What You Need to Know About Branding Your Business
Branding is more important than ever, but how much do you really know about building a brand for yourself or your business? President of BrandSprout LLC, Joellyn Sargent, answers five questions on “What you need to know.”
What is branding, and why does it matter?
Some people like to say that a brand is a promise. I prefer to think of it as an intersection. It’s the place where what you want people to believe and what they actually see and remember come together.
Branding is all about perception. We can control that to some degree, but not completely. In order for a brand to come alive, it needs to be embraced by customers who believe the messages you’re sending, and that’s where we sometimes fall short.
Here’s an example: Imagine you have a new business prospect, and you want them to meet you at that cool new café on the corner of Promise Avenue and Perception Street. You tell them how to get there in the best way you know how, and then they have three options:
They can decide not to meet you at all, which means you have a big problem. There’s no trust or connection. Something better came up, and you’ve been stood up.
When they take their own route, they’re interested in meeting you, but you may lack credibility. There is a chance they could end up on the wrong corner and you will miss out on connecting.
If they trust you enough to follow your directions, you’ll both get to the right intersection at the right time and things can come together in a powerful way.
Branding matters because we don’t live in isolation. We live in a world that is constantly changing. People form fresh opinions, trends happen, fads come and go. Branding gives you the opportunity to build and shape perceptions as the market changes, allowing you to be more successful, personally and professionally.
What makes the difference between a good brand and one that never gets noticed?
We can all name some great brands, like Nike or Coca Cola, and there are many others that never made it. You might think that the lucky companies get ahead, but the truth is that good brands don’t happen by accident. They’re the result of a well-planned strategy and a fundamental understanding of customers.
Great brands know who their customers are and what they want. Brands that stand out, regardless of industry, are the ones that appeal to the needs and desires of their customers. They do this in a way that is clear and consistent, so there is no mistake about what the brand stands for.
Think about Zappos, the online shoe retailer. They are known for service and selection. They built their business around that. No one cares about the Zappos logo, they care that the shoes they ordered will get there on time, and if they don’t fit, that they can easily be returned.
The challenge for Zappos was overcoming the customer’s uncertainty about buying something like shoes – where fit is so important – online. While Zappos can’t guarantee that the shoes will fit, they do offer free shipping and hassle-free returns so that if they don’t, customers can quickly get a pair that does.
Understanding and addressing this critical customer concern was a key to Zappos’ success.
Isn’t Branding All About Design?
Good design can certainly help with building a brand. But design is only one piece of the branding process, and it should come at the end, not the beginning.
Many people tend to get wrapped up in all the pretty stuff: logos, website designs, packaging, ads or point of sale displays. Before you do, remember these things are all just ways of reinforcing what your brand stands for. You can’t create an effective brand image without first understanding what makes your brand different and special.
Image is important to branding because it’s a visible way of expressing what the customer experience is like. What should people expect when they do business with you? Is your brand personality fun, funky, professional, solid or edgy? Design can help communicate that.
Well executed design can create a feeling or an impression in an instant. The right “look and feel” can help make a brand successful. At the same time, if reality doesn’t stack up to the image you’ve created, that can be damaging.
Start by deciding what you want people to remember most about your brand, and use design to create the right perceptions.
How does Social Media impact branding? Will it hurt my brand?
Social media is a hot topic right now. People are constantly saying, “I need to do social media,” and often they don’t know where to start. At the same time, lots of companies are afraid of social media. They worry about what will happen if someone says something bad, and how that could have a negative impact on the brand they’ve worked so hard to build.
The truth is, people are already talking about your business. Shouldn’t you play an active part in that conversation? Social media allows you to create a dialog with customers. It is also an incredibly valuable listening tool, letting you know how your messages are being received.
Tools like Google Alerts are wonderful for monitoring what’s being said about your business on places like Twitter, blogs and social sharing or bookmarking sites. Use these tools to stay in tune with what people are saying. Once you know what’s being said – good or bad – you can decide if you need to respond directly, or if there’s something you need to change about your business.
If someone says something bad, there is huge opportunity in that negative feedback. It’s a gift. Take advantage of what you’ve learned to improve your brand. Knowing what elements of your message don’t match with the real customer experience gives you the power to align the two, bring you to the intersection where brand value is created.
What can I do to jump-start my branding efforts?
Getting a jump-start on branding is really easy, and it doesn’t necessarily require a new logo or website redesign, or a big investment in advertising. It does require a little detective work and an open mind.
I recommend a simple 3-step process to get things moving quickly:
First, do a “brand audit.” Gather everything you can find, like brochures and articles, web pages, advertisement, blog posts, business cards and letterhead. Spread it all out and see what these things say about you, both visually and in the text.
Is there a consistent theme, or is it all over the place? Take an objective view, and see if it all makes sense. For a new business, audit your competitors to see what issues and opportunities you can uncover.
Then, talk to customers and prospects. If you have distributors or retailers for your products, talk to them also. Find out how they see you or your business, ask what they need or want, and discover what they’re not getting from your competitors. You might even want to do a little secret shopping to see for yourself what’s working and what isn’t.
Does the experience you uncovered match with the messages you found in your brand audit? What areas are the most divergent? Where does your message most closely match the experience?
Finally, use the information you’ve gathered to update your brand, focusing on the most effective messages and visuals. Get rid of things that aren’t working, whether that means changing the way you do business, cutting a product that doesn’t fit your mix, or dumping an ad that doesn’t send the right message.
Then add new items that reinforce the message you want to send. Make sure that anything you add to the mix improves the consistency of your core message, and that it visually supports the brand personality you want to express.
5 Timeless Branding Lessons
After 20+ years in marketing, an MBA, countless seminars and many, many books, I’ve discovered that the best branding lessons have been right in front of me all along!
From my blog post “Branding Lessons I Learned from My Dad,” here are 5 timeless lessons I’d like to share:
1. You can’t please everyone. Don’t dilute your brand by trying. Figure out who matters, and please them.
2. Do what you say you’ll do. Follow through on that brand promise, so people know they can count on you.
3. Be the best at what you do. You don’t have to be the best at everything, pick your niche and excel at it.
4. Honesty matters. Be truthful in how you represent yourself and your brand.
5. Reputation is paramount. Protect it at all costs. Once it’s gone, it’s really hard to get back.
Tune in to hear Ms. Joellyn Sargent:
Joellyn Sargent is President of BrandSprout LLC, a marketing consultancy that accelerates business growth with strategies to create visibility, engage customers and increase sales. A native of St. Petersburg, Florida, she holds an MBA from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Prior to launching BrandSprout, Ms. Sargent held executive-level corporate marketing positions for more than 20 years, leading marketing strategy and building brands for start-ups and Fortune 500 companies.