The formula for success for just about any business or endeavor invariably includes the word "consistent" somewhere in the recipe. As a fitness professional, you tout the absolute necessity of consistency to your clients - whether it's in eating habits or workout schedules - to achieve measurable and positive results. If you're a business owner, you demand consistency from your trainers and other employees as well, not only being to work on time but also in how they work with clients and implement your fitness philosophy. So it shouldn't be a surprise that branding your business relies on the same principal of consistency for it to be a successful effort.

A Nebulous Concept
What really is branding, anyway? Technically speaking, branding is the process of creating a unique, positive and recognizable identity for a company, product or service. It is not a specific product or service per se, and it is not a logo, either.

A quick side note: A good logo is worth every penny you pay for it. It is very much the cornerstone of your company's identity and branding, so getting your best friend's son who happens to be going to art school and doing garage band posters is not the way to go. If that is the route you've mistakenly taken, don't be afraid to suck it up, find a professional and have them revamp or recreate your logo - you won't regret it.

Back to the point: For an example of the finest branding efforts, I believe Coca-Cola sets the precedent, having created such a branded identity for its family of products that it is recognized internationally - even in the most remote regions of the planet. To a lesser extent, Nike, Target and the golden arches of McDonald's have the same appeal. While these companies have had countless ad campaigns over the years, and some have even revamped their logos, the one thing that has remained consistent is their branding.

That being said, a brand is the core audience's gut feeling about the product or service you offer. While you provide the direction of your business, your clients define your branding. Brands are established by emotions (since people are emotional beings), not facts or strategies. In fact, your brand is not what you say it is but what your clients and customers say it is.

Still confused? Think back to your best friend in high school or college. Do you ever hear a certain song or band that reminds you of that person? Maybe it's a style of clothing, an endearing (or irritating) mannerism, a particular phrase or perhaps a favorite pastime you both shared that invokes their memory. Over the course of your relationship with your friend, many things - not just one aspect - "branded" your friend. Your friend didn't brand him/herself, the branding was defined by you and your emotions.

And so it is with corporate branding: It's not a particular thing, but it is a look and feel. The whole point of establishing your branding is that even if your company's name and logo are not immediately visible, the audience automatically identifies what they are seeing or hearing with your business.

Clarifying the Ambiguous
Giving your company a branded identity is a process. You just don't come right out of the chute with some cool business cards and have an established brand. It takes developing a set of criteria that translates into all the advertising or marketing collateral you produce, whether it's brochures, website, print ads or other media such as radio or television. This is where the key word consistent comes in. That doesn't mean that everything looks the same or says the same thing; it means that all your collateral evokes the same emotional response from the intended viewer.
  1. Define your message - The starting point of developing your branding is your message. Keeping your key audience in mind, think about who they are, what they need and what they identify with, and build from there. Since branding is the emotional and visual representation of what your business stands for, your message must reflect that.
  2. Develop your logo - Your second consideration in branding development is your visual identity, and the basis of that is your logo. Its style, the typeface(s) used and colors are pivotal. Your logo must stand on its own, so you want to find typefaces that work well with your logo and then make sure your collateral incorporates those typefaces consistently. You can choose different fonts when the occasion calls for it - such as for a special promotion or specific headline - but your chosen typefaces remain as part of your branding infrastructure. Additionally, the colors of your logo can also be utilized effectively in your visual identity, but the trick is not to over-do it - again, your logo must have its own importance. Picking complementary colors schemes and using them in a regular manner will allow your overall branding to start evolving.
  3. Use graphics wisely - Compelling graphics can definitely help build and delineate your brand, although they are not an absolute necessity. Your intended audience should dictate the kind of imagery you choose, and every graphic should be relevant to your message. You don't have to use the same pictures over and over again, but consistent and well-thought-out usage of a good picture or two will help establish your business' branding and visual identity. Other critical things to consider in the process are taglines, jingles or theme songs (if you advertise on television and radio) and where you want to
    actually advertise. The key is simply to be consistent.
If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by branding minutia, consider hiring an agency or experienced designer to at least start the initial development process. Once the criteria are established and several pieces of advertising and marketing collateral are in place, it may be easier for you to implement on your own. A word of caution, however: Just as I couldn't be somebody's personal trainer because I've learned a few things from mine, you should not presume to think you can take over branded advertising efforts and be effective just because you've picked up some pointers. If your budget allows, your best bet is to stick with a professional.

Measuring the Non-specific
Advertising says, "If the customer has heard of us, we've done our job." But good branding says, "If it made the customer think of us, we're doing our job." The value of branding is extremely difficult to calculate because, quite frankly, good branding won't make your business one single dollar. It will, however, create a visual identity for your company that is positive and readily identifiable, position your company in the marketplace, compel people to remember you and think about your services and promote loyalty. And all those things together will add up to - you guessed it - increased revenue.

Message, type, color, imagery, taglines...branding is the big picture, so to speak. Small companies - even mom-and-pop shops - can benefit from developing a brand for their businesses. It's not rocket science, and it doesn't take a small fortune to have good branding. But it does take vision and consistency in implementation. You'll know your efforts are successful when someone comes up to you and says they saw or heard something and it reminded them of your business.

Kind of like an old best friend.

Mona Nuckolls' 25-year career in the advertising and design industry encompasses everything from graphic designer to equipment consultant to senior creative director to business owner. Having won numerous awards over the last 14 years, her company, Contemporary Communications, Inc., has done branding campaigns for a variety of businesses around the US, including the fitness and wellness industries. She can be contacted at 817.578.3300 or mona@contemporary-communications.com.

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