Branding is an extremely complex issue, and is the subject of much confusion for small business owners, especially in the digital space. When most owners think of making changes to their brand, they envision hours spent scrutinizing logos and quibbling with graphic designers.
In actual fact, your brand has implications far beyond the look and feel of your website or the colour of your stationery. Let’s start by taking a look at a few definitions of a brand from the Collins English dictionary:
1. a particular product or a characteristic that serves to identify a particular product
2. a trade name or trademark
3. a particular kind or variety; ‘he had his own brand of humour’
4. an identifying mark made, usually by burning, on the skin of animals
These definitions aren’t particularly revealing when we take them individually, but together they reveal two important themes; that of marks, and that of characteristics. A brand is a blend of both the representations of your company – the marks it uses – and the characteristics associated with the business itself.
Let’s take a look at another, more insightful explanation from entrepreneur Jeff Bezos:
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
This adds another level to our definition; that of what people say about you and your business.
In truth, your brand is all these things. It’s the way you present yourself and communicate. It’s the way your company works and what it produces. And it’s what people say about you after your work is done. Your brand is the image of your business in the social space – the idea of you.Your brand is the image of your business in the social space - the idea of you. Click To Tweet
By nature, brands are pretty abstract concepts, and can be very difficult to control if you’re not sure where to start. Like anything in business however, if you approach it mindfully, with a consistent process and a bucket full of patience, you can create a brand image that will last a lifetime in the mind of your customer.
So let’s take a stab at building your branding process. First we’re going to think about what you want your brand to say (and what you don’t want it to say!) before looking at how we can affect these changes in your business.
1. Decide your core values
CCO’s and CMO’s of large companies spend a lot of time talking about values, and for good reason. They know that in order to stand out in competitive markets, their brand needs a unique personality and voice. When your company has something powerful to say, other people will take notice, for better or for worse. In life, our values filter down into our day to day actions, guiding our choices and behaviours. The same is true for companies.
Have a long think about what really matters to you personally. Write down three core values (any more and they’ll become too diffuse) that you feel that you try to live by every day. Try to avoid the temptation to make them about business; this is about you and how you live your life.
Here’s an example:
– Be good to people by creating value
– Strive for perfection
– Live simply
2. Make a list of all the systems and/or departments operating in your business
Whether your business is a million-pound, medium-sized enterprise, or a one-man band, you still need the complete departmental mix to make it function. Make a list of all your processes and performance areas, going in to as much detail as your knowledge allows. In the next step, we’re going to use this list as a map to discover where our main focus lies.
Here’s some areas to help you get started:
Production – how is your product/service made?
Delivery – how is it delivered to your customer?
Sales – how is the sale negotiated?
Marketing – how do people hear about/find your product?
Accounting – how is your business supported financially?
HR – how are the people in your business managed?
Compliance – how do you make sure that what you are doing is legal?
Development – how do you make sure your business stays relevant?
There may be sub-sections in each of these areas. For example, sales may be sub-divided into Salesmanship and Retention, or development may have Strategic Partnerships and R&D divisions. It really depends on your business!
3. Think about where your values become most important in your business
You could use all three of your core values to discover new ways to improve every system and department in your business. Chances are however, that your resources are limited, and the changes you affect will have a bigger impact when implemented strategically. Where you choose to focus your attention then, will come to define the way your company operates, and in turn, the way your company is seen by the rest of your market.
So what are the areas in which your core values become most important? Well, let’s look at an example using the values we started with above:
Be good to people by creating value
When we think about creating value for people, a great product, and great support and customer service, will be central.
Strive for perfection
If we’re striving for perfection, then our product is going to have to be better than the competition (at the very least). Production and research are going to be extremely important in this respect.
If we want to live simply, then we’re going to need to create simple work processes, a simple customer experience, and a simple product.
Already, we’re seeing some clear themes coming out of this analysis. The product is a prominent focus, so research, production and customer service need to be the top priorities for our business.
This then is our brand:
‘We provide the best product or service in the business, bar none. Our focus is on a premium product and support experience. We’ve removed all the complexity, and made things simple for our customers.’
These statements should resonate throughout your business, as well as be reflected in your marketing and design efforts. They should go on to define both the marks and the characteristics of your business. And they will, with a little luck, go on to be what people say about you when you’re not there.
Next week, we’ll look at creative ways to implement branding themes in your design strategy. If you have any more questions about branding, feel free to drop them in the comments.