Branding—it’s one of those business-building strategies you know you must do. Unfortunately, it’s also one of those quasi-nebulous terms that few of us truly understand.

Yes, your brand is your business name, but it extends beyond that.“Your brand is your name, logo and other outward symbols that distinguish your     product or service from others in your category,” defines Rebecca James Gadberry, chairman and CEO of YG Laboratories. “Your brand also is your promise ... comprised of both tangible and intangible values that form a relationship with your client. It’s your engine for growth and profitability, therefore, your brand is your most valuable asset.”

Sounds great, right? It’s a bit like the Field of Dreams promise, “If you build it, they will come.” The magic starts when you understand how to build your brand.

What is your motive?

Before you develop your brand, you need to know where you want to go and why, recommends Gadberry. “Clearly identifying your reasons to start a brand, and being honest about your expectations of the brand, will help you know how much commitment you need to make to ensure it’s a success. Big dreams demand big effort and lots of resources. But small dreams can be just as satisfying, especially when your resources are limited.”

Steven Brooks admits he was dreaming big when he and wife Lisa conceived their Diva Studio in Las Vegas, Nevada. “I wanted to build a multimillion-dollar company that could change the world,” he laughs. “But we decided our goal was to create a professional, progressive and profitable beauty business.”

As you build your brand, it’s also important that your motive is clearly interpreted by your audience. “We decided that we always wanted to be the best-have the highest standards and offer the highest quality,” says Lina Heath, vice president of operations for the Eveline Charles Salons and Spas with eight locations throughout western Canada. “But sometimes, people perceive that as meaning you are too exclusive or too expensive, so we have to be very careful how we communicate our message.”

 What’s your mission statement?

“A good mission statement is the foundation on which your business is built,” says Gadberry. “Every successful organization begins by knowing why it exists. As your business develops, your mission statement acts as a resource document that can be referred to by you and your staff for guidance when making decisions, identifying your target market, hiring employees and developing successful products and services.”

“When drafting your mission statement, the first step is deciding what you stand for,” says Phil Fennell, owner of Experience, The Salon. “Then you have to decide how to say that in as few words as possible.”

Fennell was determined to create a Mercedes-level salon in Pensacola, Florida, by excelling above and beyond any of the competition. “We decided our mission statement would be, ‘While others may talk about the experience, we simply deliver it.’”

Once you’ve developed a concise mission statement, give it the “Mother Test,” suggests Darrell Zahorsky in his article “Writing a Meaningful Mission Statement” on about.com. “Show your mission to your mother,” he says. “If she does not understand it, start again.”

 What’s your unique selling position?

Are you going to be a “me-too” organization that enters the marketplace with a similar concept to your competitors and simply try to grab market share? Or, are you going to develop a unique position that differentiates your business from all the others in your market?

“Too many businesses simply copy the competition all the way down to the messaging, the logo and the look,” says John Bradley Jackson, author of First, Best or Different: What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About Niche Marketing. “Think of the ads for law firms you’ve seen—they all seem to have three names with a photo of the attorneys all scowling. It’s really important to develop your own unique brand and avoid copying others.”

 What’s your marketplace?

Gadberry recommends doing as much market research upfront as you can possibly afford.

“Rather than take on the whole world, it’s best to develop a three-tier strategy by identifying your first, second and third tiers of clients and competitors,” advises Gadberry. “Describe each tier in detail and link each to the brands, products and services they buy. This will identify competitors you can use as ‘inspiration’ as well as those who are threats. And, once you know your three tiers, you can select products and services and marketing materials to appeal to each.”

What’s your name?

Once you’ve established your motive, developed your mission statement, determined your point of differentiation, and concluded your research, it’s time to name your brand.

An overwhelming trend in the beauty business is to name the brand after yourself, but that might not be your best strategy. “Actually, naming a brand after the owner used to be referred to as one of the first five signs of small business failure,” laughs Fennell. “Yet, many in our industry have done it successfully. When it came to naming our salon though, I decided to choose a name that reflected our position, a name that we could market effectively.”

Brooks decided against self-naming his business for a number of reasons. “Most importantly, I thought the name needed to reflect the mission of the company and I thought about my exit strategy—I wanted a name that would develop brand value and equity, so in the end I wasn’t just selling used furniture.”

The first Diva Studio was located in a small space with old world décor that was almost Grecian in nature. “We started kicking around the name Godiva, because in mythology, she was a princess of beauty and because as a brand it goes straight to the top of the chocolate scale,” explains Brooks. “We shortened it to Diva, but incorporated the image of Lady Godiva into our logo. Since then the word ‘diva’ has exploded and has become a state of mind or a lifestyle. Now our clients come to us to find their inner divas.”

