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Would you buy (trust) an unbranded product?

 A strong brand identity takes critical thinking and creative work.

Think of one of your favourite name brands. Whether it’s a professional product for use in your business or a favourite product for your personal use, chances are you chose it because you are comfortable with it; you have a mental image of that product and the company behind it. That’s what brand identity is all about.

Major companies go to great lengths to build and protect a unique brand image because they know the marketing power of a positive brand identity, especially in a difficult economy. However, building a brand identity is not just for the big players. Even small businesses like salons can enjoy the extraordinary marketing power of a strong business image.

Exactly what is a brand? It is more than a logo on a business card or the sign in front of a store. It’s the promise that a business makes to its customers and prospective clients. It identifies the ways in which its products and services differentiate it from its competitors. Simply put, a brand is the image that a business projects in the hope of developing brand loyalty.

Your salon brand is the mental image you will create in the minds of consumers. Your brand is your business’ personality. It can be a powerful marketing tool, a drag on your sales and profits, or anything in-between. That’s why you must take control of your brand identity. When you develop a strong and positive brand image, your target clients will develop an emotional attachment to your business. They will become loyal to it in much the same way that you are loyal to your favourite brands.

It isn’t necessary for you to take the time and resources to create a brand image that will be recognised the world over. It’s only necessary for you to create the kind of image that will dominate your little piece of the marketing world.

Here are seven steps that will help you to build the kind of brand identity that will boost your sales and profits on a permanent basis:

  1. Separate yourself from your competitors

The first, and one of the most important steps in creating a strong brand identity, is determining what makes your business unique. Begin by analysing your major competitors. Look for their strong selling points and ways that you can differentiate your business from the others.

The next step is evaluating your own strengths and combining them to form a unique identity – a marketable image for you and your business. Perhaps you’ve been in business longer than your competitors have, or maybe your long experience has enabled you to develop skills unique to your salon? Perhaps you have knowledgeable employees who take pride in their abilities to leave clients feeling upbeat? Perhaps your salon projects a warm and friendly atmosphere?

Whatever your marketable strengths, write them all down, study them, and then determine how you can combine them to separate yourself from your competitors. Once you’ve sold yourself and your employees on why you are the best choice for clients who require the utmost in professional skills and value, you must focus your marketing efforts on ways to promote this image to consumers.

  1. Take action on something that most of your competitors only talk about

Providing personal services is a people business; you sell your services to people, not to objects. All of the Harvard Business School expertise in the world is no substitute for an understanding of that basic business principle. The most effective, least expensive, branding technique for any business is an uncompromising commitment to customer satisfaction. Making certain that every one of your clients has positive feelings about you and your operation will turn those clients into walking advertisements.

  1. Employ strong visual elements

A major part of brand image is visual recognition. Science long ago recognised that we humans remember what we see far longer than what we read or hear. That’s why major brands that are favourites of yours have a highly recognisable visual image.

A basic visual image for your salon calls for an aesthetically pleasing logo. The logo in itself is not your brand, but it serves as the anchor for that all-important visceral image that is part of every successful brand identity. Once created, your logo must be used on all business cards, letterheads, envelopes, and store signings, all with a consistent visual image. You can extend these essentials to include a website, a brochure, or any other professionally designed pieces. To embed your brand identity in your market area, you must use it consistently in every image you project to your market.

Make sure that all of your visual elements are unique to your business and they will not be confused with those of a competitor.

  1. Harnessing emotions

All successful brand images have a large emotional content. It is critically important to make solid use of the purely rational in developing reasons why prospective clients should look to you when they need your services. However, it’s also essential that you remember the power of the heart and mind in shopping decisions, especially for clients who are looking for a highly personal service. Scientists tell us that emotion is a more powerful system in the brain than the rational system. That’s why it’s important to try to influence as many positive emotions as possible at every step in building your unique brand image.

  1. Harness the power of repetition

Repetition is an important part of building a strong brand identity. Marketing experts say that it takes six or more impressions for potential customers to remember and connect with a business. That’s why those annoying TV ads are repeated. Consistent and repetitive use of your visual materials will help to build an enduring and powerful brand for your business. Simple efforts such as passing out your business card or brochure at every possible opportunity will help to harness the power of repetition.

  1. Travel branding roadways

Once you’ve created your brand image, it’s important to make sure that it reaches consumers. The available branding roadways are almost unlimited, but for a small business, it’s important to utilise the least expensive. Advertisements in local media are fine for those who can afford them, but for salons on a limited budget, there are many effective alternatives. Among them are such techniques as regular e-mails to people who have logged on to your website, occasional postal card mailings, a presence on social media such as Facebook, and asking satisfied clients to spread the word.

  1. Live up to your new image

Once you create and support your brand identity, it will work for you by helping to develop new customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but only if you live up to the promise you have created. The time and effort that you have invested in branding your business will be futile unless you and your employees remember that branding is about meeting expectations, not just creating them. If you fail to meet the expectations created by your new brand identity, your clients won’t be coming back or recommending you to friends.

Bill Lynott is a prize-winning writer with an extensive background in management consulting, marketing and finance. Visit blynott.com