Branding - What's it good for?
Branding is just another word for “differentiation”. If you do business you should have an intuitive understanding that if you want your company or product to grow you’re going to need to be unique and memorable. How you achieve that depends on you. You can have a product that is totally new; that nobody has ever seen before. You can create a monopoly if you live in a small community where you are the only provider of your service. You can be famous and sell product based on your name alone. Or you can build a niche. Branding can help with all of these options but where it’s absolutely necessary is when you’re building a niche.
Let’s say you own a business in Hong Kong but your product is generic, you have loads of competition and you are a nobody. Let’s say you own a noodle shop. All over town are hundreds of noodle shops, selling exactly the same dishes. What can you do? The quickest route is to reduce prices. But then your neighbor will notice and then reduce their prices and now you’re in a price war. You’ll be working twice as hard to make half the money and probably end up a stressed out mess while simultaneously nuking your shop.
A second option is to change your menu. But this an expensive, time consuming headache as you have to find new recipes, new cooking methods, new suppliers, and a completely new customer base. And unless your menu contains food you can’t find anywhere in Hong Kong (unlikely) then you’re just swapping for a new set of competitors.
So instead of reducing prices or rebuilding from scratch you decide to use what you have and differentiate. You do this by catering to a very specific, readily available customer. You take a look at who walks in the door and pay close attention to the people walking by on the street. Maybe there’s a gym, right across from your shop with a constant stream of people looking to get into shape. People right after exercising are ravenous. So you decide to expand your customer base by catering to the gym rats. So you rebrand.
You promote that your noodles are healthier because they’re hand-made and you use local ingredients. You do a bit of research and adjust the noodle recipes to be higher in protein and better for muscle recovery. You add nutritional information and calorie counts to your menu. You get your staff to wear more athletic looking uniforms. You change your shop name to NoodleFit and you make your shop look like it’s an extension of a gym with concrete flooring. You add fun stuff like a chin-up bar to the wall (do 15 pull-ups, get extra noodles!). Now you are differentiated. You’re the first and only health-focused noodle shop in Hong Kong so now whenever a health-nut feels a hankering for noodles they seek your shop out. You start doing cross promotions with local gyms. You do free catering at race finish-lines to get people to try and talk about NoodleFit (Hong Kong trail-run finishes have the worst food imaginable). You get new ideas and inspiration from your newfound customers so you expand your product range, build more noodle shops across from gyms and continuously improve your image with your audience.
Branding is a way of focusing your company and building a consistent image across your products and services to create a niche that you then dominate. When brainstorming what it is you sell you should also be thinking about who you are selling to, and what would attract them to your business in a unique way. Brand building should force you to think critically about exactly what it is that makes your company unique, memorable and successful.