The 2018 Ultimate Guide to Branding
Over the last decade, branding your business has become a common theme among all industries. Branding used to be a science reserved for only biggest companies, like Nike, McDonald’s and Microsoft. Today, everyone is realizing the benefits of branding and also new strategies to stake your claim.
It’s not enough to be another run-of-the-mill business in your local area. Today, there is so much competition that everybody needs a gimmick at the very least. Think of the last time you bought anything you didn’t need. Odds are you Googled it, read some reviews, and checked out a couple websites, before ultimately making your purchase.
This is how the average shopper does it and you need to be ready. When you were at those websites, what sold you on the product you bought? Was it the cheesy sales pitch or was it the feeling of authenticity you experienced when you watched their opening video or perused their testimonials?
Branding is so much more than a catchy slogan or a beautiful website. It’s your identity; broadcasted in everything shown to the world. This means that your website, messaging, images, logos, sales presentations — and so much more — need branding. Without branding your business will struggle to gain even local traction if you’re not careful.
This guide is a combination of the most important things I wish I had known years ago. I want to share them with you so you can avoid the mistakes I made. It will show you exactly how to bring about that authentic feel that tugs on the emotions of your clients and gets them to choose your products or services over every other competitor. That’s the result of solid branding and this guide will show you how to do it.
Here are the three main parts:
- Why You Should Strive to Brand Your Business Correctly.
- How to know if Your Business Needs a Rebrand.
- A Strategy to Get You Started.
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How To Get The Most Out Of This Guide
If you’re considering branding or rebranding your website, sales materials, or your entire business, think about each of these sections in depth before making any changes. Rebranding your business requires a great deal of research and time to get everything working together — and if one thing is off it can cost you your business profits.
I would consider printing this guide out and keeping it close to you during your branding process. Use each section as a checklist and make sure you’re covering all the bases.
For example, when you reach the section on storytelling, you should analyze all the pertinent parts of your business that tell the story of your origin. Also, consider the sales materials that are used to warm up your prospect. Each of these pieces needs to consistently tell the story of your business in one way or another. Sometimes that means actually creating copy that talks about your story and other times it means using an image on your social media to enhance your message. More on this later, but I think it’s worth saying that branding is a slow process that takes time to get right, so take pride in the small victories and enjoy the long-term success.
Common Misconceptions About Branding
A big issue with branding are the misconceptions regarding the definition of what it is, its value, and the execution of how to create or recreate a solid brand.
For most businesses, it’s all about the product. That means if they create a product that solves a problem or is entertaining and turns a profit, the business is a success. Hence, they spend their money on that.
That’s not a bad strategy, but it’s short-sighted and incomplete. If your product is a hit, then branding can add a few zeros to your bottom-line. It’s not hard to do that, but what if your product isn’t something that’s on fire at the moment? Branding is the special sauce that makes every sales pitch more persuasive and trustworthy.
Branding is like steroids for baseball players. Like Jose Canseco said, steroids can turn a good player into a hall of famer, and a great player into the G.O.A.T. Are you ready to give your business everything it deserves?
Creating Long-Term Growth
No one gets into business thinking to just make quick buck and get out. Even if the ultimate goal is to sell the business there is still a thought of “pulling a Zuckerberg” and not selling out before it can turn it into something great, right?
I’m not saying branding is the key to being the next Facebook or Amazon, but I am saying that without branding those businesses would have struggled to get where they are today, and could have possibly been replaced by competitors without their strong brands.
Over a long period of time, your branding should constantly evolve. You see it all the time. Companies are always renewing their brand. This isn’t because the old brand didn’t work. It’s because of the way people think.
Everyone focuses on what is right in front of them. With the increasing speed of our society, in order for any business to remain a factor, consistently modifying or redesigning a brand is essential for survival. Sometimes that means changing everything about your business and other times it’s creating a new video for your social media.
What this means is your brand is a story and sometimes that story needs to be tweaked, reshaped or completely redone.
Stories are what connect you with your customers. Sure, your logo and color selection matters, but not nearly as much as the story you share. Psychology Today points out the ways consumers are influenced by emotions. While we’d all like to think we’re rational, logical purchasers, we probably base most of our emotions on how we feel. Emotions lead to preferences and this is how we make our decisions. Branding that uses emotion to tell a story connects with audiences on a new level!
How can you enhance the story you tell?
Try adding more humanity to it by showing vulnerability and using emotional words. Are you familiar with the basic narratives for storytelling, like the hero’s story? If not check out this article, from storyboardthat.com, to get a sense of what good storytelling means.
You might not have an epic rags-to-riches story, but you are unique. It’s your job to make your story something your customers want to know about.
Consumers are bombarded with different brands every day. Most of these brands come and go quickly in our lives, and we don’t even take the time to notice them. With so many different brands to choose from today, how do you stand out? Strong branding is easy to recognize!
