“Build it and they’ll come”, they said. “That idea will take off for sure”, they said.
So you jump right in and create your business. You get yourself a logo, a website, a few social accounts and wait for the onslaught of new customers.
“Maybe I need to get myself an assistant to deal with the calls,” you remember briefly mulling.
But then you waited…. and waited…. and waited… until reality smacked you in the face like a two stone wet fish, followed closely by new mulling: “I thought it was going to be easier than this.”
Not so easy is it?
After a few weeks and months of the same, the pin finally drops. Trying to build a stunning brand (or just a small business for that matter) is not that easy, and no amount of Gary Vaynerchuck Youtube videos changes that (which is clarified by Gary Vaynerchuck in his Youtube videos).
So, where to from here?
Bring it back to basics. When it comes to business, there are two fundamental pillars that simply cannot be skimmed over.
(1) Branding – What you want your business to be known for and how you get your audience to remember you.
(2) Marketing – Reaching your audience in the right channels with the right tactics to get attention.
You can have the best product or service in your space, but if you don’t tell the right people in the right way, they have little chance of knowing and less of remembering.
The hard truth is, the majority of small business owners consistently overlook the importance of both branding and marketing and do so at their peril.
Ask a new business owner to tell you about their brand strategy and most will stop at their logo, which means they don’t have one.
For every two businesses that survive the first three years, another eight perish and one of the common characteristics of these perishing businesses is their lack of strategic branding.
Small businesses that embrace branding on the other hand, set in place a framework which their business grows around and their audience remembers.
Huffington Post lays out some branding and marketing strategies in this post.
The framework of a solid brand
In this article, we’ll take a look at branding and the 10 essential branding blocks that small business owners need to understand when trying to build a stunning brand around their business.
| #1 | Purpose
| #2 | Vision
| #3 | Mission
| #4 | Values
| #5 | Positioning
| #6 | Personality
| #7 | Language & Tone of Voice
| #8 | Core Message
| #9 | Brand Identity
| #10 | Brand Expression
As a small business owner, some elements might seem irrelevant at this early stage but that is a common misconception that leads you into the perishable eight.
Include each of these essential branding blocks when building your brand and you set in place a strong brand framework that provides the support on which your business can grow around.
| #1 | BRAND PURPOSE
Your brand purpose is the meaningful reason behind why your brand exists. This goes beyond traditional business reasons and taps into the human element.
To extract your purpose, you need to look at who you serve.
Your business solves a problem for someone whether that problem is hunger, thirst, a flat tyre, the need to get from A to B or a lack of experience in a particular field.
Your business is more organised in whatever it is you do than your customers and hence, you fill that void with your solution.
This Marketing Journal article “Branding: From Purpose to Beneficence”, highlights the importance of starting with purpose.
The emotion in the solution
Once your solution fills that void, there is a sense of satisfaction from the customer that evokes an emotion. Even an accountant providing tax returns evokes an emotion in relieving their clients from the stress of their tax responsibility for a year.
This emotion is the meaningful connection that the brand strives to make. Individually it affects people’s lives for the better but collectively it becomes a higher purpose, to make a positive impact in the world.
A brand purpose, therefore, is the belief that the brand can make a difference in the worldfor the greater good.
Start with Why
As Simon Sinek said in his New York Times Bestseller “Start with Why”:
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”
Go on, it’s worth another look…
This article in The Huffington Post “Branding from Why” expands on this belief.
Brands that extract the emotional link and build upon it create a belief system that weaves an emotional connection with their audience.
These brands are built on foundations of a higher purpose that people not only relate to but want to become part of.
Communicating your brand purpose with the world is best executed through storytelling, as pointed out in this article “It’s Not You, It’s Your Story: Why Branding Matters” in Entrepreneur Magazine.
EXAMPLES of Brand Purpose
TOM’s is an online shoe company. They have an online store, you pay with your card and your new shoes are delivered to your door. Simple. What makes TOM’s different from other shoe companies is their brand purpose.
The meaningful reason behind why they exist is to improve lives. For every pair of shoes you buy, TOM’s will help a person in need.
Not only does that make the customer feel good about handing over their money, every individual working for TOM’s feel that they make a difference in the world with the work they do.
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Brand Purpose
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and identify the feeling you get when you experience the solution you offer.
What is the emotion that you feel (even if just for a fleeting moment)? Is it relief, happiness, excitement, ambition, encouragement or relaxation?
What impact would that emotion have on the lives of your customers?
In providing that emotion to your largest possible audience, what positive impact would you make in the world?
