A ‘brand’ is not just for megacorporations. Here’s how to build your own.
What do you think of when you see that word? The big shiny logos of Coke, Nike, or Apple?
While these companies have spent millions crafting their company voice ‘brand’ isn’t just the domain of the global megacorporations. It should be an essential part of every business’s agenda.
It really doesn’t matter if you’re the world’s biggest purveyor of beverages or a lemon stand at the farmer’s market—the health of your brand plays a key factor in your business’ success.
As somebody who has helped global corporations shape their brand, I want to give you some insight into how you can find your business’s voice and build a successful and recognizable brand whether you’re a company of 1 or 100
What brand is and isn’t
First, let’s clear up the misconceptions and the mistruths about what a brand is.
The brand is not your company. One company can own many brands.
A brand is simply the abstract idea people have about the service you deliver or the product you sell.
A brand could be a dream or an aspiration your customers want to reach for. It could represent something comforting that the company can associate themselves with and use as a tool for expressing who they are.
What a brand always should be is a way for your customers and audience to create a real emotional connection with what you’re offering. Everyone in advertising knows that people buy with their hearts first and then justify the decision later so there’s no better way to bring in more business than to appeal to emotion first and logic later.
This is why your brand is so much more than a logo or a design mark. It’s more than the words you write on a slide in your business plan.
“If there is anything fake or dishonest about what you’re saying you better be prepared for the internet mob to descend and rip your brand apart like a pack of wolves.”Leon Jacobs
Your brand is deeply connected with your purpose and it lives in every interaction your product or service has with your current and potential customers. But it doesn’t stop there. You brand should also be a (hopefully) honest reflection of who your company is and who your employees are. This is one place where things can get messy.
If your brand is writing cheques your employees can’t cash when they’re doing their day-to-day in the trenches dealing with customers you’re in serious trouble.
Let’s say your brand’s focus is on energy and performance.
If your employees are dull and lacklustre in their interaction with your customers they’re doing a disservice to the brand and missing an opportunity to connect with customers on an emotional level.
On the other hand, your brand can also be a means to inspire and motivate employees.
A few years back I worked on a campaign for a South African bank where we changed the brand’s strapline (slogan) to Simpler. Better. Faster.
At the time, the bank’s ATM featured a little man walking across the screen carrying a bag of cash while the transaction was being processed. After the new branding came out, the team managing the ATM software decided (of their own volition) to make the little man run.
They embodied the brand in themselves and their work and the company was better for it.
Be authentic or die: The modern marketing dilemma
Before getting into the nitty gritty of branding, we need to think about the modern context of a ‘brand’ and how that has changed drastically over the past decade.
If you cast your mind back to a time before the advent of social media and the age of super-connectedness, creators of brands had a monopoly on the conversation with their customers. Media was purely broadcast and more than a few companies used the opportunity to endow their brands with fake promises.
Marketing companies believed they could just hammer home their messaging in the media until the brand’s values stuck.
These days we all know how different of a media landscape we’re dealing with.
Every single consumer who has a social media account is now part of the conversation. Every message is dissected, analyzed, and (often) criticized. If there is anything fake or dishonest about what you’re saying, well, you better be prepared for the internet mob to descend on you and rip your brand apart like a pack of wolves.
There is only one way to avoid this. In this day and age, brands have to be 100% real and authentic. It is the brands who tell it like it is, boots and all, who will keep building trust.
How to build a brand for your small business
So how does a company or marketer go about creating a brand that people can trust?
To start, you have to think of your brand as a real, living and breathing person.
Your customers and audience want something they can relate to. And they relate with other people and their experiences. They want to know that you understand them and are empathetic towards them. If they can’t relate they’ll move on.
And how do you make them relate? You show them the personality behind your brand.
You appeal to their emotions, and what better way than with a story?
How stories bring everything to life
There are few things that grab our attention like a good story (just ask the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry.)
There is something hardwired deep inside our brains that draw us into following a sequence of events that happened to other people. When you imbue your brand in the true story around it, you are making people care about what happens next.
Let’s look at one of the big boy’s right now: Nike.
People care about Nike because the brand’s story is consistently one of the underdog who shows up everyday, trains, and then against all odds, wins. It’s easy to understand why people connect with a story like this—we’ve all been that underdog at some point in our lives.
And whether or not we won is irrelevant. We know what it means to be looked down on and fight against something bigger than we are.
“So, if the brand can say, just show up. Train. Give it your all. Just do it! then we can relate. What? I can also be a winner? Then take my money and give me those sneakers!”Leon Jacobs
There is another big brand that successfully uses the underdog narrative.
Apple (only the world’s most valuable company) revived their fortunes using a similar storyline. People care about Apple because for a long time their desktop and laptops were seen as second place to the might of Microsoft’s Windows platform.
But then Apple tapped into the very real need of people to root for the underdog. So they glorified second place and made their computers the canvasses for people who see things differently. The iconoclasts who make a difference by not following the herd.
Who doesn’t want to be in the company of geniuses like Einstein, Picasso, or Jim Henson? Well, buy this beautifully designed Macbook and you can project yourself into the same story as these brilliant misfits.
Building a brand that works for you
While this is all pretty high-level stuff there are some easy and actionable ways to make your brand work for you.
Start off by grabbing a paper and pen and writing down the most interesting story about your brand. Perhaps it’s about how it started (everyone loves a good origin story). It could be deeply personal, or it could just be a funny story about how your hobby became your livelihood.
Now write down some important things about where your brand fits into the lives of its customers. Let’s say you run a laundry shop that was started by your grandfather—a real old curmudgeon who believed that a man was nothing without a clean pressed shirt.
That right there is a beautiful story of old world values. If you can find a way of bringing that story into your brand, you can make people understand how seriously you take quality and cleanliness:
“Old world values for something as simple as washing clothes.”
Now you have direction for developing your logo, the interior design of the shop, the way clothes are wrapped, and how to design your employees’ uniforms.
You could even have a poster made with a picture of your grandfather with his story and his beliefs proudly mounted in the store. That image and words could then be used as the basis of an advertising campaign.
All of a sudden your company is wrapped in a brand that not only appeals to us on an emotional level, but also tells a compelling story—one of struggle, growth, success, and connected to the old world values of high-quality craftsmanship that we all praise.
Just remember that the story has to be true, it has to be engaging, and it has to be relevant to the lives of your customers and the product or service you deliver.
Your brand is something you build over time.
You build it by rooting it firmly in truth and making it relevant to your customer’s lives. If you make sure you can tell the story simply and truthfully it will become the invisible spirit that brings life to all your communications.
If you don’t want to contribute to the noise people are bombarded with every single day give them something they can relate to. Give them something they can care about. Make them hear your true and authentic voice.