Branding is one of those big marketing words that sounds intimidating to most small business owners. However, once you understand what a brand really is it becomes very easy to create your own branding guidelines.
What does brand actually mean?
The brand has been defined as ‘what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name’ by Jerry McLaughlin in his Forbes article. He explains that it is ‘everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering’.
So whilst the word ‘brand’ might sound like a marketing buzzword that requires a team of creatives and a huge budget to devise, the reality is that it is something you already have. And whilst large organisations have to work hard to invent it, as a small business owner you have an advantage of knowing your business inside out and what it is all about. So all you have to do here is ask yourself the right questions.
Target audience is a great starting point for crystallizing your brand as, in its essence, a brand is the company's promise to its customers. And in order to put this promise into words, you need to first know who it is you are making your promise to. We speak differently to various audiences. In short, you won’t address a board of directors in the same way you would talk to a 5 year old and you will not engage your spouse with the same words you would use in the company of your buddies.
Understanding who we are trying to reach is the essential step in brand creation. Ideally you want to create a few main customer personas (few imaginary people who represent your customers) with their main characteristics: demographics (age, income, education, sex, language, nationality, etc), their needs and wants and aspirations. Having those few fictitious ideal customers in your mind, will help you better choose the right tone and words to address them.
Company mission and vision
The next step in your branding is thinking through the problem you are solving for your customers. This involves not only stating what services you provide, but rather what is the experience that they buy? For example, the customer choosing a particular insurance is actually buying the peace of mind. Those purchasing a holiday are in reality buying the fun and rest, or maybe even happiness. And those going for a specific ice cream might just want a sense of indulgence. It is all about them rather than you here. Think not only about the service, but about the end result for the customer. Think about the life situation they are in when they reach for your service or product.
This end result is what will help you set the right tone, as this is what you are actually trying to communicate. So, needless to say, the funeral home will have to be more formal, serious and compassionate in their communications and images, unlike a gardening business which would be less serious or formal. Your colours and images will also have to reflect the mood the customers are feeling when reaching for your offerings.
Who are you and how do you affect your business?
Every small business is irrevocably linked to its business owner. All entrepreneurs have a tremendous passion for what they do and this passion runs through all aspects of the company. So we can not forget that the brand will have a lot in common with YOU. And this is an advantage you have over the big players in the market. It’s personal. The business has a face. And it’s yours.
Of course you still want to think through which aspects of your personality you want to shine the brightest and to emphasise those that help your business and perhaps leave the weaknesses in the shadow. Which is why we looked at your target audience and business purposes first. However, if you have been in business for a while you probably have a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Consistency is the key
Once you have answered all those questions, you can put the responses into a coherent branding guide. You can think of a few DO’s and DON’Ts and use this document in all your conversations with designers and writers. Integrate them into the company’s daily life and make sure that your employees know them off by heart. If you outsource any aspect of the service, make sure that the suppliers use them as a starting point. Let them permeate every aspect of your business. It’s as simple as this.
If you make it your priority to start everything you do in your business with your brand promise and you make it a focal point of your organisational processes and behaviours, everything else will fall in place. It will even help with making your decisions and hiring staff, as you will know what you are looking for.
Design and copy
Once you know how you want to appear to your audience and you have your branding guidelines ready, it’s time to hire the creatives who can make them come to life. Small business owners often make an error of just paying the designer to create their marketing collateral without much guidance, and end up with generic, ordinary logos and graphics that can’t be distinguished from those of the competition.
Thinking through your brand and what makes it unique is what will allow you to stand out and to capture your customer's attention. After all, if you prepare your branding and your promise with them in mind they will be more likely to notice it and engage with it.
Life is a river
One thing to remember: nothing stands still in life and business, so you need to treat your brand guidelines as a live document. Build on them and update them, to make sure they always represent your evolving business well.
Next week we will publish a questionnaire that will guide you through all the right questions. Keep your eyes peeled!