Branding. It’s a word that’s likely to conjure up global giants like Coca-Cola or Nike, with their corresponding advertising budgets, but branding is every bit as critical for a mid-size manufacturing company as it is for a marketing behemoth. While a new basketball shoe may be simpler to convey than, say, accounting services, the fact is that the same rules apply: when it comes to growing your business, branding is everything!

It’s more than just your product, service or slogan. Great branding captures your essence: the heart and soul of your company, your unique point of difference, the basic values and truths of who you are, and what you stand for. It’s a promise of a consistent experience that customers can trust.

Beyond the obvious functional benefits, investing in branding elevates and differentiates your offering, providing an enduring reason to choose you over the competition. The strongest brands understand what‘s important to their customers, and create relationships based on shared values that resonate on an emotional level to build loyalty.

While all this may sound like a bit of feel good fluff, branding is serious business, and an investment that companies can take straight to the bank. Robust brands prevail during tough economic times and account for a large share of a company’s financial value. One only has to look to Kraft’s purchase of Cadbury for a sweet $20B, a valuation that was less about chocolate factories than about the power of brands.

The good news for most companies is that the essence of your brand already exists: in what you do and how you do it, in your employees, and the perceptions of your various stakeholders. It’s a matter of uncovering what is most unique and relevant, and strategically building your brand from there. In increasingly competitive markets, the companies who succeed will be the ones who build great brands. Make yours one of them.

By Colleen Tapp, Strategy Director, Bridgemark. Stay tuned for next article: Five Simple Ways to Brand Well and Prosper.

Read more in Part II...