Coffee shop in the morning. I’m there meeting with a small business owner who wants a website. He’s good at what he does, has been doing it for a while, and now wants a website to promote his business. Fair enough.
We start talking. About him. About what he does. About his customers. The word “branding” drops into the conversation. I get a blank look from him, as he ponders. Then he perks up:
“I have a logo. With green and blue. That’s branding, right?”
I have to give him a partial point. Logo and colors are part of branding. But that’s just it — only a small part of something much larger.
What is branding anyway?
More than ever, branding is about perception. The customer’s perception far more than the business owner’s.
Some approach branding as the business owner’s opportunity to define what she wants her business to be and then tell the world. However, the world may or may not agree.
When my daughter was 3 and I’d say something she didn’t agree with, her go-to phrase was: “Dad, you’re ruining my perception.”
Yeah, no idea where she picked up that big word, but couldn’t fool her. And that’s true for a business and its customers as well. If the branding isn’t consistent and doesn’t resonate with the customers, it just won’t work. No matter how fancy the logo or pretty the colors. This is true for a product or service and it’s true for an entire brand.
Branding is about perception and getting your perception and that of your customers to match as much as possible.
2 big “Why’s”
Another thing my daughter did when she was 3, was to always ask “Why?” Quick, simple explanations didn’t work. There was always a “Why?” coming.
In branding there are 2 big Why’s that we need to deal with.
The first is your big altruistic why. That’s a fancy way of saying you need to really know why you’re in business. It’s your mission.
A couple examples:
Google, from 1998: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
The second is your selfish why. You need to know this because it’s what keeps you going when things get tough. But it’s not necessarily something you’ll put out in front of everybody.
Example: “My business allows me to live the lifestyle I choose, while having flexible hours and work locations, taking time out when I need to for family activities.”
Figuring out those 2 why’s clears up a lot of confusion. While you may know the selfish why right off the bat, the altruistic why will crystallize out much later in the process, after the next several steps.
Branding is about perception, so we need to find out what people think.
If you already have customers, ask them. What do they think of your business/organization? What is the value you provide them that others don’t/can’t? What 3-5 words would they use to describe you and your service/product? What are you not providing them that you could provide them?
Get in a dialog. Have conversations. Ideally, talk to people face to face or on the phone. With a larger customer base, a survey will help you learn more about your customers’ needs and wants.
If you haven’t started yet, or have a small customer base, step out and connect with people in your target audience. What makes them tick? What are their needs in your area of service/product? What are their pain points? Where do they go to gather information?
As always, the quality of the information gathered will depend on the level of questions asked and how the conversations are conducted.
You may also find that customers are more open to talking about your business (good and not so good) when it’s a 3rd party asking the questions and they know they won’t be identified.
And now for a diagram
Branding is about collecting a lot of different pieces of information and putting them together in a way that makes sense. Often a Venn diagram is used. It shows all the possible relationships between the involved variables.
Starting with “What I offer” and “Who I serve”, those usually are fairly easy to figure out. “How I am different” can get trickier. It’s often not what we think it is. For instance, “I provide personal service” won’t cut it. I may feel that’s very unique, but so do many of the others out there doing what I do.
Once those 3 are defined, we can look at Niche (combination of Offer and Serve), Tribe (where Serve and Different overlap) and Value (where Offer and Different overlap).
Finally that small area where all overlap gets us to the Brand.
The process involves writing statements for each area, moving inwards, ending up with the Brand, which is the sum of all the other items.
It’s a process that will take work, refinement and iteration, but once done, produces a roadmap that is very helpful for determining messaging and how I relate to customers.
Are we there yet?
All this is a starting point. But if you get this far, you’ve gone further than many other businesses and organizations and as a result, you know yourself and your customers far better.
Formulating new branding starts with lots of research and dialog. That provides a solid foundation to get creative with brand messaging, value proposition, design direction, and yes, eventually that new logo.
To go through a whole branding process in one blog post is impossible. What should be clear is that your branding is so much more than a logo and a couple colors. A very key component is understanding your customers.
Time and effort spent on a branding process is well worth it as the result will help set you apart from competition as well as connect you with your customers for a long time to come.
Finally, a good brand is always developing, always refining. The dialog with customers must never stop.
What won’t work is to expect someone else to just come up with all the branding for you, with no involvement from you.
Can you do this by yourself? Maybe. There are lots of resources available. But it really helps to have someone from the outside who can look at things dispassionately involved in the process. That will push the process deeper and bring better results.
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