In this 3-Part series, we walk through building a brand from scratch. Part 1 takes us though the planning and conceptual phases with the goal of spinning a compelling business case into an attractive and effective brand image.
To make your product or company really stand out in the marketplace and radiate with supreme power, you must first anoint it with the magic of Brand. Establishing an effective brand takes a coordinated blend of business and creative work-think. Let’s pull the team together and get a lot of input so we can realize the best identity for your business.
But first, congratulations are in order! Welcome to a rare, exciting, fun, creative, and collaborative experience. Building a brand means getting the chance to start something that could generate a ton of revenue and benefit many lives.
Whether you’re a first-timer, vet, or a company expanding into new areas, take this task seriously and consider it a great ground floor investment opportunity. Don’t be afraid to pour an abundance of time, energy, and heart into it up front.
What is a Brand?
Brand is a type, identity, distinguisher, or mark. Cattle ranchers use iron brands so a cow won’t get mixed up in another rancher’s herd. In other business, it’s how customers tell the difference between all of the companies, products, and services out there. Branding falls under the marketing domain. It’s the marketer’s goal to similarly burn the brand into the public’s collective consciousness (and if you’re good. . . the unconsciousness).
Long considered vital, yet sublime and unquantifiable by accounting terms, brands today have real, tangible value. Over time, a well-cultivated brand can accrue that value, becoming a healthy figure in your balance sheet.
Brands can be many different things, and there are far fewer rules than ways to break them. A brand may comprise your company, product, or collection of products. Your company might need its own brand and your products another, in a make-and-model structure. Each product might require its own brand — or maybe your company and products can all share the same brand. A brand can be exclusively OEM sunglasses. Or a brand can be a retail business that carries many other brands of sunglasses.
A brand is the core collection of images, words, and experiences that form an impression that people attribute to what you’re selling. Brand should evoke feeling and emotional response.
Your brand is more than just your logo, slogan, website, and About Us page. It’s how the business acts, responds, serves, and fulfills. Analogy: these “intangibles” make up all the car parts used by marketers to crank up the engine to drive customers to your business. Think of a brand as an elaborate sales tool that illuminates and illustrates your value proposition.
For customers to take it seriously, a brand has to be genuine and believable. The brand can’t seem forced or fabricated. It has to appear as organic, supremely authoritative/innovative, existing by necessity, or as having always been there.
Be conscientious and nurture the brand well, because it may return mega-fold results for you. Get it right the first time. Rebranding is accomplishable of course but costly, timely, and it’s obviously disruptive for business.
As you visualize and build your brand, think about: core values, customer experiences, strategy, competition, efficacy, impact, growth, the future.
Know Your Business / Market / Audience / Competition
You’ve studied the market for some time now, and your business plan or ROI model are pretty much done. It’s how you got to this point. You saw need not being met, a chance to improve on something, or a fresh problem to solve.
The factors that differentiate your approach to the market are clear in your head. You’ve got a good handle on your audience and demographic with eyes on the competition. Run a quick SWOT analysis and discuss the target audience with co-workers/friends/colleagues, asking around and getting a lot of opinions.
The picture of your target audience is getting sharp because you’ve asked questions like: Who buys this type of product? What do people really do with it? Where are they when using it? Is this a social product or a professional product?
Now you must affirm your suspicions with actual data. If you don’t engage the correct audience. . . even your most brilliant creative will fall flat. Seek out a thorough market analysis prepared by professionals who can access the right data for your goals. Perform a survey or a focus group.
The goal is to get a great sense of your position in the marketplace, confirmed by hard data. Now start thinking about how you fit into the whole ecosystem that includes everything in your space: the market, industry culture, your customers, prospects, competitors, partners, and even your vendors. Yes, remember that you are a customer too- think of all the accounts you have open. Be a good customer and respect the flow.
About your competitors — remember, competition is healthy. More competitors entering a space indicates growth, which could allow you to snatch up more share. Use this to your advantage and don’t mud sling when talking about the competition. Have you heard of “Co-Opetition”? It’s a real thing. Don’t miss chances to do joint efforts with competitors that benefit your overall industry. Think alliances and trade groups.
Also, mind the verticals. Examine your market up and downstream from your point of sales. Where could you be effective in either direction? Example: Adobe focuses on the K-12 education market, knowing right where tomorrow’s artists are learning the ropes.
The advice seasoned business people give younger professionals is this: when starting something new, don’t skimp on legal or accounting. If you’re serious about your business goals, set everything up properly. This way your books will never not be in order, and you’ll be protected and well-represented.
Okay great, but what’s missing here? Customers don’t just appear out of thin air. Marketers drive the business by drawing traffic and transactions. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Trust the experts here, as you would for any serious matter.
Business people and entrepreneurs find themselves in unique situations, wearing a lot of “hats.” However, odds are if your strength is product design, you’ll have no time nor bandwidth for managing books, HR, and marketing. If you’re not an artist, don’t try to design your own logo.
