In my business, I always get asked…What is branding and is it really essential for a business as small as mine?
When small business owners approach me after hearing that I’m a Branding Consultant, they will often ask me to design a logo for them or re-design their website. ‘But they are just visual representations of your brand you understand?’ I say ‘What’s your strategy, what’s your brand all about?’ To which I’m often met with blank faces.
Coming from a corporate background myself, having worked for some of London’s biggest advertising agencies and with some of the world’s most renowned brands (from Coca-Cola and BMW to Nike and VISA), it’s always frustrated me how many ‘experts’ within my industry can overly complicate branding (and marketing for that matter), mystifying the very clients that they are trying to win. If we can’t express clarity at the very highest level, what hope is there for small business owners with no previous experience in the field?
So let’s get back to basics.
Firstly, what is branding?
Your brand IS your business.
It’s the persona you portray to the world. It’s what your customers buy into.
It’s also important to add here what your brand is not: a company name, a logo or the way your company communicates these to the world. It’s all of these and much, much more. It’s what you can ‘stand up and be counted for’ as a company, and how you want to be perceived in the hearts and minds of your customers.
I always feel that my clients come on a journey with me. They often approach me to get their logo created or clarity on their social media strategy. But they leave with so much more – a real understanding of who they are, who they want to target and how best to communicate with potential clients on their level. In essence, the CLARITY that they have been searching for (for so long); having previously spent a considerable amount of time, money and energy jumping from one tactic to the next, whether that be social media, SEO, networking or printed flyers.
So brand strategy then – in its simplest of terms, is a set of principles that guide you as an organisation. These should act as a guideline for communicating your company’s reason for being. Without this, how can you expect your customers to buy into you or your business? You’ll always be following the next bright shiny object or cutting prices as a way to lure customers in.
But how do you create a strategy? Personally, I’d advise that you start with your goals and vision, because if you don’t know where you want to be, then how can you possibly know how to get there? This visualisation process is invaluable; not only will you and any others in your organisation be clearer on what you want to achieve, but it helps to work out how you can get there.
The power of your brand comes from the ability to adapt it to reflect your audience’s point of view, rather than your own. This is why defining your target market is so essential in ensuring your brand’s effectiveness.
It’s important to drill down beyond the demographic and geographic characteristics of your target market(s) and look at what really drives them, and what motivates them to do business with you. How do they typically feel about competitors in your industry? What problems do they have that you could resolve?
You should also analyse what your competitors are up to, so that you have a clear understanding of the whole marketplace and how you slot into that, together with the key points of differentiation between your company and others.
There’s no point just being a ‘little bit different’; think about how you can set your brand apart from the rest, now you know where you sit.
Productising and packaging
Productising and packaging-up your offerings, enables you to become more accessible to your target market(s). This in turn, allows you to reach a wider customer base, so you should consider how this option could work for you. It also makes it easier for your customer to opt-in, as you have created the tangible from the (very often) intangible – so they’ll know right from the outset what they’re getting for their money.
At this stage, I would highly recommend you get an expert on board to help you with your brand essence (the emotional heart of your brand), and how that should be communicated to customers (visual identity, tone of voice, channels etc). This is where the magic happens and you really start to create your own ‘tribe’ (as our very own Julie Hall would refer to those loyal customers).
From a business perspective, a cherished brand adored by its customers, not only helps you stand out against your competitors, but also win more loyal customers much more easily.
It also helps you grow without losing consumer trust, as once you have your community of raving fans, they will follow you whichever direction you decide to take next (you only need to look at the Apple brand to see this in practice). Even if you experience a one-off problem or decide to increase prices, your customers are more likely to understand and continue buying your products.
To sum up, establishing your brand and getting your strategy in place, is one of the most important elements of running a business. Without a proper strategy in place the likelihood is that your business will fail.
So what are you waiting for? Get cracking on creating that brand strategy today!
What do you think… do you have a brand strategy in place? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com