What is branding? And why should you care when you’re busy running your small business?
Branding is what sets your business apart.
Your business is how and what you operate. The products and services you sell. The industry you work within.
Branding is how your customers connect to your offering. I adore this definition, offered by Clayton Wood on NeilPatel.com:
“Your brand is comprised of your personality, your voice, and your message;
branding is the process of establishing these traits.”
VISUAL BRAND IDENTITY
Business and marketing thought-leader Seth Godin asserts that every interaction, in any form, is branding.
Now, this definition may seem broad sweeping, but it’s the smartest way for small business owners to approach branding.
Here’s the problem:
If you ask a designer ‘what is branding?’ they’ll list visual design assets: logo, colour palette, perhaps even a mood board.
What they’re talking about is brand identity design.
Brand identity is the visual representation of your style, flair, personality and values.
It includes swing tags, menus, business cards, product packaging and so much more.
These aesthetics are critical to your brand strategy. But they’re not the sum of the parts.
What is your branding style?
Minimal. Elegant. Organic. Austere. Playful. Whimsical.
Colours, fonts, patterns, textures and design come together to convey your branding. The style you choose sends a message to your customers about what to expect.
Your branding style plays a significant role in communicating your price-point, target market and brand values.
A deep dive into brand words helps define your branding style. If you don’t define your style, your designer (or DIY templates) will.
Work out your brand strategy first. This makes it easier to create a brand style that reflects what’s unique about your business.
YOUR BRAND VOICE
If you imagine your business as a person, it’s easier to understand brand voice.
It speaks to your customer through every form of communication:
Your social media posts. The About Us page on your website. The writing on your A-frame. The tone of your emails. Blog posts. Advertisements. Your product descriptions. And your customer newsletter.
Much like branding style, your brand voice conveys personality.
How does your brand sound to a customer at every point of contact?
Are you chilled and relatable? Elite? Comforting? Transparent? Warm?
BRANDING IS THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
Your brand colours, font, logo and tagline all represent something. And what they come to represent goes beyond colour psychology or great design.
They represent YOU.
That is, your personality in business. You, or your staff, or your customer service record.
The simplest way to think of it is this:
Imagine your brand is a fictional character like The Seven Dwarfs, Care Bears, Mr Men, or Smurfs. How would your customers define you?
Here’s an example:
Right now, four companies in the same industry are competing for my customer dollars. And while I’ve seen each of their visual branding countless times, I probably couldn’t draw their logos by memory.
I can, however, recall my experience of each brand. My brain does what your brain does – it condenses brand experience into simplified traits. In my mind, their brand names are:
A sorry state for those four businesses, but what an opportunity for a customer-oriented brand! It wouldn’t take much for a new business to open up shop and make a killing over the current brand offerings.
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES DEFINE BRANDS
Your turn now. Put on your customer hat.
Think of your local takeaway options. Or restaurants in your favourite vacation town. I bet you’ve memorised brand qualities for each place that look something like this:
Delicious & consistent
Cheap & oily
Dude creeps me out
This is how brands are formed. And reputation sticks. Your brand is defined by how you treat people, and what your values are.
Not what you say they are, but what your customers experience them to be.
Outdated. Easy. Exciting. Trustworthy. Average. Best quality. Charming. Slow to respond. Tacky.
So how do you fit in with the competition? How do your customers rate you in light of other brand options?
BRANDING COMMUNICATES VALUES
There are certain values we refuse to do business with.
No amount of clever branding will convince me to buy cage eggs.
There’s an underwear brand that claims to empower women and break stereotypes.
But words alone are not brand values. When their adverts repeatedly objectify young women, that tells me everything I need to know as a consumer.
Branding can also communicate positive values that align with your customers.
A recent purchase of handmade goods turned up in eco-friendly packaging. Big tick.
Another artisan package contained a special note detailing Covid-safe procedures for wrapping and processing orders. What a comfort in these times!
Businesses show who and what they care about through thoughtful interactions like these.
EVERY INTERACTION IS BRANDING
Every person on your team, and every staff member you employ – senior, junior, manager, dishhand, intern, volunteer, freelancer, last-minute-fill-in, all represent your brand.
Branding can be reinforced (or destroyed) by the personality, values, skill level and instruction you give your staff.
A small cafe I frequent employed an unhealthy cook.
The ratio of mayonnaise in the food servings went from miniscule to gag-worthy lashings. Reasonably healthy work lunches became inedible.
The brand reputation instantly downgraded from “fresh & tasty” to “unpalatable junk food.”
A sweet, young girl at a McLaren Vale cellar door is damaging their good brand name with her robotic, incessant tasting notes spiel.
It’s not her fault. It’s what she’s been trained to do.
But while I have tenderness for the human behind the bar, it doesn’t undo the cold branding experience. Would you like fries with that?
And why would I waste my time as a consumer? There’s another 73 cellar doors in the immediate area I can take my wine enthusiasm to.
WHAT MESSAGE ARE YOU SENDING?
If branding exists in every point of interaction, what message is your brand sending your customers?
What’s happening in your business right now? Are you even aware of it?
Vacationing friends relayed the alarmingly racist words of their tour guide at a popular local attraction.
While the guide was superbly knowledgeable about the attraction, my friends simply couldn’t get past her unnerving comments.
Are we the only friends they’ll be recounting that brand experience to? Hell no. Can you imagine how many thousands of tourists have shared their racist tour guide experience of that brand?
One bad staff member. One bad egg destroys the omelette.
A shabby logo. A muffled voicemail recording. An outdated font. One too many exclamations.
That’s all it takes to ruin your reputation – to brand your business negatively. Or positively, it’s your choice.
Ignorance is no excuse. Branding is your responsibility.
If you need help, get it.
GET YOUR BRANDING RIGHT
Branding is the wholistic experience of your business, guided by your interactions but ultimately determined by your customers.
There’s much to consider, including brand identity, style, brand voice and values. How you dress, what your staff say – it all matters.
If you’re starting a new business, clarify your brand strategy before you launch.
If you have an existing business, get an expert to assess your current branding. Find the leaks and cracks that are damaging your reputation.
Fix them. Then set about a course for re-branding in the right direction.
Every day, your customers are deciding where to spend their money, who they love, which brands to give their loyalty to.
Make it yours. Make it you.
HI, I'm SARAH
I’m here to help you work smarter, not harder. I teach passionate business owners how to charge premium prices, attract the best customers, save time and make money with ease.