“Branding is the answer!”.
For the past decade, I have made this statement until I was blue in the face. Yet not a lot of my PPC-centric clients (Pay-Per-Click) seemed to take this seriously. Why is our cost per click so expensive? Branding. Why are people landing on your website but are not converting? Branding. Followers are not engaged on Instagram… Branding.
The issue they seem to have with branding is that it’s not about getting an immediate result:
you are building an asset over time and the work you do today will have a compound effect. Not only that but it’s not linear, and one is never truly done with this process.
Branding is a constant feedback loop that you will only be able to refine by taking that first step today.
Most agencies will formulate a blueprint and a set of documents that end up being stored in a random folder. They will leave you with a playbook that is external to your business practices and treat branding as a project with an end date.
I am a Brand Coach that helps you build an engine for long term consistent value and, most importantly, integrating it in all of your business practices. I help you use what you already know about the business by entering a co-creating space, rather than a not-so-customised brand book.
Expecting this blog post to help you create a “done and dusted perfect brand strategy today” is ludicrous, and you should beware of who promises you such a result.
This said, I do aim to give you a comprehensive guide that will help you take the first step into this (sometimes endless) feedback loop. By following these steps, you will get your imperfect branding up-and-running and get clearer and clearer as you revisit it, hopefully at least every 6 months.
I promise that, if you follow each of these steps thoroughly, it will get easier each time you revisit it and you will eventually reach that clarity that merges what you see vs what your audiences’ sees.
Let’s start by defining what branding is, for those who are new to the concept.
What is Branding?
Branding is one of those terms that tend to carry many definitions along with it. Some people attribute branding to a logo, to others it's an identity and to some it's a product.
But let's clear the air and re-establish what branding really is. A brand is a promise you make to consumers. A brand promises an emotional experience.
Branding is a person's perceptions about your product, service or company. It’s about embedding what makes you unique in the mind of others.
When a loyal customer recalls your brand, it's tied to a feeling in their mind.
There's an association there and it's your responsibility to not only create that association, but manage it too, as it is the relationship between your business and its audience.
The importance of branding goes beyond a list of benefits and stats. It is the essence of your online presence and of your activity, it’s the life you breathe into your business.
Without one, your business is emotionless and any similar service or competitor can threaten your activity by showing up with a better process, technology, or newer research… It is the brand that will help you build loyalty on an emotional level with your audience, which often goes beyond rationality.
Companies are so focused on user acquisition, conversions, and selling as much as fast as possible.
But what about user retention and stickiness? Why wouldn’t you focus on higher frequency of purchase and upselling opportunities?
Simple: because businesses do not value or prioritise long-term results as much as short-term ones, despite the long term ones being, more often than not, way more valuable.
Customers who are fully connected with a brand are 52% more valuable than those that aren’t connected.
These are all benefits of branding.
You want your users to be your ambassadors and refer to your product: 94% of people said they’d be highly likely to recommend a brand they were emotionally engaged with.
So many companies spend a huge amount of money to acquire, and then experience churn. Customers who aren’t connected or satisfied and instead only make one purchase cost businesses money with a -18% customer value. How is that normalised and why do I have to still justify branding to most businesses I encounter?
Coca-Cola's brand alone is worth billions. Great brands become financial assets too. It’s not just about Coca-Cola’s secret recipe: 94% of the world’s population recognizes the Coca-Cola logo.
I can go on:
- Brands allow you to set higher prices for your products and services as people associate higher quality to branded products. 90% of customers are willing to pay more if they’re purchasing from a brand they trust, even when the two products are identical.
- Loyal customers don't need to be marketed to as much.
- With an established brand, it's easier to launch new products. 59% of shoppers prefer to buy new products from the brands they trust.
- Good branding can decrease hiring and training costs by up to 50%. Popular brands help companies recruit the most talented and they help reduce employee turnover.
- Brands with poor company branding pay 10% higher salaries.
Need I say more?
What Makes A Great Brand?
What makes a great personal brand, grosso modo, are the the elements below:
- Crystal clarity: understanding who you are, who your ideal audience is and what value you offer them through your brand. Clarity is necessary not only for you to get what you want but for the right people to find you.
- Audience identification - ICP: this is included in the previous point but is so incredibly important that it must be mentioned again. Don’t stick to just demographics. Go a level deeper in the desires of the audience - that is how you can create an emotional rapport - what is their emotional journey - you must understand the psychology of your ideal user.
