When online marketing conversations turn to the issue of branding, it often can leave business owners and communications professionals a little confused. In some cases, branding has become a mysterious and nebulous concept that (conveniently for them) can only be unraveled by expensive consultants and agencies.
Branding doesn’t have to be complicated though. When you break it down to its simplest form, a brand is just the impression a company gives to people when they first learn about the organization, followed by the reputation the company leaves with them afterward.
It can sometimes be helpful to think about your brand in terms of how your company would come across if it were a person. If you meet someone who wears a well-tailored suit, speaks with clarity and conviction, and shows they genuinely want to learn more about you by engaging in conversation and asking thoughtful questions, you would probably wind up both liking this person on a personal level and trusting them on a professional level. Compare this impression to someone who is wearing a wrinkled and stained t-shirt, hasn’t shaved in a week, and carries on a dialogue entirely about themselves using coarse language and slang. Chances are you will trust and like this person much less.
The same principles apply to your company. Do you convey a professional appearance with a well-designed website and communications materials — the equivalent of putting on a suit — or does your company’s image look cheap or sloppy like an unwashed t-shirt?
You may not like it or think it’s fair, but the reality is when your prospects see a business with a cheap-looking appearance they will think “If this company is willing to cut corners to save money on their own business, it’s almost certain they will do the same or worse when they’re working on my projects. I better look for someone else.” This impression is not going to help you grow your business, and in most cases it’s going to actively impede your company’s progress.
Now that you understand how the way you present your company serves as a signal to the people you hope to work with, you should see why you need to make sure this presentation has the appropriate impact for your target audience to help your business move forward. To that end, you can use the following template to create a “brand elaborative,” which will allow you to document how your company’s brand should come across and serve as a guide when making decisions about your communications and messages.
Brand Elaborative Template
In one sentence, describe the idea that lies at the heart of the company. (Apple Computers creates beautifully engineered electronics with intuitive interfaces. Walmart has the lowest prices on the widest selection of common household items.)
Come up with 3-5 adjectives to describe your brand. (Trustworthy, Fun, Youthful, Fashionable, etc.)
Look and Feel
In order to convey the brand’s identity visually, how should the website and other visual materials look? Include any sample pictures or screenshots of other companies that you want to emulate if you have them.
What should the tone of written content produced by the company sound like? This should be appropriate for your audience. The newest tech startup targeting millennial early adopters needs to speak to its audience in a way that gives the impression they are youthful and cutting-edge, while an antiques dealer probably needs to have a mature tone of voice.
How does the brand compare to its competition? Look at how the other companies in your field present themselves and their brands, and then look for ways to differentiate yourself without jeopardizing the trust of your audience. For example, while there’s probably an opportunity for a law firm to differentiate itself by creating a laid back “frat party” brand, but even though this is clearly a way for the firm to stand out from its competitors it’s not likely to appeal to someone in need of legal help. You have to balance meeting the audience’s expectations with separating yourself from the competition.
If you came up with a great answer to a section in your brand elaborative, or if you’re stuck on a section and need assistance, share what you have in the comments and help each other out!