THE significance of brands in the marketplace is widely recognised.

It is no coincidence that the world's most successful organisations are also the world's biggest brands.

This is true not just for multinational corporations like Nike and Coca-Cola, but also international charities like Oxfam and WWF.

But despite this, there are still many organisations that do not make full use of their brand potential.

In the worst cases, companies do not own any brands, and sell products and services as commodities with price being the primary point of difference.

Others do have their own brands, but they are not designed, structured and implemented effectively.

All too often, managers believe that branding is just a cosmetic exercise with the sole purpose of giving a good first impression. In reality, though, successful brands are much more.

Three keys to successful branding

The development of a successful brand requires a well-managed, strategic approach that includes three key elements, which are applicable to all industries:

1. The brand idea

Every brand must stand for something that is unique, remarkable and relevant to the target markets' worldview and aligned with the company's goals.

It does not need to be complex and, in many cases, the simplest ideas are the best.

A very important point to note is that your brand idea does not need to appeal to everyone. It must be focused specifically to connect with your core target market.

Once you have captured these customers' hearts, they will become your greatest asset as they promote your brand by word of mouth, allowing it to connect with an increasingly wider audience.

Whatever your brand idea, though, it must become the focus of your brand and the foundation upon which your brand is built.

2. The core identity

Having established a suitable brand idea, the next stage is to develop a core identity for this idea. This serves a number of functions.

It gains the attention of the target market, helps consumers to identify you, and helps to ensure that your remarkable brand idea is attributed to you.

The core identity can consist of any number of elements, but most commonly includes the brand name, slogan, logo and visual style.

The number and type of elements included depend on the specific nature of the brand, but the name is absolutely essential. It is what people will read and think about. Without a good name, your brand is nothing.

All parts of the core identity must be carefully designed to appeal to your target market, to be distinctive, easy to remember and relevant to your brand idea.

This is where branding exercises normally end. Often they will go on to promote the brand though marketing techniques such as websites and advertisements.

However, the brand is not yet complete. Without the third and final element, the brand is unlikely to achieve any significant lasting value.

3. Authenticity

This last stage of the brand's development is its embodiment. The whole point of a brand is that it tells the world who you are and what you stand for, so you need to make sure that this is true.

An inauthentic brand may achieve some short-term benefits but will be a liability to your organisation in the long term.

An authentic brand, on the other hand can earn the trust and respect of not just your customers, but also your staff, investors and other business stakeholders.

To achieve the required level of authenticity, your brand idea must guide everything that you do, from the staff that you hire, to the products that you produce and the process that you use.

Benefits of branding

Building a successful brand has numerous benefits for a business, the most obvious being an increased demand for and a higher perceived value of your products and services.

It also reduces marketing costs by encouraging word-of-mouth promotion.

In most cases, brands also increase a company's share value.

In fact, for many of the world's most successful brands, the brand itself is by far their most valuable asset.

What's more, just as customers buy into the brand, so too do staff. This increases staff morale and also attracts new staff who are themselves devotees of the brand.

This helps to reinforce the brand's authenticity and enables every member of the organisation to be an ambassador for the brand.

For those who think that branding is a cosmetic exercise, think again.

Branding is everything, and if you are committed to achieving its full benefits, then your brand strategy needs to become your business strategy.