- Consistent messaging: branding is very much about how consistently you present your clarity to your audience. You can have the clearest of brand books, but if your messaging gets lost in translation or lacks the discipline to stick to your decisions, it will not help you.
- Cohesive Community: your business is about the community you serve, it’s not about the founder’s ego, bluntly speaking. This can be easily forgotten. Everyone wants to (and should) aspire to reach a community-led growth, a process in which its members will naturally act as brand ambassadors and drive new customers through referrals/WOM. Your community should have the awareness of being part of a community, to the extent that your product is a subsection of the life of a customer.
These pieces are all interconnected. As a start-up, you start with Clarity. As you develop this system, you will realise that it is a constant feedback loop that keeps feeding into itself.
How To Create Your Startup Brand?
I don’t believe there is one “set way” to build a brand, especially as I tend to co-create it with each client.
However, some building blocks are incontournable.
Define What Makes Your Company Great
Be clear about what value your company provides and what makes it compelling. You can take this from so many angles:
- Why should anyone care? What do you do for your audience?
- How are you different?
- What are your values?
- What real, positive change are you trying to achieve?
- Do you have a compelling origin story?
Get crystal clear on these answers and then distil the information in a comprehensive introduction, description of your services, mission statement and dare-I-say tagline.
Define Your Target Audience
Who are you serving? Who’s your ideal client? What is their biggest pain point?
There are countless resources on the internet that help you build a persona.
“We are for everyone” will not cut it when you start out. You are not Google, no one knows you. Be humble and start with a small group of people and make sure they rave about you. The “everyone” will come. But never start with general messages.
Get to know one specific group inside out. The more specific, the faster you will get to “everybody else”. Get in their minds, find 3-5 people who fit that group exactly, get on the phone, no surveys when you start: call them.
If you don’t feel like picking up the phone, they are simply not your ideal target audience: you should feel excited to be able to speak to them.
It is harder than ever to grab people’s attention and it doesn’t seem like it will get easier.
The more specific the messages to your ideal audience, the more likely they are to stop themselves in their scrolling tracks and think “hang on… how did they do that?”.
That’s the reaction you are looking for.
Choose Your Brand Archetype, Voice & Tone
You know why your business is great and you know your ideal specific target audience.
How will you present yourself to them and what tone and voice will you use when addressing yourself to them?
The brand archetypes can help you stay clear on your personality.
There are twelve brand archetypes: Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Outlaw, Explorer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Lover, Caregiver, Jester, and Sage.
Look into every single one of them and choose one. If you feel like multiple, stick to two, one of them being dominant.
Limiting yourself to two is very important as it will help you position yourself clearly in your target audience’s mind.
This choice will help you define your Brand Voice, to not be confused with the tone:
- The Brand Voice represents your brand’s unique perspective and the values you stand for. In other words, this is your brand’s overall personality.
- Your tone of voice refers to how your brand communicates with your audience, which can include word choice, communication style, and emotional tone.
Here’s an example of Brand’s Voice by Volvo:
Here’s an example of a Brand Messaging Architecture (tone) Optimizely put together for Facebook:
Make It Visual
Now that you know how you will come across and speak online, it’s time to think about the visuals.
A well-designed logo builds trust by validating your professionalism.
Ideally, our logo should incorporate your brand voice keywords and be able to blend well with the rest of your mood board, like Airbnb did it:
When looking at Nike’s logo, the swoosh is just a swoosh. But, the connection we have to that symbol has everything to do with their vision and the feeling it represents.
At the end of the day, your logo is an identity that needs to meet 3 criteria. It has to be simple, appropriate, and unique.
Don’t worry about this initially, keep your logo simple if you don’t have the money to spend on a great designer, just use your company’s name, like Sony did for instance.
There are thousands of fonts for you to choose from.
Think about personality. Think back to your brand voice. If your brand voice is friendly, you might look for rounded fonts that are really easy to read. If your brand voice is confident, you might look for bold, condensed fonts.
Think about function. At the bare minimum you will want to find a font for your headings and a font for paragraphs.
There is so much more you can do to help you stay consistent with your brand visually, like creating a moodboard of what you want your brand to look like, imagery wise (Pinterest is your best friend).
