Happy New Year! Time to make this year's resolutions. Here's one: Become a breakout brander. Branding is key to building lasting success. It is also a large and often misunderstood field, with many paths. This article offers ideas to start you today on the right path and hopefully inspire you to further grow your skills in this critical field.

Branding can increase your customers' perceived value of your products and services. When you think of Lexus and Mercedes, you likely have a certain perception of value that is different than when you think of Daihatsu and Yugo. Top brands have discovered and internalized their big ideas. They know them and can promote them with amazing comfort and clarity.

Breakout branding combines traditional value building with captivating tools that galvanize customer attraction to your business. The tools are not just marketing gimmicks — they actually become part of the brand image: who you are, and why customers value you.

Breakout branding tools may differ by industry, but are alike in how they encourage customer interactivity, maximize current social and technology trends and immediately address customer desires. Your success as a breakout brander can be easily fulfilled if you are willing to embrace new brand-building concepts. This means escaping the norm of traditional billboards, commercials, print advertising and mailers.

GUMPTION, GRIT AND GUTS

Despite branding's importance, most businesses drop the ball. Luckily, this is your chance to recover the fumble and race downfield through dazed competitors to score the game-winning touchdown and attract throngs of exuberant customers.

Breakout branding requires complete confidence in the product you are selling — a certain John Wayne drawl and swagger that shows your brand's true grit. This is regardless of whether you are promoting dainty elegance or hard-as-steel toughness. Fear of breaking out of the ordinary is one of the leading causes of company and brand failure. It takes gumption and guts to create a truly breakout branding experience that plants you front and center in everyone's mind. Commit to this mind-set.

BREAKOUT BRANDING STEPS

1. Tell your tale. Write down the truthful story of your product, service or company. What makes it measurably different and remarkable. Why should a customer buy your product over another. Get your story into words and be able to tell it with perfect comfort and clarity. Tell it and sell it to everyone: yourself, friends, family, vendors, employees and customers. Make them true believers in the merits of your breakout brand.

This story is now the foundation of all you do and sell. All the other parts of branding, such as logos, approaches to sales and service, uniforms, vehicle graphics, brochures and so on, are secondary to finding your true tale.

2. Relentlessly look for breakout branding tools. They don't need to be wacky or tacky — they need to be intriguing, intelligent and captivating. Customers are smart. Treat them that way. Look beyond typical marketing tools. What can you infuse into the entire brand. What will give your customers unique and satisfying experiences the instant they see your brand. Look to other industries. What is intriguing about freight trains, dry cleaners, tax accountants, and anything else you come across that can be applied to your business. What may be normal for them may prove to be a true breakout branding technique in your industry. Remember the old adage, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." What doesn't work for one company may very well work for you.

3, Relentlessly repeat the process to stay on your toes and keep your brand feeling fresh and memorable.

TODAY: Cut out this section and put it where you'll see it every day.

Breakout Branding Example: Ivory soap has been a breakout brand for more than 125 years. Proctor & Gamble turned the simple, ten-cent product into a branding dynamo. Ivory became one of the first real American branding and marketing campaigns. In 1952, commercials for Ivory started appearing during the new daytime drama Guiding Light , which along with similar shows became known as soap operas. Ivory has built incredibly positive customer perception over more than a century of effort.

But it has been the breakout ideas that have put it over the top. Ivory has connected itself to the human experience. It had the "Ivory Generation," the "Ivory Girl" and the "Ivory Baby." These are not just marketing campaigns — they are storytelling at its finest, letting the tale permeate everything, then sticking to the story.

TODAY : Visit the "Pure Fun" section at Ivory.com to see a great history of branding.

ACHOO! MAY I HAVE A KLEENEX?

Some brands have become so common their names are merely synonyms for all products in their category. They have become stuck in their own success, and are in great need of some new breakout branding. Examples include Kleenex and Xerox. Do you really care that you use a Kleenex-brand tissue to blow your nose, or a Xerox-brand photocopier to make a copy?

Consider Jacuzzi in the pool and spa industry. Non-pool and spa folk (your customers) often say "Jacuzzi" as a generic term for "hot tub." The brand recognition may at first appear great for Jacuzzi, but the company is also challenged to get customers to prefer actual Jacuzzi brand hot tubs. This can also be great for other brands, which are the recipients of Jacuzzi's "free" advertising that encourages sales in the overall market.

Customers don't always understand brand differences. In other words, the customer often just wants to blow his nose. You need to help customers feel and comprehend that your specific "Kleenex" brand is their best choice.

FROM NOW ON: Start looking at different brands of products at the grocery store. Take notice of why some stand out more than others. Are the more-expensive products always "better," or is the tale they tell through the packaging and presentation what makes them breakout brands.

BREAKOUT BRANDING LOGO EXERCISE

There are other steps to take after you decide on your breakout-branding tale. We are often asked about logo design and usage, so let's investigate that here. Please take a moment to put your logo to the test:

1. Place a sheet of paper over your logo. Shade in the entire outline of your logo. Fill in letters, shapes, everything. Is the result meaningful and memorable, or did it just become a big box or blob. Think about this in comparison to Mickey Mouse ears or McDonald's golden arches, which both exit this process unscathed. That is not by accident. Memorable brands need memorable shapes. Remember, even letters and words are shapes, so you don't necessarily need a graphic in your logo.

2. Is it easy to identify your logo in all its applications (both large and small, on paper and on trucks, in color or in black and white). Do you have a single version of your logo. Is your "logo" typed in whichever font happens to look good to you today. Does your logo have accompanying brand guidelines, such as how the logo can and cannot be used, how big it is supposed to be on the side of your truck and what colors to use?

3. Has your logo been designed to tell your company story to your desired audience?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, then make changes. We suggest seeking the help of a professional designer who can help you better understand these questions and their implications for your company's brand and image.

BREAKOUT THE BRIEFS

Professional branders and designers use "design creative briefs" to discover characteristics of your company, products, industry and market. The briefs provide working groups of themes, adjectives, nouns, styles, philosophies and goals for use in developing brands, identities, logos and other materials.

TODAY: Download and complete a free simplified design creative brief from strategicplanet.com/aqua. You may be surprised at what you discover.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Unfortunately, breakout branding or superior logo design by themselves are not a cure-all. A fine logo won't make up for ugly service or shoddy products. Nor will it save a poorly managed company. Likewise, bad branding and lousy logos can clobber otherwise amazing products by repelling customers.

The good news is that high-quality breakout branding is one of the single most effective ways to become remarkable to your customers. The great news is also that everything is fixable, and there is every reason to fix a broken brand or image. Your customers will think better of you, you will make and keep more money, and your marketing will be easier. You will have arrived at the end zone of the breakout branders.

Time to turn around and head back down the field for your next big score! Happy New Year and happy breakout branding!

Free $24 Book Offer: Interested in more great brand-development ideas? Visit strategicplanet.com/aqua to receive one of 20 hardcover copies of Why Johnny Can't Brand: Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Big Idea . The book is easily readable and instantly usable by every business — small or large.