You want to brand your small business. First on the agenda: You decide to have a logo created. You are not alone. Many entrepreneurs take this approach once they decide to brand themselves. In fact, I took that approach in 2011, when I created the logo you see here on my site (a logo redesign is overdue and will be one of my last re-branding tasks in 2017). I have found that many entrepreneurs believe that once their brand identity (logo) is designed and put on a business card and stationery, their website is up and running, and a Facebook ad is submitted, then their branding is DONE. Phew! Well, that could not be further from the truth. In fact, most of that effort was marketing–not branding.
Imagine yourself an alien that just landed on earth. As you travel across America, you start noticing this common, yet strange, symbol of a green circle with white lettering within the rim and an illustration of a two-tailed mermaid or siren representing the seduction of the product. You have no clue as to what it represents to the beings living here on earth. Why is this symbol EVERYWHERE? What does it mean? Your curiosity finally hits critical mass as you pass the millionth circular symbol and you decide to satisfy your curiosity and enter.
What you experience from the moment you open the door, to the robust aroma of Italian espresso, to the sounds of contemporary blues or jazz music, to the deeply rich colors and art of the decor, to the light hum of customers talking as they relax in the cushioned chairs…to the pleasant, warm greeting of the barista, to the taste of the rich, unique flavor of the product as the whipped cream topping leaves a mark on your nose is the brand of Starbucks. All of the stimulated information you took in through your senses, within those few moments of transaction, is the brand of Starbucks.
You see how the logo, in and of itself, did not create any sort of relationship or emotional connection to the actual meaning of the brand? It was your experience of it that created a brand relationship and provided meaning to you. Now, imagine leaving Starbucks and continuing your journey. The next time you see the green, circular logo with the mermaid, you now have a reference of the experience you felt and a concept of what Starbucks means to you.
Your brand is a PERCEPTION that is based on EMOTION and defined by others’ EXPERIENCE with you, your products, and services.
Today, it is your brand that is becoming the key source of differentiation that guides your customer’s purchase choices. But now you know your brand is not just the creative design of the icon or font treatment of your company identity (logo). It is so much more than the aesthetic ‘look’ in website, collateral, ads or stationery. Your logo is only a symbol that represents or identifies the brand which is:
- the experience of a relationship with your customer
- the experience of a promise to your customer
- the unique source of products and services
- the single concept that you own inside the minds of your market
- the sum total of each customer’s experience with you and your organization
So now, when you hear other entrepreneurs say that they have just branded themselves and bought a logo design or revised their website look, you know that what they did was a mere attempt to express their brand through a specific and unique look. True branding did not take place if they did not perform the due diligence necessary to document and articulate who they are as a brand. Branding is a conscious, deliberate and continual process that creates powerful experiences for the customer. It starts from the inside out with the internal brand strategies that enable you to deliver on your brand promise. These strategies encompass who and how you operate and how these strategies set the stage for creating and delivering powerful brand experiences for your customers. For example, if your business was an authentic Mexican restaurant, you would strive to hire those employees who best represented your brand through the theme, look and feel of the experience. Ambercrombie & Finch fought the labor laws to sustain their brand’s ‘look and feel’ by hiring the brand-congruent looking teen or young adult that visually represented and exemplified their brand experience and the obligation and commitment they had for consistency.
A successful brand understands what/who they are at every level and assures that the brand is expressed and lived through every customer touch point, every action the business takes, and considered in every decision. It is a powerful, holistic process that requires conscious attention. Be conscious when you brand your small business. Conscious branding can catapult and sustain business growth in every type of economic climate.
Grab one of your business cards, take a pair of scissors and cut out the logo so that nothing else surrounds it. Please it in the center of a blank sheet of white paper, securing it with tape if you like. Now sketch at least four lines shooting out from the logo–like a spiked bike wheel. On those lines, write an identifying adjective on each line that describes your brand’s overall style. Put one adjective on each line. Remember, your style is like your brand’s personality. What personality traits does your brand have or you want it to have? This may not come easy to you, but push through it and you will see how your brand’s character will begin to emerge. Try to only list adjectives that are relevant at both your level and your customer’s level. Solid brands have styles consistent at both levels. The more consistent, the more authentically your brand will be perceived by your customers.
Example: A local cable media advertising firm that wants to be perceived as progressive, strategic, solutions provider to their clients went through my process and came up with these five style attributes to help them begin to create their brand “road map.” Their words were: Cutting-edge | Professional | Hip | Confident | Creative
Next, sketch four more lines shooting off your logo, preferably in a different color. On these new lines, write at least four different core values (one per line) that identify what your brand stands for, expresses behaviorally your actions at every customer touch point (external), and reflects your culture (internal environment). These values have to be congruent and relevant. Remember, powerful brands are consistent in their expression of their values!
Example: The local cable media advertising firm mentioned above thought through their core values to meet the changing technology in media advertising. So they identified the following: Excellence | Integrity | Profitability | Community | People | Innovation
Now here is the real test! Once you have done this exercise, ask someone close to you who understands your business – a customer, close friend, spouse, etc. to do the same thing WITHOUT SHOWING THEM YOURS! Then compare their style and value words with yours. Are they the same? Vastly different? Why? Have a conversation with them about their reasoning for using those particular words. If they vary, even a bit, your brand is not leveraging its potential and is more than likely confusing your customers by not showing up with a consistent STYLE and behaving with relevant CORE VALUES. If your customers are confused, then how can they begin to gain the trust needed to be loyal to you?
You are on a role. Don’t stop now. Building your brand is just around the corner.