What Even is Branding?
Branding. You hear the word all the time, you know it's important, but you aren't quite sure what exactly it is.
If you DON'T know how important branding is, here's my (very long) metaphor for understanding why it is:
Think of your business as a house you've built. You're so excited to get the house up and have people over and parties and to really show it off, that you actually forgot to spend adequate time on the foundation. You didn't like that putting time into the foundation wasn't showing you immediate results, so you skipped over it. Now you may still be able to build a home on a less than average foundation, so you do. You're noticing some issues here and there, like the bathroom can't have that tub you wanted, or things sliding off of tables due to the ground not being level, but you just brush those off because you can't wait for that finish line. Finally the house is built and you immediately start inviting people to come in. Guess what? Your guests are starting to catch on that maybe this house wasn't built on the strongest foundation. They start feeling unsafe, thinking this wasn't done professionally, they start noticing how the tub is lopsided and their drinks are sliding off tables, and they leave for their friends house that has a strong safe foundation that they feel comfortable in. And slowly but surely your house starts falling in until all your hard work went to waste because you decided to skip the first step. This is how your target audience will feel when they go onto your website, or look at your social media, and then step into your store if you didn't spend time on your brand. They'll start noticing inconsistencies and holes in your platform and will jump ship to a more sound brand.
You're only making it harder on yourself when you skip the very important first step of defining your brand before delving into websites, social media, and advertising. Having a strong brand before jumping into business will help you make decisions, give your business longevity, and will keep your audience from being confused.
Some of you may think branding is just the labels and logos used in a business, or the mission statement written on a website, but it is so much more than that. It's intangible, it's every decision, word, move, color, font, photo, person and every thing in between than makes up your business.
Most importantly, your brand is the over-arching feeling or climate of your business. It's how your audience feels when they come into contact with your business and use your services/products.
I'm here to fill you in on what branding really entails, so that you can gain a clearer understanding of the role it plays in having a successful business.
So let's dive in.
Let's start off with the cliche dictionary definition of this word. If you were to look up the definition of "brand," the most relevant response from Dictionary.com reads as follows:
6. a kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic"
This holds very true to what branding means to business, yet I think this definition often times gets lost in the whirlwind of trying to start a new business.
Component #1: Defining your Uniqueness
I find that sometimes business owners I come in contact with, are so caught up in the adrenaline of chasing their dreams and putting in the work to get things rolling, that they forget this very important factor. A factor that can only be seen when you step out of the exciting new business bubble and look at your business from the outside. That factor is: What makes YOUR business special? And are you even trying to really communicate that, and if so, how? Yeah maybe you know it deep down, but you need to get it down on paper, and tell the world!
One of the first questions I ask any person before taking them on as a client is "Why you?" Why would someone pick your business over the other ones in your market? And I want an answer that can be proven, nothing like "My clothes are just cuter," I need the answer to have evidence, because that's what the customer is looking for. They will be looking for clues and evidence that you deliver something unique and special to them, because as a new business, earning trust and attention is going to be one of the biggest challenges.
Once you really define what makes you different from others, that's the blueprint for your branding platform.
Component #2: Mission Statement, Brand Philosophy and Messages
Now it's time to take that uniqueness you've defined and turn it into your why. Why are you doing what you are doing? What is the point of your business besides the product or service you are providing?
Your mission statement is a sentence or two that offers whoever reading a clear cut view of your business. It needs to say it all. This statement often includes why you are different, how you implement that, and what your business stands for, it's values.
Here are a few examples of successful mission statements
- Life is Good: "To spread the power of optimism"
- Patagonia: "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."
- Nike "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world."
Notice how none of these just state what they sell. They all show intention, and value. You want to keep it as simple as possible, and you want your audience to be able to remember it and have it etched in their minds.
Following an example from above, Nike's mission statement was "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world." They then go on to say that "The legendary University of Oregon track and field coach, and Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman said, "If you have a body, you are an athlete." THIS is their brand philosophy.
This is where your brand's values really come into play. This is where you define what you and everyone involved with your business represents, what philosophies you'll stand behind and stick to for the entire existence of your business. These will never change once they are defined. This is what makes you stand out.