Articulate that positive impact into a statement. This positive impact is the meaningful reason behind the work your business does, your brand purpose.
Add this to your brand guidelines (Create a new document called “Brand Guidelines”).
Create a purpose that has no foundations in the solution you offer.
Look to replicate what others stand for.
Relate your purpose to financial success.
| #2 | BRAND VISION
Your vision is where you want your business to be in the future. It is about projecting your brand into the distant years and painting a picture of that future brand.
So, where do you want your business to be in 10 years and what does that future brand look like? How many offices, employees and customers will you have? How do your customers see your brand and how have you impacted their lives?
You need to believe in where you’re going
The benefit in having a brand vision is the belief in direction and its impact on behaviour. When you, and your brand personnel, understand where you are going, you subconsciously communicate that through your actions and behaviours.
A brand vision should challenge the possibilities of your business while inspiring and motivating employees and leaders to strive towards the future brand. Your vision should be big enough to inspire but not too big for brand personnel to buy into it.
There is no point in constructing a vision that no one believes to be remotely achievable.
Brand Vision in Action
Microsoft’s vision was to put “A computer on every desktop in every home”. This vision was big enough to inspire a movement without being too big for the leadership team to dismiss it as impossible.
Check out these “6 inspiring vision statements that built iconic brands” by the bestselling author of “Sticky Branding”, Jeremy Miller.
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Brand Vision
Using your brand purpose as the basis for your ambition, visualise your business in the future (5,10, 20 years).
What does it look like? How many cities are you in? How many employees do you have? How many customers do you have? How do your customers view your brand? Record as much detail as possible.
Look back at the number of people your business has helped and the impact it has had on their lives collectively and reflect on the work, commitment and achievements that made the vision a reality.
Articulate this vision into a statement of intent.
Create a far-fetched vision that too far-fetched to be believable.
Set targets that don’t challenge your possibilities.
Try to replicate the visions of other brands.
| #3 | BRAND MISSION
Your mission is a statement of intent that encompasses both your purpose and your vision. It is a commitment to impact the lives of the people you serve and to deliver on what you promise, on the path to your future brand.
Your brand purpose uncovers what it is that you give as a business to positively impact the lives of others. As such, it shifts the paradigm of the vision and mission from what you want to achieve from a business standpoint, to what you want to give and how you want to impact.
What do we need to commit to?
If your purpose is the “Why” of your business and your vision is the “Where”, then your mission is the “How”. How are we going to achieve our future brand?
This forces the question “What do we need to commit to?”
When looking back at the achievements of your brand through your vision, you could see the commitments it took to get there and so, identifying your mission is done by simply reverse engineering your vision.
If the purpose of your brand is to make a group of people feel a certain way, what is it that you need to commit to in order to make them feel that way? In other words, what do you promise to do?
A mission statement is all about action. It’s the grit that inches the brand closer to its vision each and every day.
Inc. gives you plenty of inspiration in this article “30 Inspiring Billion-Dollar Startup Company Mission Statements”
Brand Mission in Action
Starbucks mission statement optimises a commitment that is filtered through purpose with a dash of vision: “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.”
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Brand Mission
List your short-term and long-term commitments. E.g. personable service, a human touch, quality of products, guaranteed timeline, a transition into green energy.
Identify the number one non-negotiable commitment that will help you achieve customer satisfaction. e.g. “to always meet deadlines”, “to always keep prices competitive”.
Include your good intentions for the greater-good in what you promise e.g. “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”
Articulate a statement of intent outlining the promise you are making to your customers.
Create a long list of desirable outcomes without accountability.
List anything that is likely to result in a broken promise.
Make your statement too vague for comprehension or commitment.
| #4 | BRAND VALUES
Your brand values are your rules of engagement and the moral compass for the way in which you do business. If your mission sets in place your overarching commitment in achieving your vision for the future, then your values are the behavioural commitments in your day-to-day activities.
Your values are internal first and foremost. It goes without saying that they should align with your purpose, vision and mission but the key is in the internal communication.
Communicating core values often, internally, ensures that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and that there is a collective underlying message in every interaction.
We trust actions not words
As people, our friends know what our values are, not because we tell them, but because of our actions and behaviours over time. The same is true with brands.
It is common practice today to list your core values on a dedicated page of your website, but without the actions to go along with the words they are little more than marketing.
Listing a set of vague and noble values on your website is relatively easy. Living through those values on a day-to-day basis on the other hand, is a lot harder and takes great commitment.
It’s all in the doing
The value of “Values” is not in the telling, it’s in the doing. We identify a persons core values through their actions, not their words. Even if they tell us what their values are (which is a shortcut in demonstrating them) we won’t truly know what they are until we see it with our own eyes.
