On October 26, I spoke at a seminar that was hosted by the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce at their Marketplace 2011. The topic was “Branding,” and I started off with a small fun exercise that you can play with your colleagues.

Have you ever been to a Starbucks?

Do you go there regularly?

Did you visit a Starbucks today?

Now for the even more fun part – can you describe the Starbucks logo from memory?

How did you and your colleagues do? Not so easy, is it?

Starbucks is the one of the largest brands in the U.S., the largest coffeehouse in the world, and, in 2009, surpassed Coca Cola to become the most popular brand on Facebook.

Everyone at that seminar had been to a Starbucks, and some even went there regularly. Most participants at the seminar knew that the logo was green and white, and only one person in that room remembered that there was a woman with “something” on her head in the logo. No one was able to describe the logo completely.

Branding is NOT a logo, a font or a name! Just because you may not be able to perfectly recall the Starbucks logo does not deter you from making future purchases there.

So, what is branding really about? Well, the foremost objective of branding is to establish and maintain an emotional expectation with your target audience, so that they will be predisposed to repeatedly select your product or service, and recommend it to others.

Think about it. Do you go to a Starbucks for the best tasting coffee, the fastest service, or the best value for your dollar? Or perhaps you go there because you feel a sense of community with others you see reading their books, tapping away on their laptops, or simply chatting with friends while they sip their coffee. Perhaps you appreciate the customization that the coffeehouse offers with the carefully and painstakingly handwritten menu boards, or the sense of sophistication that you get as you walk out with a cup of coffee that a barista made according to your taste. That’s no ordinary cup of joe in your hand!

Whatever your reason, you go there because of the emotional expectation the brand promises, and the fulfillment of that expectation through your experience.

So, branding is a consciousness, an image, an awareness, an identity that you have created for your business. It is a set of fundamental principles that form a common understanding of what your business is about, and what customers, employees and stakeholders alike can expect to experience when they walk into your business. It is an emotional experience that you want your target audience to have every time they come into contact with your business, product or service.

Your brand is your promise to your customer. Therefore, it is critical for that promise to manifest itself in every aspect of the business – in the way customers are treated and business is conducted – to enable trust to develop and be nurtured with customers and other stakeholders. It is essential for business owners, as well as employees, to live their brand at every moment.

Then, how do you determine whether the brand that you’ve created is right for your business? Ask yourself – is the story I am telling about my business leading my customer to the experience that I have described? If it is, it will lead your customer to the expectation he had, and he will return to your business again and again, and recommend it to others. If it isn’t, however, your customer will be disappointed, and may not even return to your business again or recommend it to others.

Customer research shows that “82% of respondents have stopped doing business with an organization due to a poor customer experience. 95% of respondents have taken action as a result of a negative experience, and 79% told others about it.” Ruby Newell-Legner notes, “It takes 12 positive service experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience.”

Branding does not happen by chance. It must be skillfully designed and adeptly crafted.

Early branding of any business is critical to business success. Even a graphic artist cannot design an appropriate logo if he does not have a clear understanding of what the business is about. A website developer also needs to be clear on the nature of a business to begin to create a website that communicates the brand effectively. So, defining your brand is the first step!

Every business owner must be clear on what his business is about, and live it. If not, competitors are very likely to swoop in and capture your customers by showing them that they are already doing what you are only telling your customers you can do.

In today’s economic environment, with a steady burgeoning of competition for customers, a robust brand is imperative for every business. Do you think that investing in professional help to research, define and build your brand is not important or worth it? Well, research shows that attracting a new customer to your business can cost five times as much as retaining an existing one! How important is that to your bottom line?