We constantly hear this word thrown around: branding. It’s a popular term that’s become a bit of a buzzword -- and one that’s widely misunderstood and often misused. Here’s why: most people confuse the term “branding” with a company’s logo or how they visually represent themselves, but that is only a small part of what a company’s brand really is.
Branding is vitally important to businesses who want to grow and reach new customers. For one-woman shops like us, it can help us stand out in the crowd and look the part. However, with the term branding being used to often mean different things, where’s a girl to start?
Let’s talk about exactly what branding is, the essential elements for a brand, and how you can create a strong brand of your own.
What is branding?
Branding is the term given to sum up how you look, how you act, how you represent yourself, and what others say about you. It’s the statement that is often used to describe your business and what you do.
The best way to get a grasp on exactly what branding is is to relate it to any single person. When you are asked to describe a particular person, you often describe how they look and dress, what they do for a living, how they carry themselves, their personality, how they act, and what others say about them. All of this together constitutes that person’s “brand.”
It can be summed up in four different areas:
- identity (how others visually see you, i.e. logos, colors, typography, imagery)
- recognition (what you want to be known for, i.e. writer and editor, web designer)
- perception (how others perceive you, i.e. professional and on point; laid back and knowledgable)
- reputation (what others say about you, i.e. “top notch” writer, “mediocre” designer)
In order to create a strong brand, every decision you make has to take into consideration each of these four areas. If one of them is missing or lacking, the rest of the brand falls apart. As they say, “the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
Essential elements of a strong brand
To make sure you have each of these four areas of branding covered, there are essential elements that every strong brand must have. Each element helps to formulate and build the different areas of a brand discussed above.
Definition is defining what it is that is being offered. Determining the exact product, service, or deliverable offered focuses the brand on making sure its other elements, such as messaging and positioning, are crystal clear to customers. Since no one business can do everything, it’s important to start with defining the exact product(s) and/or service(s) offered and how they’re delivered.
Positioning carves out your ideal spot in the market, built on a mixture of price point and target customers. Are you more on the affordable side or premium side? Do you work with clients large or small? It’s called “positioning” because it is always relative to your competitors: i.e. “I charge higher (pricing) than the average for writers, but I also work with large clients (type of client) who need specialized writing services.”
The next element of a strong brand is the message. This is often the force behind marketing strategies. The message tells others about who you are and what you do. It’s what you want people to know about you and how you can help them. For example, “I design and develop visual identities that help medium-sized businesses grow.” For someone you might recognize? Marie Forleo’s clear message is that she helps entrepreneurs “build a business and life you love.”
Another element of a strong brand includes your drivers. Brand drivers are adjectives that describe you and what you offer. Most brands have about 3-5 short and sweet drivers. These drivers help steer your brand and are often the basis of your brand’s personality (up next). An example of brand drivers for Apple would include: sophistication, high design/style, upscale.
The next essential element of a strong brand includes the tone or personality. This is how you communicate or talk with others and includes how you talk about yourself in your marketing messages, how you write your copy and marketing materials, and how you talk with clients. Is the tone professional, relaxed, fun, and/or serious? For example, if you want to have a relaxed tone, write and speak as if you were talking to a friend: avoid language they may not understand, stay warm and friendly, and joke around every now and then.
Visual identity is the most common element of a brand. It consists of visual elements such as your logo, color schemes, typography, and overall design aesthetic. This term, as mentioned, is often interchanged for “brand” but is not your brand in its entirety; only a small part. When you think of a visual identity, remember it is the visual aspects that should allow people to easily and quickly point you out (think Starbucks and its iconic logo and green color scheme).
Six steps to create a strong brand
Now that you’ve got a handle on the essential elements of a strong brand and how they support your identity, recognition, perception, and reputation, how can you go about using them to create your own?
1. Define exactly what it is that you do (essential element: definition). Define the services or products you offer and the ones that you don’t. It’s important to narrow down exactly what your best offering is to your clients and be crystal clear about it.
2. Define who you you serve (essential element: position). Are you looking to work with medium-sized clients that employ more than 20 people? Or do you enjoy working with smaller businesses? This is where you’ll position yourself based on price, as well. Are you on the low end of the pricing scale or the high end? Positioning is always relative to others in your industry, remember.
3. Perfect your pitch (essential element: message). Think of this as your billboard headline: short, sweet, and explains exactly what you do, very quickly. It will take some time to craft that perfect sentence or two, and I highly recommend you get friends, family, others in your industry, and even your past clients to help you review your message.
4. Define how you want your brand to be perceived (essential element: drivers). Develop 3-5 drivers based on how you want your brand to be represented. Remember, these should be adjectives that you hope people would use to describe your brand. Is your brand funny, smart, and driven? Professional, driven, and passionate? Quirky, approachable, and motivated?
5. Develop your brand’s tone (essential element: tone/personality). This should fall closely in line with your drivers in how you plan to communicate with clients and others. Do you want to be perceived as relaxed, but always use a professional tone? It’s possible to be a blend, but be sure the tone you use in your messaging and communications supports how you want to be perceived.
6. Develop your brand’s visuals (essential element: visual identity). Only once these essential elements are defined can you begin to work on visually representing your definition, position, message, drivers, and tone. Work on developing a logo that represents you well and aligns with your tone, pick colors that work well with your drivers, and choose typography that aligns with your positioning.
Build your brand a home
Think of branding in terms of building a house. You have different rooms: identity, recognition, perception, and reputation, and those rooms are made up of essential elements (definition, position, message, drivers, tone, and visual identity). The rooms are each made up of a different blend of elements, but are only as good as the elements within them. Build a strong foundation, and your brand will be sturdy for years to come.
Your turn: how can you use the steps listed above to create or strengthen your brand?