I recently talked with someone that was having a problem finding new customers. He came to me for help to do some creative advertising for his business. As we spoke he kept referring to his company logo as their brand. I wanted to tell him that "Your logo is not your brand.” But in a way he was right. You see, since he already has a business, he already has a brand and his customers are already having a “Brand Experience”— when they see his logo and visit his website—this is their “Brand Experience.” The problem was the “Brand Experience” they were having was the not that different when they visited similar sites. How was I going to do any effective advertising if his positioning was the same as his competitors? Even if I came up with the greatest ad campaign of all time, to draw new potential customers to his site, once they landed there the “Brand Experience” would be the exactly same and the result would be that they would feel misled. When someone feels misled they feel cheated and that alone is enough for them to turn away from ever doing business with you or buying your product.

 

I explained to him that advertising was not a solution, at least not at this point, not for his business. Right now, he was just like everyone else and if he stays that way, he would never find a space inside the consumer’s mind because others were already filling that same space— by making the same promise, in a similar way. I went on to tell him that if he throws advertising money at this type of problem, he will still have the problem. The whole conversation was frustrating for the both of us— as we were both stuck between a rock and a hard place. I couldn’t help him (it would go against one of my core values; I never work on a project that I know will fail) and he simply could not afford a rebrand— again. (yes, believe it or not this was not his first logo or website for his company). 

 

The truth is, as a branding and marketing studio that develops branding strategies and marketing tools like logos, website creation, collateral, social media strategies and ad campaigns for small businesses and solopreneurs I get frustrated a lot. It’s frustrating to see so many terrible logos, websites, and social media pages.  It’s frustrating to see web-building services convince small business owners and that they can easily brand their own business. It’s frustrating to hear people say that they "developed a program" that has already helped thousands like you. But what’s most frustrating is to watch good people burn their money because of false promises. 

With over 540,000 new businesses starting each month, its easy to understand why these services and programs exist. Theses services make it "so easy and affordable” to brand your business, why wouldn’t you want to use them? I will tell you why. It's not branding. Think about it, branding is not a one size fits all experience that these services are leading you to believe it is—if that were true there would be a much greater number of successful brands in the small business community. If you really look deeper into their service offer, you would see that they create a few templates and sell you on a false promise that makes you believe that you are doing is branding. You are not. Then there are others that will sell you a "branding program" with a "branding formula” that sounds easy— as if you could just plug-in your info and presto your the next Apple! No such luck. 

 

Branding isn’t easy and anyone who is telling you that is lying.It just is not easy to brand your business a way that will make people want to buy from you, as opposed to all their other options they have today, including doing nothing. If you really want to brand your business (and I am sure you have read enough these days on why you should), the first step is to have a professional brander can take you through the branding process—so you can identify, materialize and capitalize on your competitive edge. As branding professionals we help you get a different perspective, see things more clearly and connect the dots, so you can reach your market potential more efficiently. Below I have comprised a branding Q & A's to help you really understand the art of building a brand.

 

 

BRANDING Q&A:

 

Why can’t I design my own brand? 

You cannot design a brand. Your logo is not your brand. While your logo is an essential part of your brand, it is just one tool used for your marketing communications. Yes big brands like “Apple” and “Nike” have very well-known logos, however, their logos are not what sells their products— they never were. A brand is the emotional connections, thoughts, feelings and experiences that tie your customers to you. People will not buy your logo —they buy the benefits your services/products provide for them. Yes, what you look matters (I will go into that later), but what you are selling should be of value to your customers, and when people are buying anything of value; it's what’s underneath the hood that really matters the most. 

 

Speaking of Apple; As Steve Jobs famously said. "This is a very complicated world, it's a very noisy world. And we're not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.” Which leads us to the next question.

 

 

What is a brand strategy?
Having a strong brand will help you stand out in your densely crowded marketplace but first you are going to decide who you are going to BE you in your marketplace. BEFORE you have any image or marketing created you should have your brand strategy worked out. Your brand strategy is about knowing who are you, figuring out who needs to know, giving them a reason to care and then being able to communicate that with a clear, simple and consistent message so they associate something different, specific and desirable with your brand that is distinct from rest of the marketplace. 

 

 

How do I identify my competitive edge?
Whether you are new a market, seeking a more effective strategy or refocusing your target market, you need look for a ways to identify your competitive edge so you can occupy the most effective brand positioning to ensure your market authority in the mind of your ideal customer/client. Your brand isn’t just who you say you are. It’s who your audience thinks you are. The goal is to create a unique impression in your prospects mind so they can understand why you exist. How you provide value beyond the point of sale. So that they associate something different, specific and desirable with your brand that is distinct from rest of the marketplace.

 

Find a Need
The promise of a real need fulfilled is a very powerful buying motivator. When branding is done right, your prospects will see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem. The best way to do that is by finding out what matters to them. Get inside your ideal customers head. Think about what things keeps them up night. Find a way to fill that need. 

 

Know the competition. 

Find out who your competitors are, what they are offering and what their unique selling point (USP) is. This will help you identify the areas you need to compete in, as well as giving you the best strategy to differentiate your business/service/product.

 

Think about what is missing from the market. 

