Back in the day, branding consisted of a snappy business name with a custom sign and possibly a logo. The purpose was simple: to let potential customers know what goods or services you had to offer. There wasn't much competition and there wasn't much need for more than one of the same type business in a particular town.
Boy how times have changed! There are so many choices out there. In order to stand out, you have to distinguish yourself and your business and that can be a challenge. That's where branding comes in.
What Is Branding Anyway?
Branding is the way an entrepreneur or business builds their reputation. It is the process of building awareness and creating customer loyalty. In more simpler terms, it is about making sure your business if visible and expressing why someone should choose you over another.
Gain The Lead
The quickest way to gain the lead on your competition is to resonate with your ideal customer. In order to do that, you have to be on point with your brand strategy, messaging, and visual identity. You also have to communicate and develop a relationship with your customers.
That's where original content creation comes in.
In It For The Long Haul
Creating content delivers long-term value and it's one of the best ways to invest in your business brand. All you need is your time!
The reason it delivers such value is because it's the cheapest way to demonstrate your expertise. What better way to create a strong connection with your potential customers than to share your knowledge in an article or blog? I mean, there's only so much room on the home page of your website, right?
Every piece you write adds to your brand voice, your brand message, and your overall brand foundation. Creating original content forces you to establish your unique point of view and paves the way to your ideal client. By the time prospective clients get to you, they're already interested!
Cut To The Chase
Less is more. If you have a lot of ideas running around it's better to have shorter articles than one long-winded one. You don't have to explain everything all at once. You can build on an idea, point of view, or topic in your industry over time in multiple articles - all with your own personal twist. Make sure you are speaking to topics that are relevant to your business and brand.
Pass The Time With A Story
To increase your engagement get personal. People are driven by their emotions, so for every article you write, tap into an emotion and tell a story which connects with your target audience. People buy from people and as a small business, this is an amazing way to build credibility and get your brand noticed.
Take The Scenic Route
It's one thing to write original content, but it's quite another to hit the road without taking the scenic route. In other words, add engaging imagery to your blog posts.
The truth is, the message is not enough. Not in this day and age where people have the attention span of a toddler and there's so many flashy new things to catch their attention. Not only do they have a very short attention span, but your audience is lazy and wants information fast. They want to be able to get to the nitty gritty quick and find what is of value to them.
Images are what lure them in and provide support for your content, taking it from a jumble of words on the screen, to an exciting story they have to read (or at least skim).
Be sure that the image is relevant to your content. Don't just throw up a pretty scenic image when you're talking about SEO rankings. Every image used needs to add something to the article. And don't go crazy with images either or you'll end up with it looking more like a photo gallery. A good rule of thumb is one main image and depending on the length of the article, maybe one or two smaller images sprinkled throughout the copy. Or you can use other things to break up the copy.
Make Sure to Take Pit Stops
Just like when you are traveling long distances, the reader needs to take a break and stretch their legs every now and then. You can use imagery to separate points, call out some important text in a large, bold font, or add sub-headlines to make it easier for the reader to digest.
No Fuzzy Dice Required
Creating original content is one of the best ways to build a brand over time and the images you use in your articles tell a story, just as much as the words do. You should think of images the same way you think of the overall concept of the article. With imagery your content will be more unique and your story will be stronger. Increasing brand awareness takes time, effort, and a lot of experimentation. You won't see results immediately - very few pieces of content go viral, and shaping your brand voice takes time, but it's so worth it!
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There’s always one…that friend or family member that just can’t resist commenting on your driving, sharing their time-saving route, overreacting to traffic, and driving you completely crazy.
Not that these passengers don’t mean well, but do they really serve a purpose when you are getting from point A to point B? And on a given day, would you even consider asking them for their opinion or critique?
So what does this have to do with your small business’s brand design?
Have you ever asked your Facebook followers to help you pick your tagline? Or asked a friend of a friend’s designer for their professional opinion on a logo design?
If you have, you’ve just opened your business’s back seat up to trouble.
Asking for opinions on your branding sets you up for headaches because most likely the people you are asking for feedback are not your ideal clients. It’s no wonder you are met with misdirected and frustrating commentary, when all you really wanted to know is which logo or tagline they liked.
On top of that, these people are most likely not going to be in the right frame of mind to give you the honest responses you require. They are either going to be looking at the item you asked their opinion on in a critical view or a supportive view.
One will find the flaws of all the logo designs and the other will like them all trying to be a supportive friend. Either way, this is just like the back seat driver throwing around critiques like they’re going out of style. Unless they are your target client, their opinion is worthless.
Feedback dulls your brand
To make it worse, when someone offers their opinion and it is not favorable, it will shake your confidence and make you unsure how to move forward with your branding.
And if you listen to them and go back to the drawing board, you are more than likely not going to get the strongest brand. You might make your friend happy, but you’ll lose your perfect client because it is the same old-same old brand your competitors are putting out there.
