising later

One of the great benefits of being the first in a new category is that it becomes newsworthy. Newspapers and magazines, television and radio are always looking for "something new under the sun."

Do you remember Pet Rocks? This little ensemble gained international coverage, all free, for their unique idea. Millions of Pet Rocks were sold with virtually no advertising costs.

Advertising alone is rarely enough to create a new brand, although many companies try that route. Remember the Super Bowl a few years ago when the media was full of stories about the millions that were spent on 30-second ads? This was supposed to be the launch of several dot com startups and the amount of money spent to launch these brands was incredible. Despite all that money and the creative efforts of the brightest minds on Madison Avenue, those businesses quickly failed and are now totally forgotten.

A better path is followed by Google, the world's most popular search engine. Google was not the first search engine, but it created a new way of ranking websites that provided them with a huge amount of free advertising. I have never seen a Google ad, and yet almost everyone who has ever surfed the web has heard of it. This morning, our local newspaper published a lengthy article about Google's decision not to sell shares in the company yet. More free advertising, which will further enhance the strength of your brand.


Focusing your business until you have created your own category is just one step in developing your brand.