Naming your brand for yourself can help you build authority and a strong identity within your community, says Gadberry, but she also cautions that it can alienate your team and limit your future options.

“You do have to think about your exit strategy. Is someone else going to buy a business that carries your name? And should you decide to develop your own product line, naming it after yourself may limit your ability to sell it into other salons if that’s your goal.”

According to Heath, Eveline Charles’ decision to use her name came about in part because of trademark issues. Before launching her namesake salon, Charles was a partner in a salon business named Bianconero. “Eveline and her partner were parting ways so she needed a new brand, but she also had discovered that there were some limitations using the Bianconero name if she wanted to grow her business into the states. But if you name your brand for yourself, you can use the name even if it conflicts with other brands,” explains Heath. “Besides, she has a beautiful name that worked with our mission.”

Are you authentic?

Be cautious of overselling or overpromising the benefits of your services and products. “There’s been a certain degree of consumer cynicism brought on by brands that don’t deliver on their promises,” says Gadberry. “People make decisions to buy products based on brands that make them feel safe and secure, but consumers will shy away from anything that isn’t authentic. That can spell disaster for a salon or spa.”

Make sure that your services deliver on the promises of your menu. “For example, a destination spa may promote a sweatlodge service. The consumer may envision steaming in an authentic sweatlodge, only to discover that she’s simply tented for the service,” continues Gadberry.

In addition to your services, Gadberry stresses that your products must produce the promised results. Look closely at the words you’re using to describe services. She advises using phrases such as ‘healthy aging’ instead of ‘anti-aging’, ‘controlling acne’ instead of ‘healing acne’, and ‘sunscreen’ instead of ‘sunblock.’

To reinforce authenticity, offer your clients as much proof as possible. Consider including the following on your website or throughout your salon and spa: clinical studies, ingredient studies, before and after photos, product backgrounders, trial sizes and client testimonials.

 Do you know your clients?

A recent trend in growing a brand is involving the company’s consumers in the process. “Consumer-made brands draw their consumers into their business and use them to help decide the kinds of products and services to offer and how to offer them,” says Gadberry. “Then, these consumers become very effective brand missionaries.”

A great example is Dove’s recent Campaign for Real Beauty. The pro-age campaign has captured media buzz by using real women of all shapes, ages and ethnicities in its advertising. The evolution film on www.dove.com is sweeping schools, revealing to young girls how a model’s look is distorted through both pre-shoot work and computer enhancement to create what our world considers perfect, if unrealistic, beauty. And the company’s Dream Team campaign posts essays of girls who’ve overcome a challenging self-esteem situation.

There are many ways salons and spas can incorporate their clients in brand development. The next time you revamp your services, conduct an in-depth survey of clients’ wants and needs or invite a select group to serve as a focus group. Solicit clients to serve as models for fashion shows or in advertising. When you are considering a new product line, invite some trusted clients to sample the products and offer opinions.

 How to measure?

According to Fennell, there are very specific indicators that you, as a salon or spa owner, should benchmark and track that can identify specific areas where you can grow your brand. “With the ability to track these specific areas, when you spend dollars on a promotion you truly understand your return,” says Fennell. “For example, we do a new protégé promotion when our assistants hit the floor. Typically we’ll introduce them in January and February by announcing, ‘We are so confident in the quality of their color service, we’re giving it away the first time free.’”

Participating clients receive a free color service with the new staff member when they purchase a hair cut. “We structure it that way because we know that a color service, when done properly, has a retention rate that is two to three times higher than any other service,” says Fennell.

Fennell put together a print ad for the promotion and soon learned it brought 137 new clients to the salon. So the results paid for the ad by filling up staff downtime, but was it a good long-term promotional strategy for the salon? To find out, Fennell tracked retention on those 137 clients. After six months, 60 percent remained active clients of the salon.

“Owners frequently will ask me how they can get their staff to participate in a promotion like that when the staff member is expected to give away something for free,” says Fennell. “Again, it comes down to your ability to educate them on what building a brand and an image is about. When you’re able to track the results and show them exactly what the promotion did to build their long-term book, they become believers.”

Fennell believes there are seven primary growth indicators that every owner should measure: current active clients, active client retention rate, number of new clients per month, new client retention rate, frequency of visits, average service ticket and average retail ticket. “When you know your salon’s benchmarks, then you know which area you can work on to yield the best result,” he explains. [For details on how to measure these growth indicators, visit www.salontoday.com.]

 Are you branding vertically?

Once you’ve established your brand, don’t stop by simply posting it on your sign and your menu. What else can you brand?

Heath says that Eveline Charles has implemented a vertical branding strategy that addresses multiple levels. “The more we layer the name, the more it is ingrained into our clients,” she says.