Brands that boast real purpose and values with an aligned vision and mission stand out in the market not only because of their minority status but as a consequence of being a happy brand.
People who come to work every day and feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, have meaning in the work that they do which makes them happy.
Brands like these spawned the term “brand authenticity” which many brand attempt to portray, as this article by Content Marketing Institute highlights.
Brand Values in Action
A great example of a brand living their core values and radiating positive energy through their work is Zappos. The brand leadership team Identified values as the cornerstone for the business they wanted to create and today the value of the brand makes up a large percentage of its monetary value.
Not only do they live their values through their work, the use them in the hiring process, offering potential employees $2,000 to walk away. Obviously, they only retain those that are committed.
The result is a high achieving brand full of very happy employees all committed to the same cause.
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Brand Values
Lay out your brand purpose to ensure your values are aligned.
Identify what is morally important to you in the way you do business while referencing your brand beliefs. (All of the leadership team should be involved at a minimum).
Prioritise your top three values that you want your brand to stand for.
Articulate these into short, unique actionable sentences for each listed value.
Add these to your brand guidelines.
Create a laundry list of values that you will struggle to commit to.
Use vague and common terms that lack clarity of action e.g. “Integrity” or “Honesty”.
Use other websites values for reference (Chances are, they are without foundation).
Choose values that have little meaning to you personally. (Everybody else only buys in when the leadership does).
| #5 | BRAND POSITIONING
The position your brand takes in the market comes down to who your audience is, who your competition is and what are your differentiators are.
When you know the finer detail of who your audience is, their likes and dislikes, their behaviours and more importantly, their problems, then you can begin to understand the best way to appeal to them.
Your competition is likely already serving your intended audience so understanding their appeal as well as their strengths and weaknesses, allows you to uncover opportunities.
Your differentiator is the very thing that your audience will remember you for. What is it that makes you different from your competition i.e. why should your audience choose you over them?
What’s your purple cow?
New York Times Bestselling author Seth Godin wrote extensively about the importance of having a differentiator in his book “Purple Cow”.
“Being safe is risky. Boring always leads to failure. Very good is an everyday occurrence and hardly worth mentioning. To be a Purple Cow is to be remarkable.”
Here he is talking about being remarkable…
There is always room to differentiate your brand
You need to be a different option than your competitor, not more of the same. Having a differentiator gives you an edge while trying to be more of what they already have is a ticket to obscurity.
Even if on paper, your competition is towering over you in terms of capabilities, you can always find a differentiator.
Check out this blog post by HubSpot, which shone a light on “11 Underdog Brands That Differentiated Themselves From the Competition”
The Branding Journal outlines Kotlers definition of positioning as “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”.
Brand Position in Action
When Avis was entering the car rental market dominated by Hertz, they positioned themselves with a tagline stating; “We’re only no.2 but we try harder”. In doing so, they established themselves in the market and took market share from their giant competitor.
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Brand Position
Create a detailed buyer persona of your “Perfect Client”.
If you don’t have a starting point, go to your top 5 competitors Facebook pages and analyse their followers.
Look for common characteristics and behaviours as well as problems.
Research your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and identify an area of opportunity.
If there are no obvious opportunities, look at what you could do better in a way that would turn the heads of their customers.
This point of difference will be your brand position.
Try to replicate your competition.
Use a differentiator that will offer no benefit to your audience.
Give the market more of the same with no adjustments.
| #6 | BRAND PERSONALITY
Your brand personality should be a reflection of who your audience is, what appeals to them and what position you want your brand to take in the market.
While your purpose, vision, mission and values give you substance that will make your audience stick around, your audience will never see your substance unless there is an attraction in the first place.
Resonating gains attention
Your brand strategy (Position, Personality, Language, Tone, Core Message) is all about attracting your audiences’ attention and resonating with them to generate interest.
Your audience wants to see themselves (or the best version of themselves) in your brand so when a brand portrays the personality of their audiences’ aspirations, they resonate on a powerful level.
Brand Personality in Action
Take “Mercedes” as an example. Their personality communicates confidence, sophistication, and exclusivity, which appeal to the aspirations of their audience.
Likewise, “Red Bull” has aligned themselves with extreme sports and projects an energetic, youthful and adventurous personality, which appeals their audiences’ aspirations.
Personality plays a big role when it comes to attraction. If your brand gets the opportunity to get someone’s attention, then the personality your brand portrays, will likely be a determining factor in whether or not they stick around to get to know “the real you”.
