Most small businesses today only scratch the surface of branding as far as their strategy for success goes. Most see branding as a logo, for which they engage low-cost overseas designers and having this budget graphic represent their business is about as far as they get.
Others who may have had some branding exposure or dig a little deeper in their research, consider their brand from a broader perspective. They realise that their brand would be far more impactful and memorable with a distinct and unique brand identity system.
Very few small businesses however, peel back the layers of branding to get to the core of their brand, that is, their internal branding and their brand soul.
Grow your reputation
There is much to consider when starting a business, which is why internal branding and brand essence is often either ignored or just completely misunderstood. Branding, as a whole, is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Branding, therefore, is your reputation in the marketplace.
Having striking and memorable visual elements to make it easy for your audience to recall your brand is a critical consideration. Deciding on what it is you want your audience to remember and recall, however, is just as, if not more important.
Discover the meaning
The starting point for how you want your audience to remember your brand starts with your brand purpose. That is, the meaningful reason your brand exists beyond turning a profit. Here you uncover the human elements and turn the microscope on who it is you’re serving.
As a business, your brand solves someone’s problem. Whether that problem is tax compliance, hunger, lack of sales, a busted engine or wanting to get from A to B, your business fills a void and solves a problem for someone.
When you identify who that person is, what the problem means to them and what feeling they may have when you provide them with what they need, you start to unravel the meaning behind why it is you do what you do.
We all want to help
Let’s take a tax agent as an example. Now in its vanilla form, a Tax Agency provides tax solutions to sum it up as simplistically as possible. When you start to uncover the human side to that solution, you might see that the audience is small business owners who lead isolated and stressful lives.
Tax is often a major headache for small business owners, so an agency filling that void and providing those solutions would keep the business owners compliant. Being compliant would help remove that element of stress from their life. This removal of stress would enable him to focus on the success of the business, which could have a direct impact on his personal and family life.
This illustrates that any business in any industry has meaning to the work they do which they can leverage as their purpose. Now, of course, some industries can tap into the human and emotional side of what they do more easily than others (such as the wedding or baby industries), but nearly all businesses can tap into the meaning behind what they do, who they do it for and what impact that has.
Your Future Brand starts now
Along with purpose, a brand must have direction and commitment in the form of a Vision and Mission. Knowing where the brand is headed and what it is committed to in its journey to that future brand, instils a brand with conviction.
Knowing the brand purpose and meaningful reason behind the work, allows a business to be more ambitious with its vision. We tend to do more for others than we’ll do for ourselves. When a business becomes not about how much profit it can generate but how many people it can help with their solutions, brand representatives can buy into a much brighter and optimistic future for the brand.
Be authentic and be remembered
Brand Values act as a moral compass to guide decisions and actions for the life of the brand. People today are bombarded with marketing messages to the point that you are ignored by default, which is why a distinctive and unique brand identity is your only chance at standing out visually.
Your brand becomes a lot easier to remember however when the behaviours and interactions you have with your audience, are based on a set of strong values that determines, what is morally important in the way your brand does business.
Brand authenticity is a hot topic within branding and that’s because so few brands are truly authentic. Almost all businesses have a page on their website stating their core values, but very few are in touch with these values and even fewer use them to guide decisions and actions.
As people, we don’t go around announcing to our friends what our core values are. Our friends know our core values through our actions over time. The same is true with brands. Although most businesses today choose to advertise their core values in the hope of resonating with their audience, core values are part of internal branding and are by definition, internal first.
Telling a potential client that commitment is one of your core values will have very little impact. Communicating this commitment internally and consistently, however, will result in brand representatives illustrating that commitment in their work. Showing your audience your values through actions, therefore, is real brand authenticity. Given the fact that most businesses are out of touch with this concept, real brand authenticity is a real edge today.
Having a distinctive visual identity is like having road signs that direct your audience to your brand. If however, they arrive at the destination and are left somewhat underwhelmed, then the next time they see those signs, they will be automatically filtered out.
As people, our appearance will only get us so far. If our appearance does take the fancy of a potential suitor and they engage with us, they expect to find substance. If we don’t show purpose, values and a personality that resonates, chances are we will be quickly forgotten.
It is important as a brand to look the part, but it’s just as, if not more important to have substance behind that appearance beyond just the solution we provide. Brands that have meaning in their work and moral values behind their actions and behaviours take a special position in the mind and maybe even the heart of their audience. Such brands have a soul.
Stephen is a passionate Brand Creator and Founder of Iconic Fox Brand Agency. With a background in both financial markets and design, he is well positioned on brand strategy and creative and is passionate about both. Stephen has been featured on Marketo, Hubspot, Inside Small Business, Creative Bloq and more for his expertise on brand strategy and creative.
He’s also a friendly chap so if there’s something you want to know about brand, he’d be happy to get into it with you