If you’re not a one-of-a-kind brand, you’re a one-is-as-good-as-any-other commodity. And that puts your chance of thriving in the marketplace somewhere between improbable and impossible. It takes a well-conceived and maintained brand to create awareness, to establish trust, and to build emotional equity with your customers. At its best, a brand doesn’t sell anything. Instead, it makes people want to buy. That distinction creates a level of power no amount of money alone can ever buy.

With ‘brand’ being one of the hottest buzzwords in marketing communications, you’d think more people and companies would have a clearer understanding of what the word means. Surprisingly, few do. One of the primary reasons is that there are so many different definitions for what brand means. One reference will tell you a brand is a promise to customers while yet another resource defines brand as the process of creating and disseminating a company or product name. And while most all of the definitions out there are at least partially true, none come as close to capturing the truest essence of the word as marketing guru Marty Neumeier’s definition: “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company.”

We’re all human. And we all act in emotional and intuitive ways despite our best efforts to always act rationally. That’s why its the “gut feeling” definition of brand that works best. Because, in the end, it’s people who define brands, not companies or markets.

At this point, some of you are likely asking yourselves, “Don’t I already have a brand?” I guarantee you do. As Marty Neumeier also says, your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is. So if it isn’t (or wasn’t) built properly, someone else is currently, and will continue, building your brand for you. It may be your customers. It might be your competition. But it may not be you. That’s why it’s essential to take as much ownership of your brand as early and as comprehensively as you can—ideally at the launch of your business, product, or service—to have the best shot to get what they say your brand is to match your vision.

The most crucial step in creating a brand is the onus on you to create and deliver a product or service at a quality and level equal or better to the promise you make your intended consumer. That’s the deal; the cerebral contract you make with every customer at every point of contact, with every transaction and interaction every time. Honor that deal with diligent dedication and consistency and the coveted “gut feeling” about your product or service will start to grow within your consumers—current and potential.

There are also important external steps to help establish and reinforce your brand. One of the most obvious and recognized steps is the creation and selection of the right name and the right logo. While a name and a logo do not constitute a brand, they are indeed ambassadors of a brand. They’re integral in staking claim to the emotional real estate you’re fighting to own in a person’s heart and soul. As such, a well-crafted name and logo developed by brand professionals are two of the strongest assets your company will ever own.

For some businesses, products and services, a name can be a make or break proposition. Just remember, for every name out there that has become a cultural landmark—Google, Starbucks, Nike—there are countless other names that have simply disappeared, unnoticed and un-embraced, into thin air because they failed to properly reflect the brand. Your name—the right name—is vital. It’s the first point of contact with customers, so it absolutely has to convey the right message. It’s like a first handshake in terms of the impression it can make. And while catchy and unique are effective for getting people to notice you, meaning and relevance are essential in getting people to remember you. A well-conceived name will achieve both goals.

Your name’s visual counterpart is your logo. A logo acts as the face of your company, product or service. As the graphic representative of your unique identity, the thoughtful selection and treatment of colors, fonts and imagery provides info that helps people quickly identify with your brand. The best logos are simple, unique and resonate with potential customers. The best logos also convey some info about you, your mission or some sense of meaning about you or your industry. Logos can be powerful. Profound, even. So much so, that when fully developed, a glimpse at a mere symbol can evoke all the attributes and attitudes consumers associate with your brand.

Clearly, branding efforts are easiest and most effective when done in concert with your business, product or service’s inception or launch. However, even businesses in the growth or mature stage can benefit from brand realignment or rebranding in order to right the ship or to re-introduce an underperforming or ill-conceived brand.

If your business is in the growth stage, branding is happening—purposefully or not—so it’s a crucial time to nurture the presence you’re earning. This is the time for tweaking and polishing your branding. It’s time to reinforce rules and brand standards to assure continuity in ads, on the web, on letterhead and in emails. You’ll benefit most from a brand traction approach to protect your brand and enhance its grip in the marketplace. Consistency is your goal now. It takes clarity to establish your position. It takes consistency to keep it. Just remember: Clarity + Consistency = Consumer Confidence.

If your business is in the mature stage, you’ve likely achieved an appreciable level of recognition. This is the easiest time to slip into a false sense of complacency. So don’t. Maintaining and increasing your position requires a more focused effort than at any other time in your company’s history. This is the time for brand maintenance; protecting what’s working, correcting what isn’t, and building on your brand’s equity through measured and managed evolution. In the mature stage, you’ll benefit most from a brand progression approach to secure your relevance and increase your market share.

Ultimately, it’s your brand—its creation, vigilant stewardship and revitalizing of—that will do more to gain and retain customers than any amount of advertising alone can ever achieve. Because only when you have, and are, an established, well-kept brand can you expect a viable return-on-investment from any of your marketing communication dollars.

Have questions or want to see how Lou Hammond Group can help brand your business, product or service? Contact us today.