When you see the word 'brand', what comes to mind?
Brand is one of those buzzwords that we hear as business owners and when I ask business owners what they think about branding, I generally hear one of two things: ‘I know I need a brand, but I don’t know what that is’, or ‘I’ll worry about a brand when I’m bigger, or further along.’
Here’s the truth.
Every person, and every business, has a brand. You already have a brand. And if you aren’t defining it, your audience will.
It is important to be in front of this narrative, rather than behind it. And unlike advertising which is designed for growth, gaining more revenue and more clientele, branding is about having efficiency with our revenue and the right clientele.
So what exactly is a brand? Brand is just a fancy word for identity. It’s your reputation- it’s how people talk about you when you leave a room. The good news is that you already have a very clear brand identity. This means you don’t have to stress about creating a brand, you just have be able to clearly and effectively articulate the brand that already exists. The challenge is that your brand is caught, not taught. Your audience will feel your true brand more strongly than any catchy tagline or logo you put in front of them.
In relational terms, we refer to this dynamic as safe and unsafe relationships. How many of you know someone who says ‘Ugh, I hate drama- I’m just so anti drama’? How many of you would say that is the most dramatic person in your life?
When we feel the need to state something outloud, it often means we are trying to over-compensate and prove ourselves. And it can undermine our credibility.
Every interaction we have with our audience is a brand communication. And we are sending messages that are explicit, and implicit. An explicit message is something that we say. An implicit message is something we aren’t literally saying, but is being heard. For a relationship, be it person or brand, to be safe, the explicit and implicit need to match. When they don’t, it creates an identity crisis- which is an unsafe relationship for a customer, which leads them to not engage with your business.
In the example I shared about our favorite drama queen, or king, the explicit message is ‘I hate drama.’ But as we are watching them absorb and generously share this drama with us, we are receiving the implicit message ‘I LOVE drama.’ We now can’t trust this person at their word, so we opt to stay away.
We see this in businesses all the time. I don’t know any business that would say ‘We don’t value our customers.’ But we feel this implicit message when we are stuck in call queues, or receive terrible customer service. If we walk into a lawyer’s office for example, and the seats are kind of torn and dingy, the carpet is stained, the lawyer looks sloppy, and it’s in a kind of shabby location, and then the lawyer hands you a business card that says ‘Best in the Business’, and they want to charge you $400/hr…. Which message you more likely to trust? Chances are, you’ll lean towards implicit. At the least, it will give you enough pause to question.
So how do we do this? How do we have successful, effective branding and avoid identity crisis?
It starts with doing the hard work of knowing thyself.
Often as business owners, we get caught in copying what is around us, or jumping into best practices or a successful business model that has worked for someone else, and we don’t pay attention to what we are implicitly communicating. When we focus our energy on our explicit messaging- we create a brand, we engage in marketing and advertising- we can inadvertently become the drama queen who swears we hate drama. It’s important that as the owner of your business, you are the one owning and knowing the tone of your brand- because that will spread through your staff, your internal business structure, your external messaging, and all of your client interactions.
Here’s a few tips to start thinking mindfully about your brand.
Meditate: Spend 5-10 minutes every day with intentional thinking. A guided meditation is a great resource to start with; I love the CALM app. It may sound a little woowoo, but the process of learning mindfulness will help you train your brain to think more mindfully about communications.
Get to know yourself: As a business owner, you also have a personal brand- and that personal brand translates through your business. Your beliefs, conscious or not, are permeating your business, so it’s really important to identify what lens you are seeing your business through. There are many ways to get to know yourself. Think about your personality, your tone, how you want people to feel when they are with you. What is your personal brand story? Why do you do what you do?
Get to know your business: What is the personality of your business? What do you want clients to say? Write an ideal customer review, and evaluate how close to that review you really are. Then think about your brand story- what is the main problem that your audience is experiencing, and why are you the guide they need? What is it that your business really offers, and what makes you different from any of your competitors?
Stick to your values: Write down 5-10 core values that drive your business decisions. What is important to you? Quality? Efficiency? Customer Service? Honesty? Use your core values to create a mission and vision statement, and make sure everyone who works within your business or represents or engages with your brand also shares these values.
Create a brand compass: Use your brand as a compass for every communication. Before you post on social media, or run an ad, read it and ask yourself: does this message reflect my core values and my personality? I recommend doing a brand audit annually to make sure you’re not moving too far off center.
Branding can feel like an overwhelming concept that we can’t wrap our heads around, because we are trying to squish a life-long learning process of figuring out who we are, and evolving as we grow, into one neatly packaged logo suite. When it comes to having a healthy brand, it really boils down to having a healthy you. Once you know who you are and who you want to be, you can bridge any gaps and really begin to thrive.
The first place to start, is to learn how to look at your brand. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to schedule a complimentary consultation call.