As entrepreneurs growing a new business we usually focus on just getting the job done as best we can to turn a profit and we tend to ignore our brand identity. We have so many balls we are trying to keep in the air and so many hats we are wearing; we are the sales person, the accountant, the face of the company, the grunt labor. We focus on our daily to-do list and have a hard time putting effort into something that doesn’t yield immediate returns, like working on our brand.
I own a creative design firm and I was guilty of ignoring my brand image as well. I focused on building brands for others, because it kept my doors open, but my own company lacked a brand identity. Four years ago I decided that this needed to change and I needed to spend some time focused on my brand. Since that time, my company has increased its revenue by 1500%. I’m not saying it is all branding, but I will say it had a whole lot to do with it.
Stop for just a minute and imagine… if you took a few days to build a brand image that makes you look like a BIG fish, you might be able to land more jobs and in turn make more money. This would then allow you to hire more help and in the end you would grow your business and become an actual BIG fish.
Many small businesses believe that “branding” is just for established companies and is too expensive and a low priority when you have limited funds. What if we use the word “reputation” instead of brand? You care about your reputation right? What does your reputation look like in the market place? If your logo is weak and your cards were printed at home, how much confidence is someone going to have in your ability to perform a job? Likewise, if you don’t have a firm message about what you do and who your company is, you will lack confidence when selling to others. These are all elements of your brand identity.
Branding is about the impression you are making in the marketplace. If you want to succeed, that impression is important and should show that you are capable, have experience and are achieving success already.
Most likely, if you are passionate about your business and you have some customers, then you are presenting yourself well in person and making a good impression. Your next step would be to make sure that all the other elements you use to represent your company are sending the same consistent message when you aren’t there in person. From your business cards, brochures, proposals and flyers that you leave behind, to the website that people find when searching, make sure your brand is clear and professional. Branding is about applying your values, your best face to everything you do in a memorable, clear and consistent way.
Your brand should run to the heart of your company. Yes, it is fonts and colors and logos and imagery. It is also work ethic, how you and your staff consistently meet the needs of your customers, it is the elevator speak you use to describe your company. Your brand is who your company is and where it is going. It could be called your business identity. Make sure that everything you do points to your brand and conveys the best side of your business.
How to establish your brand: Brainstorm on what your business brand identity is to you. Your brand identity should promote your business, resonate with your customers and differentiate you in the marketplace.
Your brand is like a living thing. It is made up of values, a purpose, goals and a direction. Your brand will have a way in which it responds to the customer. Make sure you know what type of an impression you want your brand to make. Are you a friendly, fun design firm or are you a luxury auto dealer that is somewhat aloof? What is your brand personality?
Take a look at other brands. Are there brands that you admire? Why do you admire them? What can you learn from them? What are your competitors brand qualities? How can you position yourself to stand out from them?
Make sure your brand runs through all your company values. You want to build long-term relationships with your customers. If you’ve developed a brand model that says you provide quick turn around, make sure you consistently provide that. If your brand says you provide high end products, make sure all your products consistently meet that level of expectation. If you stay true to your brand, your customers who appreciated these things in the beginning will be more prone to stay true to you over time.
Keep consistent messaging with your entire line of customer facing materials and within your organization.
Be original and authentic. Don’t mimic the brand of your competitors or other businesses. Build a brand that is uniquely yours.
Once you have established your brand personality, weave that into your brand creative. Establish a palette of colors, a list of preferred fonts, types of imagery you want to represent your company brand. Create a logo that embodies your identity.
Putting your brand to work:
Pick a name for your company that you like, that is available as a domain name and then work on creating something that the customers can identify with. I once had someone tell me that the name of my company, Splash Box Marketing, didn’t say we do 508 Remediation and directory programming. No it doesn’t say that in the name, but when my customers now think of Splash Box, they think about these services. Google didn’t use to say search engine, Spotify didn’t say music and Hewlett Packard didn’t say printer in the beginning, but they certainly do now. If we all had company names that just said what we do, how boring would this life be? We would no longer “google’’ stuff. We would “search engine it”. Be original.
Now bring it to life visually. Breathe in the tones and colors and fonts that make your company unique. Convey this information to a graphic designer that can make your dream a reality and your brand will begin to emerge. Don’t be afraid to tweak it until you love it. You are the one that has to sell it.
Create a strong visual code that you stay true to. You can play with it and add to it, but make sure the underlying framework becomes something your clients can count on, relate to and remember.
Often times small firms loose jobs to larger companies due to perception of credibility based upon their marketing materials and website. This means that small firms need to spend that extra bit on their marketing efforts if they are going to compete.
Purchase a domain name and use that domain name as your email address.
Have your marketing materials professionally design and printed. These materials may be the only shot you have at a new client sometimes. Make sure they are selling your brand in the best light. If you haven’t been doing graphic design full-time for at least 3 years, don’t do it yourself. It’s like trying to be your own surgeon or lawyer. Pay a professional. Your annual family newsletter may be super pretty, but when your company marketing piece is stacked up next to the large company you are competing with, you want seasoned professional.
We tend to judge businesses on their appearance. If the business image is out of date or scruffy, people are likely to think the same thing about your products or services. Make sure your premises, your printed materials, packaging, website, signage and vehicles compliment your firm’s image and fit a current brand image. Use current, cutting edge verbiage and not out of date information or terminology.
Create a brand that you would want to do business with. If you hear yourself complaining about the lack of customer service in the market place, than be that brand that offers fantastic customer service. If you hate working with companies that have hard to navigate websites, then as part of your branding, create a user friendly website. Branding doesn’t stop at the logo, branding is the living, breathing personality of your company.
When I began thinking about my company branding and looked at the competition I found that they tended to go with dark colors, edgy looks, high tech imagery and a very corporate feel. I felt this type of energy and branding wasn’t the culture I wanted for my company. I wanted approachable, fun, colorful and happy. I wanted everyone to feel comfortable picking up the phone to call me, from the small businessperson, to the young marketing project manager who is just learning the ropes. I didn’t want to alienate corporate types, but really, who doesn’t want to do business with happy people?
So, my company logo is colorful and happy, my website is clean and colorful, and this is the corporate culture we weave through our office. From the type of people we hire, to the way we treat our customers, to our bright and cheery office, we are happy, outside the box thinkers, who love color. This is all a part of our branding, our identity.
I love it when customers tell me that our logo makes them happy or they always recognize our advertising because of our bright logo. I recently had people come to my show booth and tell me that my booth was so bright and cheery it made them want to come find out what we do. To me, this means, when customers think of Splash Box, they think happy thoughts and this means I am branding my company the way I want it perceived in the marketplace.
Find your niche for your brand and take the time to grow it. The big companies are big because they nurture their brand each and every day.