What images would you like people to associate your logo with? You can go as far as brainstorming the kind of videos and editing styles you would like to adopt for your content.
Your Brand Colours
Colour sets the mood of brand expression. Emotions are powerful and have the ability to drive decision making. Your mood board should tell you exactly what colours you are going to add to your palette.
Use Adobe Color, it’s free: you can upload or browse through images that fit the vibe of your brand and Adobe Color will automatically create a colour palette for you.
The More Senses the Better
Sound, or a distinct set of notes or tones, can also help a business establish its identity.
A jingle or a tune may come to mind when a certain brand is discussed, although it can also comprise recorded phrases, speech, and short musical sentences as well.
The sound branding that goes along with the Netflix or HBO logos at the start of our favorite episodes is instantly recognizable.
Create Your Brand Book
So you have done all of this work… You know your branding inside out (until next review). Fantastic.
But how will anyone else working in / for the company know about it?
Whether you are dealing with contractors, freelancers or employees, you must make sure that everyone is on the same page, especially if you are outsourcing your copywriting or content creation to a third party.
This is where a brand book helps.
Some call this a style guide, some call it brand guidelines… I’m team “brand book”.
Create your own “Bible” and make sure that you give everybody some time to go through it. If you have employees already who have been working with the company, or even better, who have been dealing with your customers for several months (customer support), do ask them for feedback.
Create Your Content Strategy
Everyone is onboard with the branding. You have done your work internally.
Now it’s time to (re)-introduce yourself to your ideal target audience.
There is no one set way to do this. There are many platforms that will fit your mission, some more than others.
What you do want to be careful of is to not spread yourself too thin.
If you are a startup with very limited resources, choose one, maximum two platforms. Each of them will express your brand and bring in useful information from your audiences about how your business is perceived.
You want to do things properly. I have seen countless small businesses milking one inexperienced intern by making them create content for 5 different platforms on top of other tasks… avoid at all cost.
I have seen these overworked employees rush from one mediocre result to the next, just to make sure they would manage to do everything. How is that helping the company?
It is not cheaper if your brand sounds and looks cheap.
Start small. Understand the majority of the questions that your ideal target audience is searching, and start a content creation strategy from there.
Make sure that every platform you choose to present yourself on are consistent with one another and use the exact same tone, colours, logos…etc as mentioned in the brand book.
Revisit through Brand Audits
Branding is not linear and is never truly done.
Every six months your company should review the feedback you have received from your target audience, if the audience is the same one you planned to attract or if it evolved into something new and how you can adapt to that fundamental change.
Do not shy away from experimenting and trying new things, but make sure you always prioritise what is consistently bringing in the results you seek, as the backbone of your content strategy.
Consistency of what works and weeding out what doesn’t will ensure a stronger brand year in year out. If you keep at it, success will come through persistently improving what your community is asking you to improve. The real differentiator is your ability to stay consistent.
The Cost of Building a Brand for Your Startup
So now that you have the building blocks, it is time to dive into the process and you have three options:
- DIY Branding: Recommended for experienced entrepreneurs (2+ years) who’ve honed their clarity and content strategies. I wouldn’t recommend someone completely new to branding to attempt doing it on their own, unless they dedicate a fair amount of their time to read brand strategy books, listen to brand experts’ podcasts and youtube videos (a lot of them).
- Build An In-House Team: Suitable for the lucky businesses with the financial capacity to hire dedicated brand experts, as this is incredibly expensive.
- Hire Expert Freelancers: As much as I am a DIY fan, nothing beats a good experienced freelancer by your side helping you avoid the common mistakes and the overthinking that many go through when engaging in the process of branding. It’s cost effective and will save you from the opportunity cost of reading and watching random videos online. Moreover, freelancers tend to be more objective than the founders and bring a more neutral ground to play on. They keep you on track so that you don’t lose sight of the important elements and expose you to years of experience, which is invaluable and incomparable.
Every business is different and your brand should highlight the fresh perspective and unique feeling you create when presenting yourself and interacting with your niche market.
Taking care of branding can feel overwhelming and that’s ok: discovering the essence of your business and giving it life is not a short process. But the building blocks outlined here will massively increase your chances of success when it comes to your activity.
Remember, branding is about persistence and patience. You don't have all the answers straight away! It’s a feedback loop. Just keep going back to it calmly and consistently.