The Marketing Guide To Building Your Brand
Your company and its products are going to create a brand whether you’re trying to or not, so you need to keep your brand under control and have it work for you.Branding creates a cast-iron association between the company, its mission and values, the product or service, and the visual identity. If a company gets it right, a glimpse of their logo calls to mind what they stand for, how they do business, and all the successes they’ve had. It’s very much tangible, but also somewhat intangible - the ‘feeling’ someone gets when they see, hear about or interact with your business.
Here’s what you need to know.
How do you brand?
Building brands is a simple matter of doing what you do - conducting your business with consistency across all channels, aligned with your mission, beliefs and goals. Your brand should be evident in everything from your advertising and product packaging to your signage, vehicle liveries and website. But it goes deeper than simply logos and design. Your brand cuts through everything your company does - how your staff answer the phone, your payment terms, even your dress code.
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Whatever the brand, it has to be authentic to you, and resonate with your clients. That’s authenticity. In Personality Not Included, Rohit Bhargava tells the story of an airport taxi driver that impressed him more than the flight crew on the plane he boarded simply because he was genuinely customer-focussed. The crew on the other hand, were more rehearsed, more corporate and lacked authenticity. The point is, your brand must match up to your ideals and live up to your brand’s promise.
Brand mistakes business owners make
Branding is all important for differentiation, for identity, for marketing communications (both internal and external), for tone of voice and much more besides. Because it touches all aspects of the business. However, it’s very easy to get wrong.
We’ve worked with businesses with great brands and businesses with brands in need of TLC, and there are some common branding pitfalls we see time and time again.
Lack of consistency. A brand needs a set of brand guidelines that should be given to anyone contracted to work with you, and to share amongst your staff internally. If you have a clear brand ethos, a clear set of values and beliefs then every area of the business should be aligned..
If you call yourself ‘the friendly way to travel’, you’d better be damn sure all your staff are friendly. A grumpy customer service agent can destroy thousands of pounds of investment in ten seconds.
On a more granular level, the brand guidelines should ensure that your visual identity is represented accurately wherever it’s used - on your website, social media channels, or anybody else’s If you’ve ever seen a logo stretched or squashed you can bet that there were no brand guidelines in existence. Same if you see a logo or message on a company vehicle that is just too small to read. Carelessness about the look subconsciously suggests carelessness about the work and inauthenticity - it makes people wonder where else you’ve cut corners.
Lack of authenticity. Some brands make claims for the sake of making money but without the service or product to back it up. People spot phoney quickly and your claims will come back to haunt you if you overpromise and underdeliver.
It’s even worse if you’re claiming some sort of noble social purpose, pushing a political message onto customers who know that what’s written on their coffee cup isn’t going to save the world.
Lack of originality. “Quality” doesn’t mean anything. Everyone says their product is “good quality”. Terms like “innovative”, “best customer service”, “world-class” and “one-stop shop” have likewise lost their value through overuse. Other culprits include copycat slogans like “nobody does it better” and “small enough to care, big enough to cope”.
There can only be one Apple, Disney, IBM, or BMW. Emulating them closely not only risks intellectual property infringement, it also devalues your own brand. You will always be second to the original and you look inauthentic. Your customers will see through it eventually.
Lack of clarity. Your business is doubtless complicated and your product has a lot to offer, but people don’t care. They don’t have room in their minds or time in their lives to figure out what you’re trying to do. They’ll just walk on. Keep your message simple.
How to get branding right
Start with a brand audit. Get an external perspective on things. It is too easy to ignore brand related problems, or defer them on budgetary grounds. Find out where you are, define where you want to be and then set an action plan to get you there.
In particular, there are five things you’ll need to document. These are the things that everyone who represents your brand needs to know. Together, they outline what you stand for, how you want your customers to see you, and how to make sure you’re presenting your brand properly.
Vision. Your vision statement describes your aspirations to your employees. Where do you want this brand to go in the long run? Answer that in a handful of sentences, and skip the detail - that comes later. A clear vision statement engages up to 68% of your employees, and more engaged employees care about their work, about your company, and about making a good impression on customers and clients.
Mission. Vision is about the future; mission is about the present. Vision is for employees; mission is for customers. What do you do, day to day, for the people who buy what you bring to market? Your mission should illustrate the purpose of the company in concrete terms, telling people what you do and how you do it.
Values. A brand audit will help you identify your brand values. These values define what your business stands for: why you exist as a business. Let’s look at ourselves as a case in point. Our function is to provide senior level marketing directors to SMEs, part time. But that only tells half the story. Our values are:
- Transparency: We are Open in our approach and in all our transactions; we choose to be Straightforward in all our communications championing plain speaking.
- Energy: We are Ambitious for the businesses we work for and for ourselves in always seeking to grow and develop our knowledge and experience – we have Fun and enjoy ourselves in whatever we do.
- Teamwork: We Care about the businesses we work for and each other, and we Share our knowledge, expertise and opportunities with each other knowing that together we are stronger.
Laying these out galvanises our business, and creates a solid platform for everything we do. These are the things you want your product or service to represent to your customers or clients. They’re the areas in which you want to compete. They’re also the terms by which you want to be judged.
Visual guidelines. Logos, letterheads, colour schemes, layouts, fonts - all of these need to be consistent across the entire business, all the time.
Tone of voice guidelines. As above: Pay mind to the vocabulary you use, the length of your sentences, whether you address readers directly or not, what you emphasise in your copy, scripts and conversations. Right down to how your team answer the phone or message back on Twitter.
Throughout all of this, there’s one golden rule. Listen to your customers and speak their language in your communications, even to your employees. You want your team to think about their work and describe it to customers in terms they understand, which means you have to use those terms internally. It’s also worth noting that if you get these key words wrong, you’ll probably miss out on enquiries via Google. Your website text needs to be indexed for words and phrases that your potential customers search for.
Talking to your customers on their terms resonates far more effectively than using sector jargon - that makes you look like you don’t care about them. That’s what branding is all about - making sure you’re being seen the way you want to be.