Establishing your brand is your best chance at taking control of your presence in the marketplace and telling your customers – and your competitors – who you are. Sometimes branding is dismissed by fledgling business owners as a vanity project or a marketing gimmick, but the truth is that it is a fundamental component of success in a crowded marketplace.
Your brand is a salesperson who works for you 24/7, 365 days out of the year. That part is indisputable. Because your brand is often the first aspect of your business that customers will encounter, the question is whether your brand is inviting them in or driving them away. Day after day, year after year, that’s either a massive benefit or a devastating loss to your business. Another thing to consider: if you don’t own your brand, someone else will.
Here are five tips to establish your brand and make sure that it represents you in a professional and consistent manner. For others to understand what you are offering, first, you have to know who you are, what you do and why you do it.
Write down your brand messaging
In my book “The Founders Guide: From Idea to Execution,” I devote a chapter to “Developing a Marketing Plan.” In the book, I focus on the practical aspects of it such as how it will help your business run smoothly and ensure success, but there is also a more inward-focused component to it.
By committing your company’s vision, strengths and market differentiators to writing, you’re internalizing your brand’s story, which will make a huge difference in your confidence when customers (or investors) ask what you do. Accordingly, the marketing plan should include descriptions of your company to use in a variety of situations – mission statements, elevator pitches and boilerplates. Just as important, the Marketing Plan requires you to study your competitors and develop a position that places your business into the environment like a puzzle piece falling into place. If your competitor is the “budget” company, then maybe you need to be the “service” company or the “selection” company, etc. Even if you find yourself in a “blue ocean” situation where you have no direct competitors, you still need to identify the “alternatives” to your business. After all, the first person to establish a restaurant in a town still has to compete with home cooking.
Not only is taking the time to physically write out your messaging a valuable opportunity for soul searching, it will be immeasurably valuable when it comes time to produce marketing content – and even more valuable if you ever have to work with an outside marketing agency.
Create a brand style guide
Your logo and your tagline will be used in various forms across all of your marketing materials, so it is critical to establish the proper usage of your corporate identity early on. If you are a manufacturer of tools, you need to have a plan for how your logo should be deployed on in-store signage, the side of a drill or all the way down to the head of a screw. Maybe your color palette works fine on a promotional pen, but the white border is lost when you use it on letterhead so an alternate palette needs to be developed to maintain your professional presence. It is also important to consider when your logo and tagline should appear together and when they should be used individually.
Developing design templates and establishing brand standards for your marketing materials is an absolute must to project a professional image internally and externally. This document will go hand-in-hand with your written Marketing Plan to ensure brand consistency to customers and investors across multiple formats, channels and physical locations.
Get a great logo
Logos are the pinnacle of your brand identity. They are often your first point of contact with a potential customer, and – depending on how it is received – it could be your only contact. So there is a lot of pressure on the logo to instantly represent the entirety of your brand’s identity using only an image. To make it even more challenging, all of that information needs to be distilled into an image that is simple enough to be effective whether it is the size of a quarter on a business card or the size of a car on a billboard. While it may seem as though logos are just simple drawings, it actually takes a lot of work to achieve the appearance of “effective simplicity.”
Logo design is not a place to skimp, and it is definitely worth consulting with a professional designer. A good designer will consider your mission statement and other corporate messaging to determine the optimal color palette, typeface and style to effectively communicate your identity in a crowded marketplace.
Develop a killer tagline
If your logo is the embodiment of your brand without additional text, then your tagline should be the distilled essence of your brand without any additional imagery. It is part mission statement and – if it is catchy enough – it is part jingle that sticks in your customers’ minds. It can be approached with a little more poetry than an elevator pitch because it can convey an attitude or a feeling about your company without necessarily referencing your specific products or services.
When you find a tagline that embodies your ideals and creates the connection with customers that you desire, then the next step is to trademark it. Trademarks apply to words, names, symbols or other materials used for the trade of goods that makes the product stand out from others while protecting your business from others that might be using words or symbols that are confusingly similar to yours. It does not, however, prevent others from selling a similar product. I talk more about protecting your business idea in my “Founders Guide.” As with logo design, it is worth consulting with a copywriter or a branding agency to make sure that you are communicating your message effectively.
Be true to your brand – be consistent
Your brand can also be referred to as your “corporate identity,” and as your identity, it is important that you stay true to who you are. When I find myself having difficulty making an important business decision, I often discover that I have already laid out the foundation of my answer in either my Marketing Plan or my Style Book. One of the options will almost always be more aligned with my objectives. Additionally, these documents lay out which actions are not part of my brand.
Knowing when to say “yes” is important, but knowing when to say “no” is critical. It is easy to get distracted with side projects and unforeseen opportunities, but if we stray too far from our written objectives, then we risk diluting our brand. While we might be keeping busy, we might not be moving forward. Keep your end-goal in mind when making day-to-day decisions, and be strong in who you are and who you want to be as a business. If you find that you’re taking a lot of actions that are outside of your corporate identity, then you need to refocus or rebrand.
The process of creating, establishing and maintaining a brand isn’t always easy. Sometimes it can even be painful when we discover harsh truths about our big ideas or our presumed place in the market. However, it will be much easier to accept the hard truth now and pivot accordingly than it will be to grind away selling to customers that aren’t seeking the solution we’re offering.
A clearly defined message with matching imagery will be your avatar in the market – conducting business, generating leads and starting the conversation with potential customers. A good brand will introduce your business as a solution to your customers’ problems before the negotiations even start.
Taking the steps to think through your business’s offerings and committing them to writing will give you the clarity and confidence you need to execute, and that clarity and confidence will be reflected in your brand.