Deciding on these philosophies will help you begin to tell your business's story. (Storytelling is one of the most successful marketing techniques when building a brand.) It will also help you make decisions because you can always refer back to the values you built the business off of, and choose the option that best aligns with them.
Really think about these values and make sure they are philosophies that you and your employees can stand by and implement throughout your business. Writing these down is one thing, actually using them on a daily basis is another, and your customers will notice.
From Nike's "Just Do it," to Subway's "Eat Fresh," brand messages are everywhere. And getting yours to stick out and be remembered is the goal. This is what you are communicating with every piece of content. These messages need to reflect your mission statement and philosophies. It needs to spark a feeling within your audience. For example, Nike's "Just do it," will make anyone feel motivated and inspired, and their content aligns with that. Every commercial, social media post, sentence, aligns with the feeling of wanting to just DO IT. Be better. Get shit done.
Now it's time to create yours. Take some time to really look at your branding platform thus far and come up with a phrase that you can use to communicate it. This will become how you decide on the content you put out into the world, and again, will begin to make your life a lot easier when making decisions.
Component #3: Brand Voice
Now that you know what feelings you want to catalyze with your brand, it's time to align your words with that platform. Every piece of copy typed, every word said, and every tone defines your business's brand voice. This will help to mold and communicate your brand identity.
Remember you're constantly having a conversation with your customers, everything said or typed is like you're talking to them. So you need to have intention with every word to create a personality.
For example, if you are a bath bomb business your brand may be all about relaxing and letting loose. So you decided to always speak in playful ways that relax your audience, maybe your landing page on your website says, "Shhhh....have you taken a breather today? Take a few moments for yourself before entering our website," paired with a timer that counts down from ten and soothing music. Right there I already know as a customer that you value my relaxation and mental health.
Maybe you're a financial company who's values are stability and trust, so your sentences are never fluffy or fun. Copy is always straight to the point, and informative. This helps me as a customer recognize that you are confident in your abilities and that I can trust you.
Aligning your brand voice with your values is one extremely important way to communicate your brand personality with your audience, and is a crucial step I often see overlooked.
Component #4: Brand Look & Feel
Finally, we have the brand look and feel. This is where a lot of businesses skip to, and it can be detrimental to your brand if you don't define all of the elements listed above first.
This is the part where you decide on a color palette, design a logo, select brand fonts, build a website, create photo and video content, etc.
Everything you've worked on up until this point will now come to life, this is where you start planting the landscape and deciding on brick color and door paint for your new house, the one with the well thought out and concrete foundation.
From here you align colors with the mood of your brand. There are a multitude of studies done on the psychology of colors, and how certain colors bring out certain emotions. Doing research on colors and finding meaning in them will play a huge role in the rest of your look. Every great brand as an equally great and overall cohesive color palette that helps you recognize them from the corner of your eye. Choose yours and stick to it.
Logo's should encompass your brand platform. It needs to be memorable. There needs to be intention in the type, color and shape. For example the bath bomb business I mentioned earlier may have a logo with colors like lavender or light blue, and the type may be a fun and loose cursive font, while the financial company may use green to symbolize money and the font will be a bold serif font. If you aren't sure about fonts and how they effect the mood of the logo, I'd advise consulting with a graphic designer that you trust and that understands your branding platform.
Websites and social media need to reflect all of the colors, type, brand voice, and brand messages that have been defined above. If your philosophy is that every person deserves a vacation, then maybe your social media account is always posting photos of cruises, beaches, and travel. This is where you bring everything together, and this is why defining your brand identity early will help you make decisions when it comes to content for your social media. Your color palette will help you decide on filters and items that are in your photos, thus creating a cohesive feed, etc.
All of these components together will make up a brand that is impossible to miss. Follow these in the correct order, and your audience will not be able to mistake what you do and why you do it. Not to mention now everyone else will be able to answer the question of "Why your business?" besides just you.
If you need branding help, reach out to me and let's get you on the right path. It all starts with an email.