Branding. A word that many of us use, unfortunately often in a wrong way. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “can you design me a nice looking brand”, I’d be a millionaire and I’d be writing this from the Bahamas while sipping freshly mixed Pina Colada on a white sandy beach.
There’s a lot of misconception about branding:
- Branding is the way your logo looks – false
- Branding is for big corporations with a huge budget – nope
- Branding isn’t really important if your product is useful – even this one is trash
- Branding is just a fancy term marketing people use to make us feel stupid – maybe, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to dig deeper and find the true meaning of branding.
So what does branding really mean?
In this post, I dive deep to bring you the answer and clear all misconceptions.
From a bad day to a happy one
I had an awful day in the office. That kind of day, when you can’t decide if you want to cry or laugh (or both, simultaneously if it’s possible). I knew when I left from work that I can’t go to the library as usual. I needed chocolate ASAP! More importantly, I needed a place where I can unwind and get in focus about my blogging and personal goals.
So I headed to Panera Bread.
I could have chosen from many other places: Why didn’t I go to a Starbucks, or grab a cookie from a vending machine at the library, or go home and whip up some chocolate chip cookies?
The answer is in the brand.
My closest Panera has a corner with two armchairs and huge windows looking at a busy street. This little corner reminds me to Central Perk from Friends, a TV show I watched so many times that I broke two VHS recorder while doing so… It also reminds me to that calm, happy feeling when you spend time with your friends. When you don’t need to rush, when you don’t need to satisfy shipment dates and picky engineers. I could quickly let my anger behind and after one double chocolate & walnut cookie I was ready to type until they kick me out.
For me, the Panera brand was more than their products. More than their prices, more than deals or the location of their store. It was their comfy armchairs, the smell of freshly baked bread, the smile of the friendly staff, the laidback music and the girly chit chats from the neighbor table. It was the experience.
Branding = Creating an Experience
This experience is a journey your customers take from the very moment they first hear about your company to the day they actually enter your store to buy from you, up to the point when they call the client service looking for answers about your next gig. And so on.
In order to make your brand successful, you have to create the most amazing experience for your customers.
How to create a lasting experience?
There are 5 elements you have to identify in order to create a lasting experience and therefor a successful brand.
1, Know your story
That awesome experience starts with you. You have to know who you are and how you want to make the world better. Sounds too idealistic? Yes, I know that you do your business because you want to make money. Panera wants to make money. Everyone wants more money. So why do some succeed and others fail when it comes to branding?
They don’t have a purpose. They don’t have the passion, the Jedi force to drives them through challenges.
For me, this story started with the desire of freedom. No matter how much I grow and earn in the employee environment, there’s one thing I won’t get regardless of my position: more time.
So initially I started my business to be free and be able to work from anywhere. Be able to see my son’s Christmas performance and take my husband to the Scandinavian Spa on his birthday – even if it’s on a weekday.
Still, this wouldn’t be the whole story for my brand.
I recognized that there are millions of moms in the same shoes: moms craving freedom, juggling with schedules and falling into their bed at the end of the day exhausted and hopeless. I want to help these amazing women to break this pattern.
So ask from yourself:
- Is there any specific story/reason that triggered the decision to start your business?
- What are your passions that you want to use in your business?
- What do you want people to remember of your business?
- What values do you want to present through your business? Why are these values important for you?
- What would motivate you to reach your business goals even when you had to face obstacles?
2, Know your customers
Successful brands don’t want to satisfy everybody. They want to find the right fit. And in order to do so, they have to know who to look for. Panera found the right fit in me, a girl whose idea of a perfect Saturday morning includes buttery French croissant and freshly brewed coffee. But I have a friend who had the same feeling of flow in an Irish pub. He was the most efficient when a big mug of Guinness landed on his table and Irish drinking songs went on the radio. He came up with his best business ideas while working at the same sticky bar table day after day.
Identifying your ideal customer is a HUGE task and I’ll go over this in much more detail in separate posts. Until then, here are some questions to answer about your ideal customer to start the ball rolling:
- Who is she?
- What does she like, what does she hate?
- What is she missing from her life? What would she change if she could have a magical wish?
- What are her problems and how can you solve those?
3, Give your brand personality
Successful brands are human, they have personality and history. They evolved and changed over time just like you. This human touch helps people to find a conncetion with your brand and not be intimidated. (Although there are some brands that just simply want you to feel tiny and scared. Think about IRS, they really don’t want to be your bestie).
This personality includes:
- Your knowledge – What is your expertise that you will share through your products or services?
- Your voice – how will you communicate to your ideal customer. Are you going to be hilarious like Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore or put-together and inspirational like Marie Forleo?
- Your look and style – here comes the design part, like your logo, colours, imagery. I’ll talk about these in more details during the Branding 101 series.
Try to imagine your business as it would be a person. How would she talk? How would she look like? If you would ask her help, what would be her strongest asset?
4, Be consistent
As you gain followers you’ll see that they have certain expectations regarding your business. You might use the same phrase every time you start a video or post on the same day of the week – satisfying these expectations. Consistency build trust. Trust brings a better experience for your ideal customers and more sales for you.
Offer Consistent Quality: It’s hard to gain people’s trust but it’s quite easy to lose it so you must provide the same high quality product / service every time.
You can avoid inconsistent quality by knowing your limits: how many products / services can you offer in a certain time? How often can you blog / launch products / share to social media? It’s better to start a bit slower and then grow gradually than launch a zillion things at once and then disappear for weeks.
Create Consistent Style: It’s OK to try a few different look and communication style at the beginning but continuously changing logos, colours and your communication style will confuse your customers.
You can avoid inconsistent style if you know your brand story and ideal customers before you sit to the drawing table or hire a designer. Also, consider to use the same visual elements and voice on every platform: blog, social media and live communication.
5, Follow through the whole cycle
Last but not least, the brand experience doesn’t stop at the sale. Your ideal customer bought your product or paid for your services. She took home a little slice of your brand. She might have additional questions or face troubles when using your product the first time.
You can create a better experience and distinguish your brand from other businesses by holding the customer’s hand and leading her through the initial difficulties. Ask yourself:
- How can you teach your customer about the product she bought from you?
- How can your customer reach you when she has questions?
- How can you make it easy for both of you to provide answers for frequently asked questions?
- What are your policies when someone is unsatisfied and want to return a product or unsubscribe from a service? How can you turn this into a positive experience for both you and your customer?
Clear the misconceptions
So just to refer back to the beginning of this post:
- Branding is about much more than the look of your logo. Your logo add to the personality of our brand, and makes your business memorable for your customers, but on it’s own, it is only a nice looking badge, nothing else. You have to know what value you want to give to your followers first and build these values into your look.
- Creating a lasting experience does not depend on your budget. It’s more about posting consistently and finding your voice and therefor setting high expectations in your clients when they think about your business.
- Even the best product fails when people don’t see how it could connect to their life and they don’t see what makes it more special than other solutions.
- Branding is more than a fancy marketing term: it makes your business tangible, familiar, friendlier to your ideal customers, it builds trust, connections that can last for a life.
That’s it for today. Don’t forget to subscribe to get your copy of the Brand Experience Checklist that helps you summarize your thoughts and build a proper foundation for your brand.