If you ask a dozen people what a ‘brand’ is, you’ll likely get a dozen answers – and probably not that many fewer if you asked a dozen marketing people.

For some, it’s the colour of the logo. For others, it’s the collective perception of a company – how people ‘feel’ having experienced what marketers call ‘multiple touchpoints’.

While at opposite ends of the spectrum, both of these are true. The ‘brand’ originally got its name from the ownership mark put on cattle; having a logo (rather than just a business name) sprang from that. But that is really just the ‘brand mark’ – the brand encompasses much more: how customers feel about you.

Simply put, a good brand creates a predisposition to buy. A great brand lets you charge more.

Conversely, a bad brand, or toxic brand, can bring a company to its knees.

Building a great brand doesn’t have to be hard, or especially expensive. But for me at least, more than anything else, it means letting go of preconceptions about where the brand starts and stops.

Superbly printed stationery and flashy offices can all be undermined in an instant by an offhand receptionist. What will stick most in the mind of the visitor?

A slick presentation can impress a potential client, but when that client takes a comfort break in a messy bathroom, that client will take the bathroom over the presentation as a representation of your company’s real values.

The fact is, everything counts – no matter how mundane. At every point where a customer comes into contact with you, think of that as an opportunity to either impress or be found wanting.

If you can’t impress outright at every turn, then make sure everything you do does, at the very least, meet a customer’s reasonable expectations. But to build a stronger brand, the goal should always be to exceed those expectations. It’s great having happy customers – but better to have delighted ones.

Setting aside the obvious areas where the brand receives priority and business focus (such as marketing materials, office receptions, service delivery and so on) there are plenty of things which can remain neglected.

Post-delivery is an area where the quality of the brand can slip. A great example of this is the humble invoice. The job’s done, so the invoice goes out. In smaller companies especially, this can be nothing more than a standard Word template – its only job to collect the money owed. Really?

That might well be the invoice’s primary job. Yet, your company is still ‘touching’ other people. Let’s not assume that these people aren’t in a position of influence. If your customer is a small business owner, then the invoice will be reviewed by that person. It’s a chance to impress.

This is one of the reasons I use FreshBooks. Sure, I could easily just raise invoices manually and I have to pay for FreshBooks to send them. But FreshBooks charges a pretty modest amount to not only get the job done, but to impress in the process. So how is it ‘better’ than a crank-the-handle Word invoice? It’s more professional – customers not only get an invoice, they can follow a link to see all outstanding invoices. If I choose, they can pay it online. The invoice is nicely designed (although some more control over the design wouldn’t go amiss). Invoices for recurring items (say, website hosting) can be sent automatically without me having to lift a finger. Plus, FreshBooks tells me if a customer has looked at an invoice or not – so I can manage customers better. Payback? I know the impact is positive. At least a third of my customers have made a comment about my invoicing. Modest it might be, but it’s better than ‘something that just needs paying’.

This is a great example of branding being not just about appearance, but about experience.

Bigger businesses are more likely to get this kind of thing right (although plenty don’t) because they have the time and money to focus on the detail. Smaller business owners need to stand out as companies which might be small, but are dead serious about what they do. This doesn’t need a marketing degree. It just needs a willingness to impress and a ‘that won’t do’ mindset. And of course, online tools such as FreshBooks make it easier to bat on the same playing field as the big companies.

Make a list of every point at which you connect with a customer, not just before the sale but after. Review every point along the way and see what you can improve. Try to think about what is normally done; what your competitors might do. Then try to raise the bar. Also try to consider if you are missing some touchpoints – perhaps a post-project report or review could help keep customer conversations rolling?

I said at the start that a good brand creates a predisposition to buy. Be a good brand, or be a great brand – don’t miss any opportunity to impress. Customers will notice. And they will prefer to deal with you.

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