Whether you're a multinational corporation or a hobbyist making a few dollars off your blog, your brand -- the name, logo, slogan, etc. that identifies you -- can make a big difference in your current profits and future possibilities.

A recent Mashable article quotes Aswath Damodaran, a professor of finance at New York University, saying:

If you as a company tell me that you have a brand name, I'm going to ask you a question: "Do you have the power to charge a higher price for the same product?" If your answer is no...I don't think your brand has any value.

High profit margins are certainly one advantage of a strong brand. Consider Apple -- their computers, MP3 players and smart phones aren't cheap, but they still gobble up market share.

While it's true that the quality of their designs and products is critical -- it's a large part of how they developed such a strong brand -- they wouldn't be able to command such high prices based only on the individual products. People are simply willing to pay more to have the latest Apple gadget.

But contrary to the quote, higher prices aren't the only advantage of a strong brand. What about Walmart? Does "the low price leader" brand have no value? Of course not. The power of Walmart's brand is that it drives incredible amounts of volume.

In fact, the same is true of Apple. Even if they could sell the iPad for $5000, their brand wouldn't have much value if they only sold 25.

A strong brand can also benefit from lower advertising costs. Strong brands get more news coverage. And if your customers proudly flaunt their purchases, wear your logo, and talk about your products, you don't have to pay nearly as much to reach new customers and remind old customers to come back for more.

How do you brand your business for maximum mind share, market share, and market price?

I've written recently about how a visually distinctive logo can influence people, even if they don't consciously notice it. So one key is to create an unique logo, and place it in front of consumers as much as possible (within reason of course -- you don't want it in places that might reflect badly on you).

Another key is, like Apple, to offer exceptional products. That doesn't mean your product has to be all things to all people. But it can't have any deadly flaws, and there needs to be something unique about it that inspires customers to love it and share that love with others.

If you sell a physical product, that could be elegant design -- beautiful, or simple without sacrificing functionality. If you sell software, that could be ease of use without sacrificing power. If you're a blogger -- your "product" is the content you publish -- that could be your unique voice, incredible content, or daring to stand up and be heard on controversial issues.

Finally, there's the question of what kind of brand to use.

Personal or Corporate?

ProBlogger posted an article recently discussing the strengths and weaknesses of personal vs. corporate brands.

...the most obvious benefit to a personal brand, is that it is easier to make personal. Most people easily empathize with other people. By putting yourself out there it gives readers something to connect to that is easy to understand and relate to.

This echos what I wrote a few days ago about being yourself being key to successful blogging.

Most of the big brands in internet marketing are personal brands, selling the wisdom and experience of a "guru" who's discovered the key to riches. Arguably, customers might be better off if gurus competed more on the basis of what they're selling and less on the force of their personalities, but for the sellers, personal branding works well.

The weakness of a personal brand is that it can't easily be outsourced, scaled up, or sold. If you're the brand, the business isn't worth much without your active participation.

Some brands are both personal and corporate. Apple seems to be the perfect example for everything today. The Apple name is only half the brand. Steve Jobs is the other half.

His leadership has been critical to Apple's success, and is a big part of the corporate story. His keynote speeches are legendary for their role in hugely successful product launches. The Apple brand is powerful, but it remains to be seen whether it will survive Jobs leaving again someday.

One smart approach to choosing between personal and corporate branding may be to start off with a personal brand and then use it to launch a corporate brand once your personal brand has enough strength.

You could operate for a while with a hybrid brand, like Apple. But if you ever want to be able to step back from the business, you'll need to convince customers that your strengths have been woven into the fabric of the company so that it can continue to stand just as strong without you. And since that'll be much easier if it's true, you'd better figure how to do it if that's your plan!

Real Name or Pen Name?

If you decide to use a personal brand, there's still the question of whether to use your real name or a pseudonym.

Copywriter James Chartrand posted on that topic a few days ago. James is uniquely qualified to talk on the subject. After all, she (yep, James is a she) has operated successfully under a male pseudonym for years.

Some of the reasons [people] adopt a pen name include setting boundaries, maintaining security, hiding identity, retaining privacy, and increasing opportunities. Others have done so to avoid persecution, prejudice and discrimination, like the Bronte sisters or thousands of Jews trying to fit in during the war.

Many choose pen names for marketing and branding reasons, like Grandma Mary or Kid Rock, and some people want to use pen names to separate association from a project, their job or business ventures, like Stephen King did with his pen name Richard Bachman and Garth Brooks did with Chris Gaines.

That pretty well covers the why. But is it unethical to use a made up name?

It could be, but not necessarily. After all, your real name is just the name your parents made up for you, right? It all depends on how you're using the name.

If you've done shady business in the past and are using a different name to hide your identity and do more shady business, that's clearly unethical. If you've turned over a new leaf and want to escape your past, I think that's okay.

If you've made a name for yourself as an expert in a different industry and don't want to dilute that brand, that's a legitimate reason to operate under a different name.

If you're inventing a set of achievements and awards to go with your pseudonym, that's just as unethical as lying about what you've accomplished under your real name.

If your real name doesn't match the image you want for your business, or if you just don't like you're real name, there's no reason why you should be stuck with what your parents chose for you.

In summary, your business will be much more successful if you have a strong brand. Choose the kind of brand you want to use, build great products, and then create associations between them and your brand name, logo, slogan, etc.

With those associations established in customers' minds, you'll have a tool for quickly connecting with the thoughts, feelings, and opinions they have about your business and products, making it easier to sell to them in the future.

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