The first level in the company is manufacturing. “Ninety-nine percent of the products, tools and equipment both sold by and used in the business are Eveline Charles brands,” says Heath. “It’s quite impressive when all the professional packaging on the shelves is Eveline Charles.”

The second level is education. Eveline Charles launched the Eveline Charles Academy and now the brand is extended to its trademarked education and a skilled labor pool.

The third level includes the salons and spas themselves. “We currently have eight and are working on our ninth location,” says Heath.  All the facilities feature a simple layout with clean lines and minimalist style with an Italian coloring of white, charcoal and rich browns and black. And, of course, the name Eveline Charles is always prominently displayed throughout signage at the entrance, the front desk and on mirrors, as well as on all towels, robes, sandals and even drinking glasses.

 Giving the best info?

Finally, remember what your clients really want from you. In addition to superior services and unique products, they crave information.

“Consumers want all the information they need to make informed choices, but they simply don’t have enough time to read it all or they don’t know where to go to get the information,” says Gadberry. “You can strengthen your brand when you give them information in easy-to-absorb chunks.”

Gadberry stresses that each team member should know the features, functions and benefits (FFBs) of each service and product as well as knowing the FFBs of three performance ingredients for each product. Think about how you can reinforce these FFBs in your marketing. For example, bulletpoint them in your service descriptions on your menu or use them in product shelf talkers.

“Develop sound bites, talking points and interesting facts to share with your clients,” suggests Gadberry. “Basically, I want you to tell me what to do, how to do it and then send me on my way.”

Are you consistent?

Consistency is the key to maintaining the brand, but warns Jackson, that’s also your biggest challenge. “As your business grows, it becomes harder and harder to keep your brand consistent since everyone needs to believe in and support the brand,” he explains. “All employees must sing the same song—they must honor the brand by using the same tag line, by treating customers with a minimum of respect, and by dressing appropriately at work.

“In addition, your company name, logo, and tagline must be consistently displayed on all materials, including business cards, letterhead, envelopes, brochures, websites, bags, and signage,” continues Jackson.

John Stefanick, production manager for the Noëlle Spa for Beauty and Wellness in Stamford, Connecticut, admits that after founder Noel de Caprio passed away, the legendary day spa struggled with consistency in its logo. “For years, we had the same stretched Noëlle logo with the same PMS color of bronze metallic,” remembers Stefanick. “But then every time we would hire a new graphic artist, each one would want to add their own spin. But then we remembered that Noel had instilled in us the importance of keeping it consistent—much like the Tiffany blue box wrapped in white ribbon. Now, we’re back to the original bronze metallic logo.”

 What’s a brand handbook?

To keep the brand consistent, it all boils down to the details. Jackson recommends establishing a brand handbook for your company. “A brand handbook can capture and archive all your branding elements, including colors, fonts, tagline, logo specifics, website design, stationery design, signage, graphics, background music and dress code,” he says.

Not only does a brand handbook communicate the essentials to new staff, it emphasizes the importance of the brand to your existing staff. Jackson recommends maintaining the handbook separately from any operations manual, as stresses the importance of reviewing and updating the handbook as elements are revised.

 Is your service up to standard?

You also have to maintain a consistency in the service you deliver—from visit to visit and from location to location. “You have to create service standards and deliver as close to them as you can 100 percent of the time,” says Fennell.

That was a struggle for Eveline Charles as the corporation began to add locations, since Charles couldn’t be at each location ensuring that each service was the same. Charles addressed the issue by developing specific standards for each service on her menu.

“Across every department, each Eveline Charles service includes the following five steps: preparation, greeting, consultation, technical service, and finally, the client closing, which includes the thank you, the rebooking, and the closing of the retail sale,” stresses Heath. “Each of the five steps should be recognizable in any Eveline Charles service.”

 Who’s in charge?

One of the best ways to ensure brand consistency is for each salon and spa to assign a staff member to the charge. At Diva Studio, the self-proclaimed brand bulldog is Brooks. “While everyone else works in our company, I work on the company. I am the brand protector,” he says. “Whenever we make any decision about the company, we bounce it off the brand and let the brand determine the outcome.”

As an example, the owners recently considered adding an accessory line of handbags in their retail area. “They were a hot line of knock-offs of designer bags and I’m sure we would have make some money on them. But I asked if the decision to carry knock-offs was consistent with our brand. Are we a knock-off company? Would the next step be carrying knock-off shampoos?” he asked. “So in the end, we decided against it.You know, as a market leader you can’t beat Target. But we want to be Armani,” he continues. “That means we won’t be doing business with everyone. We went out and did market analysis and learned that we were underpriced. Our prices have to come up, but we know we have also have to add those value-added perks that come with a brand at that level.”