I got a funny email the other day from Sir John Hegarty, founder of BBH – this was in response to me flagging up an error in his book ‘Hegarty on Advertising’ (page 211 if anyone’s reading it). In the same book John gives a fantastic definition of branding and its value to all businesses:

“A brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world; a corner of someone’s mind”

Think about that for a moment. Re-read it. Taking that definition on face value you begin to understand that ‘branding’ is something that is relevant to ALL businesses, not just consumer facing retail brands.

Effective branding also directly drives business and increases sales. Maintaining the link (Sir John worked at Saatchi’s in the early days), Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts says that great brands “build loyalty beyond reason”. Meaning that some brands are so loved and respected that they enjoy success in spite of product or service performance when compared to competitor brands. When faced with a buying decision your customer will always ‘tip’ towards the brand they favour most. Your brand should sit at the heart of all your marketing communications. In doing so you build and reinforce what is essentially the core essence of your business. All too often clients approach us to ‘build a website’ or ‘create an app’ or ‘implement a social media campaign’ without having a strong brand to drive these communications – and maximise the commercial return.

When I say ‘brand’ I’m not necessarily talking about new logos or fancy graphics here – your visual identity may or may not need attention depending on the circumstances. What I’m talking about is the fundamental ‘brand positioning’ – what you stand for, why your customers should care, and why you expect them to choose your products or services over those being offered by a competitor.

A key part of an effective brand positioning is differentiation. Remember that your brand is competing in a race for attention against others in your category. To edge ahead your brand needs real stand-out. ‘Me-too’ brands that are essentially ‘the same but different’ rarely get to the top. You cannot be all things to all people (in fact, the most successful brands often polarise opinion).

When talking to a client about differentiation I normally ask my ‘Heineken question’ (inspired by the famous ‘only Heineken’ campaign): “What are the things that ‘only’ your brand offers your customers?”

Most brand owners immediately start to talk about the detail of their offering – price, services, product features. Some concluding that there’s nothing really that different, since lots of the competition are offering the same. Others arguing that they have something really unique – a ‘widget’ or a new service that is not available anywhere else in the marketplace.

However, a positioning based around these details will have a short shelf life, as they can ultimately be challenged – either a competitor will develop something to take away your advantage – or the market itself moves on.

An effective brand positioning goes deeper than this, tapping into the businesses very dna and uncovering the (often hidden) ‘nugget’ at the heart of your brand. The trick is to find something which is unique, something you can take ownership of and most importantly something which will captivate and engage your customer.

Uncovering the nugget at the heart of your business takes an experienced brand consultancy and a little bit of creative magic, but can be well worth the effort. With just a little investment in effective branding, your marketing efforts will become more efficient and more effective – giving you a much improved ROI.

So, go ahead and ask yourself the Heineken question. If you answer the same way as your employees, and your customers; then you probably have a strong brand – In which case, Cheers!

Lee Waterhouse is the owner of WDA, an award winning creative brand marketing agency based on Friar Gate. Lee is an experienced brand and marketing professional leading a team with the skills and experience to build, design and manage your brand – on and offline.