Your brand is how people perceive, think about and ultimately react to your business.In today’s economy, many entrepreneurs are taking the opportunity to create new businesses that fill a niche in the marketplace. In addition, long-standing companies are finding that they need to refine or redirect their businesses to stay afloat.

Whether you are starting a new business or putting a new face on an existing enterprise, your “branding” will have a huge impact on your success.

So what is “branding”? The concept used to be as simple as your logo and storefront sign.

But savvy marketers like Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple, for example, recognized that in order to break through the clutter, products had to develop a relationship with customers, and they use their branding – their look, tone and feel – to generate long-term, loyal customers.

You can do that, too; you just need to be sure you are practicing effective branding.

FIND BEST WAY TO COMMUNICATE

First, let’s be clear on the term. Your brand is how people perceive, think about and ultimately react to your business, product or service. Your logo is the visual cue that triggers those emotions; it is just one way to represent your brand.

In today’s media-filled world, branding includes all the old standbys – logo, website and signage – but it also encompasses social media, iPhone apps, charitable affiliations and an unspoken connection. The ways to communicate your brand are seemingly endless, but what exactly are you communicating?

As you begin to develop or refine your brand, give considerable thought to how it’s best to communicate with your target audience. I can tell you that pretty much every business needs a website, but not everyone needs all the bells and whistles, such as commerce capabilities or extensive database resources.

On the other hand, Facebook may not be the best way to market a retirement community, for example. Do some research and find out where your target is looking for your product or service and determine your communication avenues before you start designing anything.

SEND UNWAVERING MESSAGE

When you are ready, remember that it’s critical to effective branding that all your marketing components communicate the same message. It all comes down to one question: How do you want your target customer to think, feel and do about your product?

Is your company fun and funky, conservative and businesslike, or somewhere in between? How your product or business is currently perceived and how you want it to be perceived may be two different things. Resolve that conflict, so you can direct the creative process with a goal in mind.

Once you’ve done that soul searching, you are ready for creation. Whether you work with a design firm, a freelancer or do it yourself, remember that all your graphics should visually support your brand and work together to convince your audience that yours is the best company with whom to do business.

Social media vehicles should convey the same tone and feel, and sponsorships should make sense for your product or service. In addition, charitable affiliations are increasingly important to consumers and should be considered when defining your brand.

Your marketing materials are the face of your business. Your logo, website and Facebook page, for example, will be the first impression customers will have of your company.

As you begin the branding process, you may find that help from experienced graphic designers and/or marketing professionals is worth the investment. They have studied the science of consumer attitudes and habits and know the nuances of design. In short, they can help you make educated choices and stay brand-centric.

PROTECT YOUR WORK

Once you establish your brand, protect it. In every presentation to the world – from a nametag to a trade show booth, from an envelope to advertising – your brand should be consistently conveyed. Protecting your branding work will increase your presence in the market and establish you as a long-term, respected player.

Your brand is how people perceive, think about and ultimately react to your business – use that branding to build lasting relationships and loyalty, and your business will be positioned to thrive in all economic climates.