There is a well-known adage in advertising; that “image is everything”. But to many business people rebranding their business or up- dating their corporate image is simply no more than a costly necessity or inconvenience. Marketing experts believe that all businesses, no matter how large or small, should seek to update their branding or corporate image every seven to eight years in order to stay relevant to the markets that they serve, but in real terms, just how important is branding?

It may not surprise you to learn that in practice, large multi-national companies continually undertake brand reviews, using focus groups in order to gauge the way that their business is perceived both via the media and by the public at large. Clearly, this is fine if you are McDonalds or Coca-Cola, but for smaller companies that neither have the time or resources, this is obviously not an option. Yet we are all consumers ourselves, both in our personal and professional lives, and we constantly pass judgement on the products that we consume by selecting brands based upon our own favourable perception of those products that we choose to endorse.

What makes us choose one particular product or retail outlet over another? Well, clearly price is a strong factor for many of us – particularly in times of austerity, but packaging and our own perception of quality are also a contributory consideration, otherwise stores like Waitrose and the like would simply not exist.

To tackle the pricing issue first, studies suggest that whilst there are a sizeable minority of us that through necessity will always purchase the cheapest product or service simply because it is cheap, the majority of consumers would rather seek greater satisfaction from purchasing a familiar brand at a price lower than our expectations. More interestingly, studies also suggest that artificially low pricing can undermine our confidence in the quality and authenticity of a product that we usually perceive as superior – particularly when being offered from a less than familiar source.

So whilst pricing in many cases is a factor, our perception of quality, authenticity and reliability are also key elements in our ability to discriminate between one product or another – which is why all suppliers of goods and services constantly seek to influence our perceptions and decision-making through advertising and marketing – but do they succeed? Well, that question is hard to answer in general terms, as consumers can be fickle in their purchasing habits, and prone to factors such as fashion, emotion, brand loyalty/disloyalty, impulse, logic, and necessity to name just some of the reasons that make measurement of buying habits an art rather than a science.

But one factor that remains a constant is “familiarity”, as studies show that products or services that are familiar are more likely to engender brand loyalty than lesser known goods or services – which, as a statement of the obvious is at the core of why so much money globally is spent by producers, retailers and service providers on advertising and marketing both themselves and/or their brands.

So be honest with yourself, have you recently taken the time to take a critical look at your branding? Or requested honest feedback from past or present clients about the way that your business is perceived? You should try it. If you are brave and committed enough to ask the serious questions that need asking – then you should prepare yourself for some honest answers, even if it might make for some uncomfortable listening.

The author of this article is Peter Nicholls, CEO of ideology consulting. For further information please go to www.ideologyconsulting.co.uk .