When you want to stand out from the rest, you need a strong brand. Asking for feedback is just a way to conform and be safe. It is not going to cut through the noise and reach the clients you are wanting to attract.
Why you have to be clear about your brand
Graphics are a form of language and translate your message to a specific group of people you want to reach. So before you invest in a brand identity, ask yourself: What am I saying? To whom? And why?
Don’t choose graphics that you like or based on what others are doing in your industry. Get clear and specific on what you want your graphics to say to your ideal client. Only then will you know that you’re speaking their language and that your designer has translated your message correctly.
Silence the back seat drivers
Your brand is not meant to appeal to everyone. Trust your instincts, your vision, your expertise, and your brand message. Silence the back seat drivers…better yet, kick them out of your car!
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So you got your best friend’s grandson - who is in college studying to be a designer - to create your business logo because it was free.
You think, “Wow, this is a win-win! I need a new or revamped logo for my business AND I’m helping this young man out. Plus my best friend is so happy that I’m giving her grandson practice for the real world.”
Or you went to Fiverr and hired someone to do a quick and cheap logo for $5. That’s a great deal, right?
Wrong! In actuality, you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face.
The first reason this is a big no-no is because most people have a tendency to not value what they don’t pay for.
By the end of this process, you’ve got a mediocre logo at best and you don’t value it because you had to compromise. You’re already getting it for free, so in most situations like this, you could feel guilty about asking for what you really want because you aren’t paying for it. And let’s face it, you never really put a lot of thought into the logo and what it actually means to your business.
The second reason this is a bad idea is because getting a logo design is not going to change your business. You have to actually invest. Not by just investing in the logo design by a professional (and paying for it), but by investing in your full business brand.
Now I have nothing against getting something for free. Who does? But I want to highlight the difference between getting a logo designed and paying for an expert to brand your entire business.
A brand is more than the logo
The sad reality is that many small business owners think that their brand begins and ends with a logo. That once they have it, they can put it in their emails, add to their website and abracadabra, they’re in business!
This misconception is reinforced by freelance or fly-by-night designers who advertise branding when all they actually do is design a logo and maybe throw in a matching business card. That might have worked before websites and online marketing, but nowadays that won’t get you very far.
I love designing logos and provide that service to my clients, so I’m not dismissing hiring a pro and getting one done. Nor am I denying the role a logo can play in the identity of a business.
I hate to burst your bubble, but your brand is more than just a logo.
A brand is your strategy, messaging, and visual identity. It’s also how you communicate and develop a relationship with your customers. It’s how you demonstrate that you can be trusted, that you are offering a valuable service or product, and that you follow through on your promise to deliver expert services, quality products, and exceptional customer care.
Why you should invest in your brand
Your brand is a combination of visual, verbal and emotional elements that define your company and help you stand out from your competition. In this crazy, free-for-all online market, you will not rise above the noise without a clear and consistent brand.
If you are just throwing a free or cheap logo up on a website or business card and not taking a good hard look at your messaging, your stance, your competition, your target market, your niche, and your services, you’ll just blend in with the rest of the fly-by-night businesses out there on the world wide web.
A designer is not necessarily a brand expert
Okay, so hopefully by now you get it. Don’t take your best friend Betty up on the offer to get a free logo designed by her grandson Sammy. But if you can’t go to Fiverr, what do you do?
There are a couple options:
1. Hire a brand expert. This will be someone that not only designs stellar logos, but assists you with your brand foundation first and then creates your full visual brand to include your logo, print and digital materials, and website.
2. Hire a professional designer with a fabulous portfolio to design your visual brand after you go through your own branding process.
Don’t have the budget for option #1?
Alright, not a problem. Building a strong brand is a process but you can do it yourself. And to be honest, you are the only one that can answer a lot of the questions that go into figuring out your brand message and what makes your business unique.
The brand process:
1. It starts with core values. What do you hold dear? Why are you offering these products or services? What do you stand for? What do you stand against?
2. Take a look at your competition. What do you dislike in your field? What makes you different and why? What makes you the same? Why would someone choose you over them?
3. Identify your target audience. Who do you like working for? Who are you trying to help?
4. Want to stand out even further? Find your niche. How can you narrow your focus to do the one thing you love and are good at doing better than anyone else? How can you offer value in that specialized service?
5. Come up with your services, pricing and figure out how to turn that into a process you can package. What do you do best? What do you like doing? What do you get paid most to do? What’s your best seller?
6. Create credible, consistent, concise, and compelling messaging that supports your core values and what helps you stand out instead of blending in with the competition.
After you have completed steps 1-6, you now have the foundation to create the look and feel of your brand and you can go with Option #2 and find that awesome designer that will bring your vision to life!
Plain and simple…your logo is not your brand. There’s so much that goes into a brand and it takes time to develop it. Don’t be cheap. Invest in your business! If you don’t, why would someone else?
VAROOM! Brand Design offers something for both options. Find the right REV UP package to fit your needs here.
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Amanda Johnson Young is a brand designer with over 20 years experience. READ MORE
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