What are people looking for that they can’t seem to find. Smart branding is what causes people to walk past all the no-name, on-sale waters at the store and pick up water that costs twice as much — just ask John Darius Bikoff creator of Glacéau, maker of Vitaminwater and Smartwater,  In 2007, Bikoff sold his brands to The Coca-Cola Company for $4.1 billion.

 

 

What comes after my brand strategy?
After you have your is brand strategy developed you need to materialize the identity (visual expression) of your brand strategy, in the best way possible. Your brand identity is  what makes you recognizable to the world your brand lives in. Identity is just one aspect of your brand, in which you can totally control. The colors, fonts you use, how your business illustrates and maintains close connections with your perceived image.

 

Logo

What must business owners don’t realize, your logo is a visual representation of your business. Your logo will most likely be the first representation of your business — and you only get one chance to make a first impression —making the design of your logo all the more important. It should clearly and symbolically articulates your brand strategy, while at the same time appealing to your target audience. 

 

As a small business owner or solopreneur you need to make intelligent decisions in order to survive in todays competitive landscape. But that doesn’t mean you should get tricked by amateur freelancers or online graphic design services offering logos at cheap prices. You get for what you pay for in most cases and considering your logo could be someone’s first impression of your business, trust me you do not want to end up with an awful logo design which will only hurt your business and cost you more in the long run when you need everything redesigned. 

 

Most graphic designers are skilled at developing logo and identity systems, but if you haven’t supplied them brand strategy they’re just assuming. It is by far better to work with a branding specialist who will develop your brand strategy BEFORE you hire your designer, or if you are lucky enough to work exclusively with the branding specialist who helped you create your brand strategy all the better! 

 

 

What’s a identity system and do I need one?

The identity system starts after the logo is complete. The purpose of the identity system is to form a systematic visual language around your logo — one that compliments the design strategy of the logo and offers a family of useful, flexible elements that will help to design marketing and business collateral. Once you have your effective brand identity created stick with it, across all channels to give your customers a brand experience they can count on. Inconsistency not only looks unprofessional, it changes your identity, so it’s like starting from square one. 

 

If you have more than one employee I highly recommend that you also have a "Brand Identity Manual" created. This book is a very technical document. But it is worth every penny. It will describe your brand positioning and establish distinct guidelines on how all aspects of your company's brand will be handled. (Logo Usage, Fonts, Typography, Color Palette, Images, Text and Tone). It is extremely helpful for articulating to your marketing team and marketing partners the mechanics of exactly how the brand is to be used and displayed. 

 

So how do I market?

These days you have all the tools at your fingertips, between on the www and super- affordable printing services you are ready to rock and roll— but it comes with a warning; Nothing and I mean nothing can destroy your brand faster than poor choices. You need to ensure that the experience people have with your brand – online and off –permeates all your communications and aligns consistently with your brand strategy.  I have seen way too many business owners in order to save money after the branding process have their "office staff"  create business collateral or marketing promos and/or run their social media channels without following their branding guidelines. It’s another thing that is so very frustrating to me and all I can think is “ What a big waste of time and money that was.” So please don't let anyone, destroy your branding!

 

Website design

Just like most graphic designers, most website designers are not skilled at developing brand identities, and it really should go without saying that ALL cookie- cutter website building services aren’t either. If you haven’t supplied your web designer with your brand strategy they too will just be assuming— but this time, with a much higher price tag. It is by far better to work with a branding specialist who will develop your brand strategy BEFORE you hire a web designer. Otherwise you’ll just attract the wrong kind of people, and the entire website will be a waste of money. Again, if you are lucky enough to work exclusively with the branding specialist who helped you create your brand strategy, identity system —then all the better! 

 

Social Media Channels
Social media is the best way to build your brand’s visibility and trust with your prospects. Each social platform requires a unique approach, but one thing should remain consistent: your social brand identity. I can not count the amount or times I will go from someones website to either their company facebook page, twitter page or LinkedIn page and see something that does not even does not even remotely resemble their website. I can talk about sending confusing , mixed messages all day (that’s for another post). But right now all I think when I see that is  Huh??

 

 

The goal of this post is to get people to stop marketing first and help you strategically brand your business BEFORE it gets branded for you! BEFORE you pick that generic logo. BEFORE you rush to get your website up by a programmer. BEFORE you pick that graphic designer with no branding background. BEFORE you sign up for that canned web-building service. BEFORE you run misleading advertising, or any other marketing initiatives. BEFORE someone takes you for a ride that burns your money and your business goes up in smoke. 

 

By not addressing the above, believe me you will be spinning your wheels- wasting your time and money over and over again. Thats why brand strategy should always come before marketing. So stop marketing and make sure you are branding. 

 

 

Take away: "Marketing in the absence of brand strategy and design identity is not marketing; it’s just an expensive blunder."

 

Happy Branding!

 

To learn more about branding strategy and design identity visit me at: www.cybranded.com 

 

 

Be sure to follow my company page  "consider yourself BRANDED" here on LinkedIn; where I offer my expertise on branding & marketing to 'one person’ business and mid-size business with my creative insights, marketing tips and new approaches to problem solving.

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