Whether you’re a mompreneur, or a multinational, brand has never been more relevant, and more misunderstood.
Branding, let’s face it is as much shield as it is strategic advance. The word can be a deft and evasive sweep over much of marketing, pr, design, and in between. You want to talk about a product’s positioning? Talk about its brand. You want to launch a fluff press release just for visibility? Write about brand. The CEO gets caught singing karaoke while bombed on Mai Tais? Spin it around the brand. Seriously? For as much as it is credited with creating business longevity and viability, branding is fast becoming the Heidi and Spencer Pratt of media. It’s no wonder small business owners snort in derision when someone (say, me) starts to address their brand strategy. “Apple has a brand strategy. I don’t need a brand strategy.” Other sound bites: “I have a solid marketing plan. I have a logo. I have a brochure. I don’t need a brand strategy.” Hmm. How’s that working out for you? I never knew differentiation tactics could be so.. well, so conformist.
First, I admit, I’m biased. But as a brand strategist and business consultant, I often get treated as a designer with a god-complex. People often ask me to ‘do a logo’ or ‘some cards’ or (my favourite) ‘make this pretty’ and I always cringe internally. Then they cringe when I launch into my ‘branding is not just applied design’ monologue. But it’s true. All too commonly small business owners leave brand development to the end of the line, making it more a slapped on façade than something that is infrastructural to their business strategies. So when I start to explain that brand is actually a composite sensory experience of any or all of your market touch-points, I generally get a nice, succinct, ‘huh?’ in response.
It is a shock to the system, I know. You should be developing your brand alongside your key business strategies. Why? Because for each and every business strategy, there is an equal brand strategy. Branding is actually more martial art than it is slight-of-hand sideshow. Branding is born out of the way you do things. It translates policy, procedure, mandates and principals into a handshake. Yes. The ‘way’ you do things has its own font. Its own copy style. Its own graphics, colours, and iconography. Its own customer service experience design. When a brand is successful, you do get the bulldozer impact of large corporations. Apple is a fine example. But just because you’re a small business it doesn’t mean you can’t take cues from an extremely successful strategy. I am a firm believer in big strategy for small business. Leading a firm of 3 people is just as important, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve recognition for your consistent, powerful messaging, and positioning. Likewise, it also doesn’t mean that you have to use what has become touted as a strange go-to small business marketing mix: logo, business cards, brochure, website, and if you’re living on the edge: a fridge magnet. Sorry folks, but a fridge magnet does not a brand strategy make.
My advice? Before you go to a designer, think about your brand. Revisit that ‘solid marketing plan’. Think about the way you do things, and more importantly the way you don’t do things. Ask yourself how your visual and experiential identity reaffirms those mandates. How do you want to be received by your consumer community? Do you really want to set yourself apart with the same tri-fold brochure as your competition? Will Tweeting about your lunch give you the relationship you want with your clientele? Does your 12pt standard MS Calibri font really say that you’re a discerning specialist? Does the light blue and brown combo communicate that you’re a partner at a law office? How about those fridge magnets? Again. How’s that working for you?
On my part, I vow to try being a better brand manager for Branding. In the sea of ‘oh-my-God-Justin-Bieber-has-a-line-of-nail-polish’, ‘Heidi-Montag-has-an-album’ , and ‘Kim-Kardashian-is-a-style-expert’ I will try to be an educational beacon, and I know, so will my colleagues.
Branding is what makes your business tactile. It’s the signage, and wayfinding that gets people to you. It’s the web presence that gets people to experience your culture. It’s the story that got you where you are and the story you are writing (both internally and externally) to get you to where you want to be. It’s what creates calm, smooth, client-side procedures in the face of harrowing business busts. It is what engages the fickle ‘I like it’ sensor in both your employees and end-users, and what affirms a big esoteric ‘Yes. That brand (read ‘that way’) is the way I do things too.’
Flex your brain by checking out some fun tools, and rethink your approach to brand. Check out my free downloads at http://www.spintheidea.com/tools
And yes, for the record, I made them pretty.