Be who they are or who they aspire to be.
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Brand Personality
Take your buyer persona and expand on the behavioural. aspects to identify personality traits your audience admires.
Identify 1-3 traits that align with your overall brand.
Apply these traits throughout your brand expression whether visually, verbally or written.
Add brand personality to brand guidelines.
Choose characteristics that appeal to anybody but your audience (This is not about what the leadership team likes)
Choose personality traits that are not in line with the position or the overall brand
Adopt personality traits that might offend your audience or the wider public (err on the side of caution)
| #7 | LANGUAGE & TONE
Your brand tone of voice and language are an extension of your personality and is therefore also heavily invested in who your audience is.
Tone of voice and language has always been important but in today’s content driven era, its importance has been magnified.
As people, we might use a different tone of voice and language set with different people, for example, your grandmother versus your best friend.
If you reversed your communication and spoke to you grandmother as you would your best friend and vice versa, chances are, you wouldn’t resonate with them.
If, as a brand, you want to appeal to 18-24-year-old male skateboarders, the formality, and energy of the language that you use will be different than if your audience is 35-50-year-old female foodies.
Speak their language
Branding at its core is all about making a connection and being remembered. One of the best ways to achieve both is by resonating with who they are, not on a demographics level but on a personal level.
How do they talk? Where are they from? Do they have a specific accent? Do they use a specific language set? Do they use slang? Are they highly articulate or informal?
When it comes to resonance, we must always trace it back to the source of who we want to resonate with and ask, “What appeals to them”?
Try to nail down your language and tone of voice, not with rigid rules but with flexible guides.
Check out this article by Fast Company that gives you Examples, Questions, And Guides onfinding the right voice on social media.
Brand Language & Tone of Voice in Action
Mozilla uses this strategy and within their guides, you’ll find applicable examples such as; “It’s okay to be clever, but not just for its own sake (or because we’re too in love with our own words).”
Your brand still needs to be authentic so give your personnel the autonomy to be human while directing them with guidelines.
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Language and Tone
Start with your personality and ask “How would this person speak?” “What language and tone would they use?”.
Use your buyer persona that you expanded upon in the last section and look for language insights.
Go to Facebook and watch videos of your competitors followers (Look for common language traits).
Articulate your brand language set and tone of voice
Record in brand guidelines
Use a language or tone that may offend the wider public (unless very niche in very specific channels)
Try to replicate any of your competitors.
Try to be overly expressive (You should resonate on a subconscious level)
| #8 | CORE MESSAGE
Now that you know your audience, position and personality of your brand, you have the information needed to craft an effective core message, the cornerstone of which is your differentiator.
In the mind of your audience, you get to be one thing. Not nine, five or even two things, just one thing. That one thing is your differentiator and your core message needs to be built around that.
When you engage with your audience whether on your website, in a brochure, over the phone or face to face, the conversations will vary. They may be one-way, two-way, written, verbal, visual and the topic could be about one of a thousand things.
With that in mind, your message needs to come through regardless of the medium or topic.
The underlying should always come through
The core message does not have to be a literal message to be repeated throughout all forms of communication (that would be just annoying). It can be an underlying message that can be adapted to the circumstances and environment.
For example, if your core message refers to “commitment to open and transparent communication”, then you don’t need to tell the audience that, you just need to demonstrate it by being open and transparent.
Having a concise and memorable tagline is always beneficial for supporting brand recall. You can craft a concise and memorable tagline from your core message but the core message itself can be up to two sentences.
It should be short enough for internal personnel to memorise but long enough to be impactful. It can be expressed in many different forms but should always drive home what you want your audience to remember you for.
Core Message in Action
Geico’s core message is succinct and to the point. It includes who it’s for, what the differentiator is and the benefit to the audience. “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.”
This double’s down as a tagline with how concise it is but it can be applied and adapted throughout all communication with the underlying message: “we save you time and money when it comes to your car insurance”.
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Core Message
Refer to your brand to date with a focus on your audience’s problems and your differentiator.
Craft a draft message defining what you do, who you do it for, why it’s different and what the benefit is to your audience.
Distil this into a concise message that you will be able to communicate and remember.
Communicate your core message internally and often.
Record in your brand guidelines.
Create a message that is overly complex and difficult to remember.
Exclude overlook the point which is communicating your benefit to the potential customer.
Forget to apply this underlying message throughout the brand collateral.
| #9 | BRAND IDENTITY SYSTEM
One of the most common errors made by small business owners today is in thinking they have branded their business once they apply a logo.
