By Lara Kisielewska
Optimum Design & Consulting
The word “branding” means different things to different people. In fact, it is probably one of the most misunderstood pieces of jargon among small businesses that don’t employ their own Advertising Agency.
Many people assume that a brand means a logo, and a logo is definitely the most immediately visible part of a brand. But a brand is also composed of other visual aspects, like your fonts and colors, and maybe a set of icons. It is also your messaging, as conveyed in your marketing collateral such as your website and brochure, as well as in how you express yourself verbally via your elevator pitch. And most importantly, a brand is also the way your business makes people think and feel.
You expect to feel a certain way when you open the door to a Starbucks, and you expect to feel a completely different way when you enter a Dunkin’ Donuts for your morning cuppa joe. The experience of buying that coffee is a part of that chain’s brand that has nothing to do with its logo. Instead, it’s part of that company’s brand experience.
If I say “Volvo” and you think “safety,” or if I say “Disney” and you think “family fun,” the logos of those two companies likely didn’t enter your mind at all, but you were instantly able to connect with those companies’ very familiar brand promises. You probably can’t even think about Disney without simultaneously thinking about family fun, it’s such a strong brand.
A good brand has its own personality, which should be clear to everyone who interacts with it — clients, prospects, employees, vendors, and partners. This helps manage expectations and get everyone on the same page. Have you heard the story about that Southwest employee who hid in the overhead luggage compartment and popped out to say “boo” when folks boarded her plane on Halloween? Somehow that seems entirely appropriate for the Southwest brand, whereas if you think about it, it would never fly (pun intended) with United Airlines. Each of those companies attracts different employees and different clients, based on the brands they have built.
It’s important for a brand’s appeal to be targeted towards its ideal client so that it’s “speaking their language” — that makes an initial connection more likely. But a brand also needs to make an emotional connection with its audience, in order to build brand loyalty.
An emotional connection is why people pay more for Apple products than Android products. Everyone knows how fanatical Apple users are about their laptops, iPads, and iPhones, and how they would never, ever consider switching brands, even if it saved them money or provided them with additional features. Those Apple users are Apple users for life, and there is nothing an Android user can say to convince them otherwise. They are willing to pay a premium for their product, and a good number of them probably fall into that annoying category of “raving fan” who will always try to evangelize their choice of technology (I should know, I am one myself).
So how do these examples from the corporate giants apply to you and your own small business?
Well, you’ve already got a brand, whether or not you have a logo, and whether or not you’ve intentionally built that brand. Your small business might not be well known enough to have a national brand, but you probably have a local one, rooted in the way your clients talk about what it’s like to do business with you, or the way you keep coming across to your prospects when they encounter you on social media, through your newsletters, or during your speaking events.
If you’ve made yourself memorable at all, you’ve built a brand around what you’ve been remembered for. Is it your expertise? Your responsiveness? The value of your product or service? Your energy and enthusiasm? Think about those traits that people comment on over and over again, and assume they are part of your brand.
Most people will share a compliment much more readily than they will share a criticism, so consider what your audience might be thinking but not saying … are you constantly missing deadlines? Having to smooth out miscommunications? Technologically challenged? Those attributes might be part of your brand, too.
It’s probably time to get a little more intentional with your brand rather than just leaving it up to others to define it for you. Try coming up with a list of adjectives to describe your brand just the same way you might describe a friend — trustworthy, fun-loving, cutting edge, etc. Identify the adjectives that you want your clients and prospects to be thinking and feeling about your brand, and then look for ways to incorporate them across all touchpoints. Of course your logo should embody these attributes, but so should the text on your website, the design on your business card, brochure, and PPT template, your voice in social media, and even the way you answer the phone.
Brand consistency is definitely key as you try to be visible and recognizable in a vast sea of competitors — did you know that you need to see a logo or hear a message at least seven different times in order for it to sink in? And as with the people you meet, a brand only gets one chance to make a first impression. If it’s not a good one, or if it doesn’t match what you’re selling and causes brand confusion, then your prospects will lose interest and you will lose sales.
Hopefully this article sparked some thinking about how to build your own corporate brand. Your logo is just a starting point.
Lara J. Kisielewska is the Founder of Optimum Design & Consulting, a Manhattan-based graphic design firm she’s been running for 28 years. Now that you’ve read her take on branding, try your hand at her Brand Quiz. https://optimumdc.com/brand-quiz/