Everyone talks about the need to have a ‘brand’ for your business, but you might be wondering why having a brand is important in the first place. A brand, simply put, is who you and your business are. It’s the image that you want to project for your products and services. Being unclear about what your business is about will confuse your potential customers, and if they don’t know who you are and what your values and missions are they most likely will move on to some other business that is clear about who they are. Branding is about standing out from the crowd and showing your customers why your business is unique in its solutions to their problems.
Now big corporate world brands like Coke, Pepsi, Nike, Apple, and others can easily pay billions of dollars to come up with a perfect brand for their products, and it definitely works. We all know who they are, what they stand for, and what their unique value propositions are. That is the value of having a strong corporate brand. However, if you’re not one of those multi-million dollar brands you might be wondering if can you still create a strong brand for your business, and the answer is yes. Having a strong brand is all about knowing who you are, who your customers are, what your goals are, and being very clear and consistent in your messaging to your customers.
So without further ado, here are the steps for creating a unique brand for your business.
1. How Are You Really Perceived Now?
The first step to creating anything is knowing where you are now. Without this knowledge it’s impossible to know the steps you need to take to get to where you want to go. This requires you to do some honest evaluations on your current business position in the marketplace. You need to know how your business is perceived right here and now. To do this evaluation it will require you to ask yourself, your customers, and others in your business how your business is perceived. And just so you know, what you hear at this point may not be what you want to hear or how you think your company is perceived. That’s okay. That’s how we grow and do better. So take a deep breath and realize that this process is what is going to take your business to where you want it to go.
So what types of things are you looking at in this step? First, write down how you feel your business is perceived by your employees, your customers, and those that follow your business on social media. Next, go to each of those groups and ask them how they feel your company is perceived. What are they hearing about your business currently? Have them be as detailed as possible and resist the need to guide them towards how you want your business to be perceived. Doing that will do you no good in the long run. This part of the evaluation is all about learning, listening, and gathering information.
2. Who are your customers?
Once you have gathered information from step one, it’s time to get down to demographics. Who are your customers now? How old are they? What gender are they predominately? What are their hobbies? Are they married, single, widowed, divorced? Do they have children? Do they have pets? Are they predominately of one religious or political party affiliation? Knowing this information gives you a window into who you are trying to serve right now and what they need in order to feel comfortable with your business and its services.
Next, you need to ask yourself if these are the ideal customers for your business? Are you attracting the people you want to be attracting to your business? If not, then this is where you change that. Who do you want to attract to your business? How old are they? What is their marital status? Are they predominately male or female? What’s their social status? What is their financial status? What are their hobbies? What does your business’ ideal customer look like physically? How do they dress? How do they tend to spend their money? What are their occupations? You need to describe your ideal customers down to the most minute detail. Give your ideal customer a name and a face so that you can better serve them. Your brand depends on knowing this information because a brand without an ideal customer means absolutely nothing. If you have a brand but you don’t know exactly who you’re trying to serve, you will do poorly at best and fail at worst.
3. Who are you? What is your unique identity?
Once you’ve established who your current and ideal customers are, next you need to figure out who you are. What is your company’s unique identity? What do you do that other businesses like you do not do or do not do as well? What are your company’s values and mission statements? What do you stand for? Basically what you’re trying to find out here is what do you do better than anyone else in your business sector. What do you have to offer your customers that your competition can’t offer theirs? That’s called your unique selling proposition and it’s what makes you stand out from the crowd and get noticed.
Once you have determined what those things are that make you and your business unique, write them down. Write out your company’s values and its mission statement and be very, very clear and precise with the wording you use. If you can’t write out your company’s values and mission statement in a way that’s crystal clear then you are still unclear about who you are and what you stand for and when you are unclear about who you are, your customers won’t know who you are either.
Once you think you’ve got your company’s values and mission statement written in the most clear, concise way and you really feel it is exactly what your business stands for and wants to achieve, then you need to let others read it to make sure it actually is understandable. No matter how well written you think your values and mission statement are, ultimately if no one else gets the same message from it that you’re trying to convey then it’s not ready for release. Ask for everyone’s input on it all and then go back and rewrite it again and again until it’s perfect. It may seem a tedious endeavor but these two things are the basis for everything you’re going to build in the next step. Do not skimp or pass up this step. It is vitally important to your business’ success.
