By Paul Hague, Director at B2B International

A brand has grown to mean much more than a logo – it symbolises a company’s identity, representing values that a customer feels they can buy into and ultimately dictates marketing success. Take a stand-out brand in any market and they will all boast some of the same key characteristics - recognition in a cluttered marketplace, the ability to command a premium price and lasting customer relationships.

This can’t be achieved overnight, but companies can help themselves by ensuring they have the right steps in place to reach this goal. Here are six top tips for creating the foundation you need to build a strong brand:

1. Do your research

First of all, to build a strong brand requires a deep understanding of your marketplace, particularly your customers. In the digital age, buyers have never been so willing to say exactly what they want and how they want it, or to complain and take their business elsewhere if their requirements are not fulfilled. Find out where they are and speak to them – this could be online, in a department store or a merchants. Customers often display a remarkable level of candour when talking about their suppliers, even those with whom they have a close relationship.

2. Clearly define your USP

Developing a unique selling point (USP) should form a key part of your overall strategy. Many products and services are indistinguishable from the competition, so the answer to creating a USP is to ignore the features and benefits that could apply to anyone, and instead focus on the one thing that makes your offer unique to a certain customer segment – a USP is very powerful for creating a differentiated brand.

3. Create a memorable identity

Choose a simple, powerful brand name that is easy to understand, pronounce and spell to stand out from others in your market. Our research has suggested that two words for a brand is the maximum for customers to be able to best recall them. Names should also be vivid in imagery to present strong memory cues, so that much of the information to which the name relates is already in mind.

4. Avoid the scattergun approach

Customer segmentation enables businesses to better communicate the value of their brand and products by prioritising key target audiences. Many businesses take the easy approach – sticking with basic groupings according to the size of the company, its geographical location, whether it is a private or public enterprise and so on. There is nothing wrong with this as these considerations are easily recognisable attributes and are fundamentally important to a company’s sales and marketing strategy. Nevertheless, in many markets the needs of customers will crossover and it’s not enough to group them by such simple characteristics. A segmentation based on needs is the ideal as it identifies and groups customers on common needs in order to satisfy their requirements.

5. Engage with emotions

When looking for a new product, customers often require a compelling proposition that provides emotional fulfilment. Rather than bombarding customers with a simplistic price/quality message – especially in markets where there is little scope for differentiation – find out what really matters to your customers and adjust your strategy accordingly.

6. Keep a close eye on loyalty

Since a brand is a largely intangible asset, firms must assess their ability to generate customer loyalty and, therefore, maintain demand and profit into the future. One method used by many leading brands is to look at the ‘likelihood to recommend’, for which the Net Promoter Score (NPS) tool is particularly useful. This is a quantitative method where customers are asked, on a scale of 0 to 10, how likely they are to endorse a company to others – this can be collected by market researchers via telephone or online interviews. Advocacy is the ultimate accolade and there can be no greater measure of brand success than devoted, repeat customers willing to tell others about their experiences.