Michael Locke is an Australian branding expert and the founder of marketing consultancy LOCKE Pty Ltd. He has overseen the brand management of countless companies, from multinationals like Electrolux through to smart new start-ups. And he has a question for you:

Are you a company, or a brand?

Not sure? You’re not alone.

Despite the ubiquity of the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’, a lot of people don’t know what a brand is, or how to build one.

According to Locke, a brand is a series of values and a vision for a company that underpins every interaction they have with the public, from the products and services they offer to their logo and visual identity; their social media presence and advertising; their interactions with their clients, the public and the media; and their shopfront space. A brand is built on a uniformity of philosophy that informs everything company does, making the company and its identity as integral to success as its products and services.

“Your brand and your business are not mutually exclusive entities,” Locke says.

“In fact, the more you can fuse them as one, the better your utilisation of resources and the stronger your organisational focus.”

Dyson, a global electronics company known for its high-tech versions of common electrical items, is an example of an effective brand in action. According to Locke, who provided marketing, communication and brand management services to the company for five years, the Dyson brand has been built around three internal core values: design, innovation and technology. While the three core values are clearly exemplified in Dyson’s products, such as its blade-less fans and super-fast hand dryers, the company also embodies these philosophies in everything it does, from the design of its head office to company policies and financial commitments to socially responsible projects.

So how does a small business become a brand?

“The best way for a small business to grow rapidly into a big brand is to commence with big brand thinking from day one,” says Locke.

“Don’t tell people that you are a brand; rather, start behaving like you are one,  by implementing a big brand’s  methodologies and mentality on a small business budget.”

Big brand thinking means identifying your core values, and living them in every aspect of your business. Smart brands avoid activities that actively erode their stated philosophies. For example, Locke says, Dyson could easily slap their label on a nicely designed toaster and flog thousands of units to consumers entranced by the brand, but unless the toaster was a game changer in comparison to existing market offerings, activities like this are in direct contrast to the company’s values. If you want people to take you seriously, live your values and show that you’re serious about every element of the work you do.

As well as following the rulebook, successful companies also understand that a brand is not just about ticking the boxes – it’s about understanding what makes your customer base tick.

“Regardless of your industry, brands transcend logic and ingrain themselves in emotions,” Locke says.

Take Coca-Cola, for example. While the drink is the product on which the company has been built, it’s the sense of fun, community and mateship that Coca-Cola presents through its TV advertising, its public competitions, its print posters and the charities and events it supports, that touches its audience.

If you’re thinking about getting serious about your company brand, there’s no better time than now. The proliferation of products and services in an increasingly global market and the sheer numbers of vendors in the marketplace with identical offerings gives consumers the opportunity to shop on the cheap. If you want your business to make a genuine impression in the marketplace, you need to be more than just the product or service that you offer – being a brand might be what separates you from the herd.

“Now, more than ever, branding is becoming more and more important,” Locke says.

“A brand is not built overnight. It takes courage, investment, intelligence, differentiation, foresight and a great deal of consistency at every level.”

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