4. How are you going to project your unique identity, values, and mission to your ideal customers?
Now once you’ve established and refined your company’s unique identity, values, and mission then, and only then, do you move onto deciding how you’re going to project that image to your ideal customers. Remember that you don’t want to appeal to current customers unless they really are your ideal customers. Sure, by doing that you might lose a few current customers but if they are not the type of customers you want to be dealing with then they aren’t going to stay anyway. You want strong, raving fan customers. The type of customers that never leave because they are so loyal to you and your brand. Think about Apple and how they project themselves to their customers. They aren’t trying to get PC people over to their side. They want customers that are crazy about their iOS system and they manage to keep them year after year after year. They do this by being strong about who they are, what they stand for, and how they project that image. That’s what you have to do as well.
So how exactly do you project your unique identity, values, and mission? This is a little bit trickier to determine because it is so unique. However, the best place to start is to find other companies (both inside your same industry and out) that have brand images you like and figure out why you’re attracted to them. What is it about their image that feels right to you? What colors appeal to you for your company? What type of logo do you envision for your brand? What language do you feel will project your unique identity, values, and mission while attracting your ideal customers to your business? Remember that while you are trying to project the ideal image of your company, you are also trying to attract your ideal customers so you need to not only use language, colors, and images that you feel reflect your company but also that reflect your ideal customers as well.
Using corporate speak in your branding to attract a surfing crowd is not going to work. They can’t identify with that language and might even want to rebel against such an image. Using really down-to-earth, every day street language for a financial brand with ideal customers who are highly educated and successful might not go over well either. You have to use language, images, colors, and concepts in your branding that are not only consistent with your brand but also consistent with the people you’re trying to attract to your brand. It’s a very delicate balance of being true to your image while being true to what your customers want and need. However, when it comes right down to it just be honest and transparent about what your business is about and you will attract the right customers to it. This is the step where a professional designer might be able to translate all of your careful research and and work into a visual plan.
5. Make sure everything online and offline matches your company’s goals.
Now that you know who you are, what you stand for, what your mission is, who your ideal customers are, and how you’re going to project your unique brand, it’s time to make sure that all of your messaging across all of your marketing is consistent and in alignment. So many times businesses do all this work and only update their websites. However it’s important that everywhere your brand is the message is exactly the same. Your websites, social media accounts, any advertising you do, your invoices, letterhead, business cards, and anything else that represents your business brand has to be consistent, otherwise you will again create confusion among your ideal customers. Consistency of your message will help to create a strong, recognizable brand.
At first this may seem to be an expensive endeavor but not doing it can be even more expensive, do harm to your brand, and waste a lot of precious time and money. Yes, it’s an effort but anything worthwhile is, and you don’t get the rewards of hard work until you actually do all the hard work that’s needed.
6. Review and update your brand image as needed.
The last step is one that you will repeatedly visit over the years, and that is to constantly review and update your brand image as needed. Now this does not mean that you are constantly changing your brand’s look or message because you feel it’s not working and needs to be refreshed. This means that the business climate these days changes quickly and from time to time you need to check in with your brand to see if it still meets your company’s goals and suits your ideal customers’ needs. If it does then there’s no need to change anything. If it doesn’t, it may be time to repeat the 6 steps in this article and clarify what needs to be changed and updated.
Now one word of warning. Many times when a business doesn’t seem to be doing well the owner starts to feel like they need to ‘change everything’ in order to recover. If you’ve thoroughly done the steps in this article and really gave every step in depth thought then it’s highly unlikely that any of the above needs to be changed. More than likely you might want to take a look at how your business is actually running and see where the sticking points are there. Do you have employees that are soiling the company’s image by their lack of work ethic or customer service? Are things falling through the cracks that are affecting your customers’ satisfaction levels? Really look at every aspect of your business to see where there might be some things that aren’t working well and fix them. Don’t automatically think it’s a result of your brand image. Usually when something like this happens it means that the day-to-day reality of your business is not meeting the expectations of your brand. Correct those things first and see what happens before you decide to redo your brand’s image again.