Have you ever gone shopping and had to choose between two different brands? You probably chose the brand you recognize whether you realized it or not. Brand recognition is a powerful tool! By building a brand consumers can easily and quickly recognize you’re likely to land more sales!
Understanding what works for your audience takes time to research and analyze. Follow the principles of copywriting and you’ll start engaging your audience with eye-catching headlines and persuasive sales materials.
Having a strong brand is like making a promise to consumers. You’re setting a level of quality with your brand, and consumers know if they engage with your brand, they can expect that same level of quality. Social proof, customer service, and strong messaging all lead to building trust! Trust in your brand is step one for brand success!
Every time you buy something you put your trust into that particular brand. Think about times when you chose one brand over another. What was it that helped you make the decision you did? Was it financial, a gut-feeling, or was it because your neighbor had one too?
Regardless of how logical your purchase seemed, you most likely chose something you felt good about. The product’s brand probably did not include any cheesy lines or clever tricks. It made you feel that it was professional, authentic, special, etc. These are all emotions you want your customers to feel when they look at everything you show them. Branding 101.
Let Employees Preview Your Brand Integrity
When employees can recognize your brand, your mission, and your message, it’s easier for them to support your cause! If they support your cause your customers will too.
If you’re employees are enthusiastic about your products and messaging, they will be great spokespeople for your company. However, if you’re lacking in quality, your employees will be the first to say it.
Employees like to feel they’re a part of something good and exciting. A strong brand gives them something to feel pride in which ultimately leads to greater motivation! There’s a clear link between branding success and employee engagement!
You might know where your business is now, but do you know where you’ll take it in the future? Branding creates a roadmap for your business that propels it into tomorrow. You’ll know how to create products for your business whether you’re trying to launch a new product or print custom t-shirts. You’ll know how to communicate with your customers and employees. Most importantly, you’ll achieve branding success by knowing your own story as a business!
How to Administer a Brand Audit
Auditing your brand takes one important emotion, honesty. Without allowing the negative parts of your brand to show, you will forever be mystified by poor performance.
Remember: the core premise of any solid branding audit is finding your weaknesses and making them strengths.
What Do Your Customers Really Think of Your Company?
We’ve already talked about understanding what your employees think about your product and messaging, but what about the customers? After a few years in business (or even a few months) without a brand audit, it’s easy to get focused on day-to-day tasks and let your brand fall by the wayside.
If you aren’t mindful about the way you present your brand, it can quickly become disjointed and disconnected. And, that’s a problem, because a poor brand experience can lead to:
- Customer confusion
- Ineffective marketing
- Higher cost per lead
- Inability to build a loyal customer base
- Decrease in sales and revenue
So if you’ve noticed your brand is experiencing some cracks, use this brand audit to identify where you need to fix, update, and improve your brand image.
Create a Brand Guide
Before you perform a brand audit, you need to have a list of guidelines that will direct and help you assess the way your brand looks, sounds, and feels.
Create a brand guide with sections that describe your:
- Audience: who you are trying to reach
- Mission: the goals your business is trying to accomplish
- Voice: the tone that describes the way you communicate
- Values: the core principles that guide your business decisions
- Brand promise: the value you promise to deliver to your customers
- Unique selling propositions: your unique positioning statement and the factors that make you different and/or better than your competitors
If you go according to this guide, once you have these important details outlined, you can then review the existing elements of your brand and see where they match up or fall short.
In the next step of your brand audit, look at the design elements of your business. This includes your:
- Brand colors
Gather these design elements and review them against your brand guide. Do your design elements match the brand look and feel you are trying to create?
Once you know what your brand design should look like, it’s time to make sure your design elements are consistent across all of your marketing collateral.
You don’t want half of your marketing materials to use your old brand design, while the other half is using your new colors, fonts, and logos. This is what causes customer confusion and decreases brand recognition.
Check each of the following types of collateral to make sure they share the same brand identity:
- Social media profiles
- Print materials
- Employee uniforms
- Product packaging
Brand Messaging and Content
It’s not just the look of your brand that tells customers who you are, what you stand for, and your mission. It’s also the language and content you share. Review the uses of your brand voice and make sure it clearly articulates your unique selling propositions and speaks directly to your target audience.
I encourage our clients to choose 5 core values, like honor, hard work, honesty, etc. These values need to show in each piece of content. When your messaging embodies such positive ideals, you’re brand becomes instantly more attractive and persuasive.
Use analytics to see where you are hitting the mark or falling short.
- Check your website data to see if your most important pages are being viewed most often.
- Inspect your social media analytics to see what topics and messages your audience responds to most.
- Look at SEO analytics to see if the right keywords are driving the right audiences to your website.
- Analyze your sales data to see if your core products and services have the highest sales.
