I have a secret for you, though it’s hardly a revelation: most brands fail at what they are trying to accomplish. And the only thing more frustrating about how terrible so many brands are is how clueless many small businesses executives and entrepreneurs are about what branding is. Most people think of branding as simply “the logo,” but a logo is just the beginning of a brand’s visual aspect (which also includes the website, marketing materials, and ad copy — which in turn includes tag lines, marketing/PR/sales copy, and advertisements).
Importantly, a brand’s visual elements are only half of the story. Less tangible assets such as corporate culture, how the executive team and even how employees conduct themselves are all part of a brand’s DNA.
With that in mind, what are the keys to building a successful brand?
- Create the right tagline. Spend a full day with three or four of your top team members talking about how you want to be perceived in public. What is the emotional reaction you want your audience to have when engaging the brand and what do you want them to remember? Develop your tagline based on this discussion.
- Stand out from the crowd. Think about who your audience is. What are your top competitors doing in terms of their site look and how they are expressing themselves? Look for some core commonalities, and simultaneously prepare to identify where you can innovate and differentiate.
- Develop your company culture. And then do all your hiring and your onboarding with this culture in mind. Don’t bring on people who could destroy client relationships you spent months or years to cultivate. Miller Felpax CEO, Steve Blue, points out in his book “The Ten Million Dollar Employee” that it only takes one customer’s bad experience with one bad employee to sabotage a multimillion-dollar investment.
- Be patient with your brand. Take on every new outreach initiative with care. Think of it as your baby. Just as you wouldn’t start feeding solid food to a 3-month-old, don’t rush any of your outreach activities, whether they be PR, advertising, or marketing materials.
- Be consistent. Think of your outreach as being interconnected, like a body. The brand is the brain. Public relations, advertising, marketing, and sales are all extensions of that brain, and they must be coordinated and aligned. The copy, design and language your team uses is must always be based off of the brand. If possible, don’t use multiple designers or multiple copywriters. Find people who capture the essence of your brand and use them consistently.
- Get help. Branding isn’t easy. If it were, there would be a much greater number of stronger brands in the small business community. The reason the Nike’s, Lexus’s, and Target’s of the world can have strong brands is because they have the dollars to spend on it. But they weren’t always conglomerates; if they can achieve brand success, so can you. First, you have to nail down step one: your brand! A professional can take you through the process so you see things more clearly, get a different perspective, and go about branding in a way that will allow you to reach your market more efficiently.
- Put people first. The brand is more than the company. It is the executive team’s and the individual employees’ personal brands as well. People do business with people. A strong CEO brand, executive brand, or personal brand helps build a positive reputation overall. Nearly everyone prefers working with businesses that are people-oriented and actually care about their customers. Be that company by embodying a people-first attitude in all that you and your employees do.
Rushing to get websites up by programmers who have no design skills and are using canned templates, bringing in the cheapest employees possible to do core functions such as customer service, picking generic business card templates with little thought, and running disjointed advertising, PR, and marketing initiatives all lead to brand stagnation and even death.
While talent can help you get your business going, your brand is what will sustain it. How does yours stack up?