With the volume of competition that businesses face in most industries, it’s never been more important to stand out and develop a unique identity and value proposition through strategic branding. While its obviously important to offer a quality product or service, effective branding is often at the heart of the companies that thrive.

According to Jerry McLaughlin, brand is the perception someone holds in their head about you, a product, a service, an organization, a cause, or an idea.  Brand building is the deliberate and skillful application of effort to create a desired perception in someone elses mind.
Lets explore the common characteristics of successful brands, so you can build your brand accordingly.
1.      Audience Knowledge

The best brands have a thorough understanding of the demographics of their target market, what their interests are, and how they communicate. Unless its a mega chain like Wal-Mart, most businesses have a specific target audience theyre pursuing. Understanding the target market is critical because it provides direction for the tone and reach of a marketing campaign, along with the overall identity of a brand, while helping to create an organic, human connection between a business and its audience.

Trying to appeal to everyone (ie, ignoring the concept of a target market) can be counterproductive, causing a companys brand to become diluted. Finding the right branding approach requires first understanding the target market.  
2.   Uniqueness

Establishing a brand identity requires something distinctive. For instance, Apple has become known worldwide for their innovative products and minimalistic, aesthetic appeal. When it comes to service companies, Dominos Pizza used to guarantee that their pizza would arrive in 30 minutes or itd be free. In terms of a selling point, TOMS shoes donates a free pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes that are bought.

Creating an identity within a niche doesnt demand a revolutionary idea. It simply needs to have one special thing that separates it from the competition. In reality, its possible to be a one trick pony as long as that trick is really good. Once a company figures out what that is, it can concentrate on it and should gain recognition in time.

Do you know what your unique product, service, or selling point is within your niche? If not, start there when building your branding strategy.
3.      Passion

While its certainly possible to build a brand in the short-term without passion, its almost impossible to sustain it in the long run. When you examine massively successful people like Steve Jobs, they all have a serious passion that keeps propelling them to work hard and continually deliver greatness. That passion leads to enthusiasm and genuine joy, which is infecPassio

Consumers often become just as enthusiastic about a product or service, leading to word of mouth advertising and referrals. Passion also helps businesses persevere through inevitable setbacks.
4.      Consistency

When consumers come back to a business for repeat sales, they usually expect to receive the same level of quality as they did the first time. Restaurants and their food and service quality are a great example of this.

No one wants to deal with a company they cant rely on for consistency. With so many industries being saturated with competitors, inconsistency is often enough of a reason for consumers to take their business elsewhere.

Thats why its so important to adhere to a certain quality standard with a product or service. An example of a brand who offers amazing consistency is McDonalds. This powerhouse of the fast food world provides patrons with a menu thats consistent across the world. Whether someone orders in Florida or China, they know that a Big Mac is going to taste the same.
5.      Competitiveness

Gaining an edge in todays business world isnt easy. For a brand to make a name for itself, team members should thrive on competition and constantly strive to improve. This is the main principle behind Seahawks Coach Pete Carrolls book, Win Forever, as well as the way he runs the team.

When it comes to the major players in any industry, none simply sit back and hope that their consumers will do the work for them. Instead, they tend to be the movers and shakers who work tirelessly toward building and optimizing their brand, going above and beyond consumer expectations. The end result tends to be a brand that is continually on the cutting edge of its industry.
6.       Exposure

Another big part of being recognized as a distinctive, successful brand is the ability to reach consumers through multiple channels. Obviously, larger companies have an advantage gaining exposure because they usually have a bigger marketing budget and more existing connections. They can pay for television commercials, be featured in globally-recognized magazines, and rank highly in search engine results pages.

However, the Internet and social media have narrowed the gap between small companies and large ones. There are more tools than ever before which offer any company a chance at establishing their brand. By developing a presence on networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, anyone is able to reach almost any consumer. You just have to know how (thats the hard part).
7.      Leadership

Just like any thriving community or sports team, theres typically an influential leader behind every successful brand. For large companies, this may be the CEO. For smaller ones, its usually the owner.

To coordinate the efforts of team members and guide a strategic vision for a brand, someone has to step up and steer the ship. The leader resolves complications and acts as a liaison between different departments to keep everyone on the same page. They are also expert motivators and know how to maximize the strengths of different team members.

Successful brands share these seven common characteristics. How does your brand measure up? Did we miss any characteristics? Let us know in the comments box below.
Written by Jayson DeMers (Forbes)