Your image is a first impression that, if pleasing, leads to a second, a third and ideally a lifetime of positive experiences. Whether we’re talking about ourselves as human beings or as company leaders, the same principle applies. Creating an image that distinctively communicates the essence of your company is vital, yet it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes research, strategy, insight and the foresight of seeing your brand as a long-term investment rather than a short-term expense.

So where do you begin? Try this right-brain exercise to start the discovery process. Pretend your company is a person. What do you see? What is it wearing? Does it say, “Hi,” “Hello,” or “Hey dude, what’s up?” Is it male or female? What kind of car does it drive? How about its personality? Sense of humor? Buttoned-up or laid back? What do others say about this person? Who talks with this person the most? What do they want to know? Why? That personality is your company’s brand.

Determining your brand and creating promotional materials that are in line with that personality is what establishes the obvious difference between the amateurs who get lost in the crowd and the professionals who stand out and succeed. Today, a brand is much more than a logo. It is everything from the words you put on paper to the message on your voice mail. Every opportunity to communicate with your audience must be true to your brand. Inconsistency causes confusion and leads to brand disloyalty. It’s like having multiple personalities and the customer won’t know what or who to expect. To help you create a strong brand, take a look at a few tried-and-true tips:

Create a brand blueprint

It would be unimaginable for people to build a 30-story building without a blueprint, so why why would you try to build a company without one? Without a strategic blueprint, you leave the interpretation of your brand to your customer. Your brand needs to be controlled so you can navigate it through ever-changing trends and markets.

Know your target audience.

Put yourself in their shoes and get inside their heads. The better you know your audience, the more effective you will be in communicating and connecting with them. Their wants and needs help drive your brand. By digging deeper your can hit on an emotional tie that leads to brand loyalty.

Make sure your employees are true to your brand.

Educate them, excite them, show them exactly how their actions and interactions affect the company brand. No matter where they work in the company, everything they do says something about who your company is. Whatever it takes to make your brand a true champion, the foundation is built on a well-planned brand strategy. Remember, develop your brand DNA, know your audience, and ensure that every employee communicates your brand.It takes an investment of time and money but, in the end, it makes the difference.