You may think your messaging is clear, but the data may tell you a different story.
Develop a Plan Based on Your Brand Audit
The value of a brand audit is only seen when you take action on what you find. You might find that your targeting is all wrong and you need to completely redo things. Don’t fret, because this means that you’re closer than you’ve ever been to succeeding.
Once you go through each section of this article, create a plan of action based on what you learned.
- Outline specific issues. Create a list of the problems and inconsistencies you uncovered during your brand audit.
- Develop an action plan. Outline a step-by-step plan of action for resolving each issue.
- Add deadlines to each plan. Put your plan on a timeline to ensure that you don’t continue to let your branding fall to the wayside.
When you’re managing the day-to-day operations of a business, it can be easy to let things like brand consistency get pushed to the side.
But, having a cohesive, authentic, and consistent brand is far too important to ignore. Follow through with your plan to improve or even rebrand your company’s image.
Rebranding Methodology from Start to Finish
Rebranding methodology gives you a sound process for making changes which includes the following four phases:
- Positioning and Messaging
- Visual Brand Expression
Phase 1: Discovery
You can’t do a successful rebrand without research. It should be comprehensive and specific to be effective. It should provide insights into market demographics and opportunities, competitive positioning, and the best places for your messages. In our rebranding methodology, we like to cover all the bases whenever possible:
Internal staff: Your company’s management team and staff provide an internal perspective on your brand. This is particularly useful (and eye opening) when compared to the perceptions of external audiences.
Current customers: Interview existing customers to understand your perceived strengths and weaknesses.
Former customers: Probe former customers for hidden weaknesses.
Prospects: Surveying prospective customers for awareness of your company versus competitors will give you a baseline to measure against.
Influencers: If you can identify influencers in your industry, such as technical analysts or bloggers, find out how they perceive your company’s strengths and weaknesses.
Competitors: Evaluate your competitors, direct and indirect, to broaden your understanding of where opportunities exist to differentiate your company and clarify your advantages. Collect brand-relevant data wherever possible, such as their logos, brand colors, taglines, key messages, key service offerings, and visual style.
Phase 2: Positioning And Messaging
The second phase of our rebranding methodology involves identifying your secret sauce.
Brand positioning: Develop a single paragraph that succinctly describes your unique value proposition, market positioning, and key differentiators.
Key differentiators: List the characteristics that define your company and set it apart from similar companies in the marketplace (especially your key competitors).
Messaging architecture: For each identified audience, provide individual messages, potential barriers, responses to overcome each barrier, and supporting evidence.
Phase 3: Visual Brand Expression
Finally, our rebranding methodology covers the design aspects that give your brand identity life. When people talk about branding, they usually think of logos, colors, type, and design. In this third phase, that’s what we develop.
- If you are considering a name change for a product or your company, do that first.
- Develop your logo and tagline next.
- Develop support materials; including stationery, brochures, PowerPoint templates, sales sheets, and proposal formats — until you have a full set of business tools.
- Rebrand your website. This can be cosmetic to adhere to new visual style guidelines, or it provides an opportunity for improvements to functionality, lead conversion, navigation, and user experience.
- Develop guidelines for your visual brand that govern usage, document styles, and provide visual guidelines for different media.
Phase 4: Launch
For your rebranding methodology to be successful, you need to develop a detailed launch plan that takes into account internal and external brand success factors.
Internal Launch — Don’t let the marketing team be the only ones who know about the new brand. Before you let the outside world experience your new brand, introduce it to your entire organization. This can be as big an event as you want it to be. The idea is to get people excited about where the company is headed.
Education — Remember that your brand is much more than the new logo, signage, website, or tagline. A successful brand is supported by what the people in your company do and say. This needs to be handled with training. Even non-sales staffs need to understand and be able to articulate the new brand, new positioning, and important talking points that differentiate your company from competitors.
Public Launch — Your public brand launch is a newsworthy opportunity to command attention in the marketplace. Make the most of it. Your brand rollout plan should provide a detailed timeline to announce your new brand — targeted as appropriate to key audiences, including prospects, customers, partners, analysts, and the media.
You might be thinking, is there really this much that goes into creating a good brand? It’s not as complicated as you might think at this very moment, but this guide should enable you to slowly change your brand from struggling to success.
I think it’s important to recognize that every business requires a different level of branding to succeed. What I would ask you to do is take a good look at your competition. If you’re on par with them, try and 1-up them this month and continue to make one improvement every month thereafter.
That is easiest way I know to change your brand for the best. It’s slow, yes, but it will work for you if you have the patience. Otherwise, your option is a total makeover, and for that you should think about seeking an outside opinion.
For a more personalized idea of how you can change your business into a powerhouse, contact us and set up a time to talk about how much potential your business truly has.
Originally published at Digital Marketing and Branding Services: HiveMind Studios.