Everyone who interacts with your business carries around a mental image of your business in what we are calling a “brand bank.” Each person opens a new brand bank account the moment she notices that your company exists. That account opens whether you want it to or not, but you choose what you deposit in that account. If you decide to create a strong image that provides the information needed to make a purchasing decision you have a much better chance of forming an impression that’s going to result in a sale. But if you don’t, people will use whatever clues they find to draw their own conclusions.
We all try to make sense of the world using our own beliefs and perspectives, but when we are provided with plenty of information, we generally use the data provided to reach a decision. But in the absence of that information we’ll draw conclusions, regardless of whether those conclusions are accurate or not. If Sophie opens a cleaning service, she may produce a sign that says “Sophie’s Spotless Cleaning.” But if she doesn’t buy a URL and build a website that describes her services and rates, people may assume that she cleans offices or cars or clothes or anything else. People will just assume, and their assumptions are likely to be incorrect.
You can either create your brand intentionally or let people come to their own conclusions. Every detail of your offering will lead people to believe that your business serves the affluent or the middle class; that your products are valuable or inexpensive; that your offerings are cutting-edge or old fashioned. This entire process is in your hands, and you can either deliberately craft the impression you want to give or allow your audience to make assumptions.
The accumulation of mental images is the process that everyone — your customers, your employees, your vendors and the media — will use to judge your business. As a result, we are often just as influenced by what a business does as what it doesn’t do. But since you do have some degree of control over the mental impressions that make up your brand, it is far better to build your brand intentionally than to leave it up to chance. Just make sure that as you intentionally craft your brand you focus on the entire experience, not just one portion.
A lakeside restaurant opens in a beautiful location. If the owner works hard to hire and train the best staff but the interior looks cheap and thoughtlessly thrown together, she may not be able to get customers to return. If the food is exemplary but she fails to promote the business, new customers may never show up to try her innovative menu. An effective branding strategy examines the entire customer experience, from the website to the storefront to the way the receptionist answers the phone, then intentionally aligns them using a single, compelling idea.
Begin the branding process by pretending to be a customer and looking carefully at everything a customer experiences. Each detail should be evaluated and coordinated so the brand makes sense. The more consistent the experience, the more memorable the brand. Disney and McDonald’s, two of the most intentionally designed brands, have gone to great lengths to ensure that every aspect of the customer experience is precisely what they intend it to be. This deliberate attention to detail has, over time, created internationally recognized brands.