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To a lot of graphic designers and advertising agencies, brand and logo are interchangeable. To be clear they should be referring to your brand image or your brand logo – there is a difference. A logo is just a small part of your overall corporate brand. Simply put, your brand is essentially your reputation in the marketplace. It is affected by all of your stake holders (customers, employees and suppliers). If I stop a person on the street and ask them what your brand is, I am looking for them to tell me what their understanding of your company is. If I were to ask you what you feel about Detroit and you reply, “Murder City”. That is it’s brand. The brand may or may not be true, but it is the perception at this point in time.

The same is true with Detroit’s brand. It may not be true that it is the Murder Capital, but over the years the city has allowed it’s brand to be determined by outside forces. Movies, comedians and the media in general have used Detroit as their whipping post for all that is wrong with urban blight in America. Your ultimate job is to constantly have your finger on the pulse of your brand. You simply can’t afford to allow the marketplace to define you. The goal is to have a strong brand – one that makes you money.

Cities have what is called a ‘place brand’. It’s been said that our own community has a poor brand. You don’t have to agree with the assessment, but you’d be a fool to ignore it. We have allowed the marketplace to define our city’s brand. Windsor has to address it’s poor brand directly, it can’t be ‘spun’ out of existence. The root causes must be addressed.  The problem with a less than accurate brand story is, the very audience you want to become advocates, feel betrayed and become ardent critics.

All of these scenarios are brand issues and are why smart companies are sitting up and taking notice. Any smart company who brushes off branding as merely a buzz word is passing the baton to their competitors. It has been said that the fasted way to kill a bad product is with great advertising. You can’t fool ‘em twice no matter how pretty a face you put on it.

In the industrial heartland that is southwestern Ontario, smart companies are engaged in initiatives that position their brands as leaders. In discussions with Peter Berry, President of OB1 Consulting, a respected Risk Management Expert, it was pointed out to me that companies who want their brands recognized as leaders in Green Initiatives, Compliance issues and Cross-Border Efficiency are also companies who are serious about taking control of their brand and how it is used. Many of these risk initiatives are used as effective differentiators when promoting the the corporate brand image. These pro-active companies are not waiting for bad things to happen to their brands, things that will cost them an enormous amount of money to fix and in some case cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential lost revenue due to hits on their brands. They are reducing risk now and reaping the brand payoffs. Having a strong brand in the first place will determine if these storms can be weathered.

Here are 10 things you need to do to gain an insight on your brand:

1) Resist changing your brand logo. The problem is much deeper than that.

2) What are your stake holders saying about your brand? Ask them. Stake holders include employees, customers and suppliers.

3) Tomorrow morning ask the first staff member you see, “what do we do here at…?” Their answer may startle you.

4) Do a risk assessment to determine if there are areas of compliance and opportunity that might increase your brand strength among your market.

5) Are you suffering from any brand negatives? Are these issues keeping you up at night?

6) If you are currently putting a happy spin on your marketing, make sure it reinforces your brand values.

7) You do have brand values don’t you?

8) Do you have an effective differentiator? (this is key to branding properly)

9) Do a visual analysis to address brand issues with inconsistencies.

10) Strengthen your brand. It invigorates staff and makes them passionate advocates for you.

Remember you have a brand whether you want one or not, your goal is to define yourself.  If you don’t, your competition will do it for you – and that’s never a good thing. Where do you fit in, in all of this?

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