What do you immediately think of if you’re asked to identify an influential brand?
The chances are, one of the big brands jumps into your mind, one which you are very familiar with and that grabs your attention in some way. They may have thousands of competitors, but do you even know who those are?
This is the importance of branding. That big brand you thought of didn’t begin that way, but they’ve built up over time so that they stand out from the sea of competitors.
Building a brand is a critical task for the success of your business too – here’s why:
Why Build a Brand?
“Brand is just a perception, and perception will match reality over time. Sometimes it will be ahead, other times it will be behind. But brand is simply a collective impression some have about a product.”
– Elon Musk (Tesla founder and CEO).
That concept of perception explains the bottom line of why building a brand is so important for businesses. When people develop an impression of your product or service, it impacts a whole host of other factors around their behaviors toward your company.
For example, your branding influences how much people are willing to pay for your products or services. Harrods can command higher pricing than John Lewis because there is a certain prestige associated with the brand. Your brand could fall anywhere on the spectrum, from bargain to exclusive, with that brand image dictating what people will pay as well as what they will expect from you in terms of quality and service.
Another important case for building a brand is that it carves out your identity in an increasingly crowded market. It’s what makes you stand out from the crowd, develop the language and stories that make you unique and build up a base of loyal followers. People don’t become fans of a business, they become fans of your story, values and voice because they see something there which they can identify with. Your brand identity resonates with them.
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”
– Howard Schultz (Starbucks CEO)
This loyalty brings huge benefits to your business, such as customers who stick around, refer others and are eager to view your new products because they already see you as being trustworthy.
When you can cultivate that loyalty and trustworthiness, your brand isn’t just another anonymous business in the crowd, the brand itself becomes an asset. You only have to look at the Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands and you can see that all of those top brands are standouts irrespective of the products that they produce.
Brand-building should be a focus for any company that wants to build longevity, loyalty and a stand-out position from the crowd.
Source: Business Insider UK
What is a Brand?
There are some common misconceptions when it comes to branding. For example, your brand isn’t your logo, your tagline, your mascot, your advertisements, or your charismatic CEO. Sure, those things are all part of your overall brand identity, but they are just the visual cues used to represent your brand. Your actual brand is what underlies those things and encompasses much, much more.
Your brand consists of the overall experience people have while interacting with your company and your product. It isn’t one distinct thing, it’s all of the things, working in unison. The quote I keep coming back to is from Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield:
“… even the best slogans, ads, landing pages, PR campaigns, etc., will fall down if they are not supported by the experience people have when they hit our site, when they sign up for an account, when they first begin using the product and when they start using it day in, day out.”
– Steward Butterfield
Your brand is that customer experience.
The Internet brings this customer experience to the fore in today’s world with ruthless transparency. This may be for better or worse, depending on the experience your company creates for customers.
A core part of any brand is knowing who those customers are. Your customer profiles can help to inform that branding and the experience across any of your touchpoints.
“Products are no longer bundles of functional characteristics but rather a means to provide and enhance customer experiences … consumers are overloaded. They have more information than they can digest, use, need, or even want … Brands help us choose. They are invaluable tools that help us break through clutter to make choices based on our experience of and satisfaction with products or services.”
– Idris Mootee, CEO at Idea Couture.
How to Build Your Brand
Every single big brand once started from absolutely nothing. If you’re building a brand from scratch, you need two things: novelty and repetition.
Novelty isn’t just something you talk about to build a brand, it’s something you need to put into practice with the experiences you create for people. It’s about carving out space in someone’s brain; you need to get in their head over and over until you’re there to stay. You need repetition.
The novelty you create should be based on what inspired you to start your business, it is tied up in your “why.” To go back to the example of Slack, its novelty was that it could help teams beat the frustration of email, but its main focus wasn’t selling messaging software, it was selling the innovation that Slack could bring to a team. This is the “why” for Slack.
Your Mission and Values
Customers want to know who they are dealing with and in some cases, customers feel so strongly about certain issues, that they will only buy from you based on your values and beliefs. You can see this increasingly in the number of companies who hold values around people, communities, social causes, and the environment.
Why do you exist and what are you selling? Your mission and values should begin with your core purpose. This won’t be “to sell software” but could be something like to solve a pressing problem that your clients have. Slack uses terms such as “less email, more productivity.” Slack connects with users over mission and value statements that are important to them.
There’s a very powerful quote that I like from Simon Sinek. “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” It’s really important to focus on the why. What are you delivering to the customers? That comes through storytelling.
Your origin story should be very clear and compelling to customers. People often make their buying decisions based on brand identity and values, things that are important to communicate through your storytelling.
Your story should highlight why you are distinctive from others and should educate and immerse customers in your brand. These stories can be separate to what you actually do as a company, but they should invoke the principles of your brand. This should help you to anchor information with your customers.
People don’t typically come and buy a product just because of its features. They buy a product because of the value it delivers and they buy into the brand because it means something to them. This means it’s really important to think about the end-to-end story you need to tell. It’s not about the aesthetics, but understanding pains, desires and obstacles.
Your Brand Style
Consistency is the key when it comes to developing the style of your brand. When customers look at your website, read a blog post, watch your video, see one of your Facebook ads, try out a product or service, and then talk to someone in your sales team, there should be an emotional thread that ties all of these experiences together. This emotional thread is your company’s brand.
“Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touch points”
– Jonah Sachs
It’s about moving away from transactional thinking, and towards a more long-term customer centric view. What sort of experience do you give your customers over time?
“People often overvalue brand substance and undervalue brand repetition.”
– Hiten Shah
The brand is the sum of every single experience that someone has with you, so not just something the marketing team puts out. Consistency should include:
- Characteristics and Features – brand aim, morals, beliefs, intentions.
- Product Attributes – style, design, price, durability, quality and reliability.
- Service and Brand Experience – how you treat your staff (your culture) and your customers, and how well you serve them. You should aim to eliminate any negative experiences.
Style consistency also includes all brochures, emails, print, and any other marketing communications. You should make yourself easily recognisable across all different mediums with consistent and unified visuals for your brand. This can be achieved through the use of brand or identity guidelines. Such guidelines are usually set out in a document and can contain information such as:
- Colour palettes
- Brand colours
- Tone of voice
Your brand should take a low-intensity yet high-frequency approach that builds recognition and confidence over time. For a good example of a brand style guide, take a look at Frontify. Low intensity yet high frequency that builds brand and confidence.
Content is part of the brand experience. There’s no doubt that content can be helpful when it comes to shaping and building brands. However, when the voice, tone, and underlying message of that content is notably different from (or at odds with) what other teams at your company are doing and saying, it’s a bad experience.
A common problem is that company blogs, in pursuit of traffic, and perhaps glory, end up going broad instead of going deep. They cover as many topics as possible, casting a huge net, and end up with tons of content that has no real connection back to their product or company mission.
I think people forget that every piece of content that gets put out by your company remains part of your brand forever (there is no delete button for things on the Internet!) So, instead of thinking of content as a short-term traffic game that you’re trying to win every month, take David Ogilvy’s advice and strive for a “sharply defined image” that you can develop gradually.
Get the latest articles
Content from industry experts, delivered straight to your inbox - as soon as they're released.