As you’ve seen above, branding is a bigger beast than that. The job of your brand identity is to trigger brand recall, which is the memory of the experiences your audience has had with your brand.
The type memory of the individual has, will depend on whether that experience was good, bad or indifferent based on their interactions with the brand.
A look and feel casts a wide net
The brand identity is another opportunity for the brand to make an impression while at the same time fulfilling its duty of triggering brand recall.
That’s why it’s important not to overlook the value of a brand look and feel. A look and feel, which includes a logo, colour palette, image style and graphic elements amongst others, cast a wide visual net with each element leading back to brand recall.
A logo on its own has little impact
A logo on its own has very little impact as it is a single visual representation and although it can lead to brand recall if it is truly distinctive, in isolation it has far less chance of being remembered.
A strong brand identity system will boast individual elements that are each distinct to the brand (without the presence of the logo) while working together as a cohesive team.
As people, we can join the dots of visual references easily and we can quickly make a connection when we see familiar elements.
Brands with an effective brand identity that has been designed to resonate and appeal to a specific audience are the brands that people remember.
[ACTION STEPS] to define your Brand Identity System
Use your buyer persona to uncover your audiences’ likes and dislikes.
Understand the power of colour in branding and ensure you apply the right choice for your audience and your strategic goals
Engage a professional (designer or agency) and provide them with your brand guidelines to date.
Ensure they understand your brand as a whole as well as your strategy and goals.
Lean on the professionals’ expertise and ask a lot of questions to gain as much insight as possible. This information could be invaluable to you for the life of your brand.
Create your visual identity yourself if you don’t have experience.
Engage low cost or under experienced practitioners.
Use a logo in isolation.
| #10 | BRAND EXPRESSION
Amazon CEO and the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos said;
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.
In essence, your brand is your reputation and therefore any interaction with your audience (brand expression) is a building block of your brand.
Whether visually, audibly or experientially, your brand needs consistency in its expression.
This Forbes article explains “The Power of Consistent Branding that tells a Story”.
Inconstancies damage your brand
Any instances of expression that are off-brand, whether a behaviour that is not aligned with values, decisions that are not aligned with the vision or visual expressions that don’t follow brand guidelines, your brand is being damaged.
As people, we are very visual so visual inconsistencies are picked up quicker than most. Your website, brochures, business cards, flyers, Car Decals and Facebook Ads, all need to look succinct.
Brand guidelines are your bible
If you have taken the time to put together brand guidelines ensure that they are adhered to. Applying visual elements that look one way on your website and a different way on your social media or business card causes confusion which leads to distrust.
The key to brand expression is alignment. Every pillar mentioned above needs to be aligned with the one before it so there is a consistent message across every touch point.
Here are some great examples of brand guidelines collated by HubSpot to get you in the mood.
Brand Expression in Action
The best example of consistency in brand expression is the king of modern branding, Apple. Since Steve Jobs came back into the fold in 1997, Apple changed its trajectory.
Everything was simplified. The purpose, vision, mission, values, personality, language, tone of voice, core message, brand identity and expression were simply aligned. We all know who they are, we all know what they stand for and whether you are part of the cult-following or not, you can’t help be in awe of their brand.
This is always worth another watch…
[ACTION STEPS] to execute your Brand Expression
Brand Guidelines! Brand Guidelines! Brand Guidelines! Once you have handed them over to your designer or agency, ask them to give them back in a professional format with your brand identity added.
Use these brand guidelines as your bible of consistency.
Whether posting a social media post, sending a formal email or writing content for your website, ensure brand personnel follow the rulebook (the key to you brand survival is consistency).
Ensure your brand agency communicates with anyone else you have engaged to express your brand (e.g. printer or web designer) to ensure consistency.
Appoint a brand champion within the business that will monitor the consistency of the brand.
Express your brand without structure or consistency.
Use multiple suppliers to express your brand (keep it streamlined if possible).
Allow multiple people to make brand decisions without consulting the brand champion.
It’s safe to assume that most entrepreneurs start their business in the hope that it will be successful. Few, however, position themselves well enough to give that business the best chance of survival, establishment and then success.
Building a brand from the inside out that has meaning, values, personality and visual appeal forms the framework around which your brand can grow and develop.
Branding is about your reputation and making your audience feel safe in doing business with you. A business without a brand strategy lacks the framework of consistency from which trust and loyalty are built.
Bring your business back to basics. Ensure that when people see your brand, they not only remember you, but they remember that you stand for more than the money in their wallet. That’s how you stake a claim in the mind and heart of your audience and that…. Is BRANDING.
Share this article with someone you know that owns a small business. They’ll thank you for it.
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