Make sure you have a person or team devoted to marketing your business every day, whether it’s a marketing team or a creative agency or both. There’s a professional fit for every size business.
Don’t go it alone!! Invest in professional marketing and trust the pros to bring qualified leads and traffic to your door.
Make a Vision Board / Self-Reflect
[Cue eye-roll here] If you haven’t heard of a “vision board”. . . it’s a collection of words and images you stick on a board (think collage) that allow you to focus on a specific objective or goal —to give you clarity on something you want to accomplish. It sounds like something you would do on a desert retreat in Sedona while going through an identity crisis, right? But hey —what is brand creation if not the ultimate identity crisis?
Like any good inward desert spiritual experience, it’s okay to throw up a little bit. This a purge and a cleansing that will yield your most sensible path forward. Get all your ideas out there. Even the bad ones.
Now it’s time for some deep self-reflection. Work with your creative team and creative agency to walk through the following big questions. The answers will help you prioritize you goals and make it easy for you to hone in your brand’s image and render the most genuine and effective version of it for the world to see.
- Who are you? Are you mainly a product, or a company? How are you going to make money?
- Who’s going to give you money for your product? What do those people like —what other brands?
- How can you help them? How can you support or give back to their community or common interests?
- What similar brands are out there, and what are they doing? What brands do YOU like? How should you differentiate in color scheme and tone?
- Sometimes it’s good to emulate the look-and-feel often seen in your space. Other times it makes sense to break the mold. Are you trying to disrupt? Or is “also-ran” totally the goal?
- Where do you plan to do business? Will your brand make sense to someone outside your region? Is this brand name scaleable?
- What do you want people to think of when they see your brand? What emotions should they feel? To what place should they be transported (the mountains, wine country, a music studio)?
- How will your brand allow your business to grow? Do you envision adding more products or services to the line?
Think of this exercise as a casual, early-stage creative step where there are no wrong answers, and it’s all about discovery. It’s important once in awhile to get things out of our heads and off our computer screens. Sometimes you just have to print something out to really look at it objectively. This is one of those times.
This is a chance to do a scratch take on your business goals. Don’t hold back. Piece together things you like and things you don’t. Make a section or things you definitely don’t want your brand to be or do.
Think about your whole story including your business and market from past to future. Reduce the fraction. What are the simplest ways to state and illustrate exactly what your brand is or does?
Embrace Story and Personality
Be a reporter. Look for the angle and story. Where is the human interest? You need to figure out how you can personalize the thing you’re doing to make it relatable. Examine the context of your product or service and the people involved. How did you get here? People want to know who they’re doing business with. Maybe your company or product has a compelling story to tell about its founding days. Everyone loves a good “origin story.” How did Logan become Wolverine?
Perhaps you can pull narrative from how the product is changing your customers’ lives. A good story has memorable characters plus conflict and resolution. Compel readers and viewers with story arcs that are known to sell. A good story makes us smile, laugh, cry, and pulls at our heart strings.
Remember that while people are looking for emotion and a sense of character from your brand, they’re also looking for themselves. They want to see themselves in both your brand and your customers. It confirms this is a group they could belong to.
Tell as many stories as you can (customer anecdote, company history, industry story). Appeal as broadly as possible. Always try to cast your brand as the protagonist, sometimes very subtly. Words are great, but video is better. Create a list of people and places you would want in your brand’s movie.
There are no rules, and a product or service itself can be the hero. Cut to: Problem exists, company forms, product is created, product conquers problem, city throws parade for the hero product.
As you go forward to market, stay true to these stories and let them guide your content for FAQs, reviews, and testimonials. Keep these stories central to your narrative so you don’t confuse the message of the brand.
Be the Brand
Armed with business goals, facts, story, and vision, you need to jump into the brand. Put on the suit. Imagine your brand as a new avatar that you get to inhabit, animate, become.
A brand is its own separate entity. It has a unique personality, style, and wardrobe. Give it character. Breathe life into the brand so that it looks and behaves like a thing your customers would be attracted to and want to be friends with. Not saying you have to create a Ronald McDonald mascot here, but at least conjure up the color scheme and look-and-feel people relate with your brand’s lifestyle or function — whether masculine, feminine, or genderless.
Carry yourself in a way that would most influence your audience. Transfer the appropriate level of formality into other aspects of the brand personality. Find the brand voice. Does this brand communicate in a youthful sing-song way with emoji? Or does your audience prefer a delivery more rugged, sincere, and matter of fact?
Now that you’re dressed to shill, you have to locate the best mark. Think “revenue-stream-of-consciousness.” If you are a for-profit company, then follow the money. Narrow your efforts to what is feasible and will likely generate the most ROI inside a space/market or vertical in which you do your very best work.
Ommmmm, we’re done. For today. Exhale. Sleep on it. In Part 2, we will take the best images, ideas, and data from the above steps and mold them into a brand that best embodies and communicates your business. Looking for help building your own brand from scratch? Give the marketing team at Solamar a shout!