Many people underestimate the power of branding when marketing their business. It is easy for most people to shrug it off and think “If I am making the best product or providing the best service to my customers, it doesn’t matter what my branding is.” Many startups or small businesses will push branding to the back of their “to-do” list, focusing on product development, securing funding, or other new business considerations. Unfortunately, this is a huge mistake. Branding is a critical component of any business and creating steady growth and customer retention is nearly impossible without it.
Over the next few months we will be posting a series of blogs relating to the importance of branding and its corresponding elements. Today, we’ll start with a broad overview of what branding is and why it’s so critical for building lasting relationships with your customers.
What is Branding?
There is a common misconception that branding is simply your company’s logo and maybe a catchphrase, symbol, and / or corresponding color scheme that you use on marketing materials. While these are certainly some of the tangible elements of a cohesive brand, they do not encompass the whole picture of what a brand truly is or why it is important.
Think about your brand as a comprehensive customer experience. Every interaction your customer has with your brand should be cohesive and relate to your core values. Your logo, website, social media posts, email responses, printed materials, face to face interactions, and much more should all convey the same emotional response to your customer. This may seem overwhelming but the payoff is astronomical. Amazing branding doesn’t happen overnight, it is the result of strategic and thoughtful development and execution.
Branding at its most simple is all about the feeling or emotional ties that a consumer has when they hear or think of your company. Consider it a mental picture of what your company represents to consumers, and the feelings they associate with it.
It is imperative when building a brand that you start with the emotional element first.
We like to think that we make choices based on rational analysis, however most of our decisions are made from the instinctive subconscious part of our brains, what we may refer to as gut instinct. On the surface, these gut reactions seem rash and illogical, but they are actually the result of countless instances of subconscious emotional reactions. When we are tasked with making a choice, we recall our emotions from similar previous decisions both negative and positive. These emotions imprint on our brains and result in preferences that we then carry with us to our next decision.
When thinking about branding, most people’s first thought is that they want their branding / logo / etc to LOOK good. Don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely important; however what is more important is that your branding makes your customers FEEL good. The best branding creates a bond between your company and your customer by triggering their emotions.
When you tie your branding to emotions, you get a three-tiered effect (Engagement, Retention, Referral). Firstly, emotions trigger your customers to DO something. They will be much more likely engage with your company and respond to your call to action. From that point you have already established an emotional connection with your customer and they will be motivated to continue to work with you, and only you, creating a lasting and loyal relationship. Thirdly, people who have experienced an emotion will be motivated to share their experience with others, creating a second layer or word of mouth marketing. Neat, right?
Creating a Brand with Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. If you have empathy for your target audience, you will fully understand their feelings, desires, inspirations, aspirations, challenges and motivations. This will allow you to create a brand that fully resonates with them. This can be a challenging step but is crucial for growing a successful brand.
Meeting their Functional Need Isn’t Enough
Your audience’s functional need is easy enough to define, your customer needs something and you provide it. Unfortunately no matter how amazing your product is, you will most likely have competitors and it is hard to differentiate from them on functional needs alone.
Nike is an amazing example of this concept. Nike sells shoes and athletic-wear, as do many other brands. However, even if Nike made THE BEST shoes possible, this functional need is still not enough to make someone buy their brand if another brand is on sale, or recommended by a friend. Meeting functional needs does not create customer loyalty, meeting their emotional needs does.
Understanding Your Audience’s Emotional Needs
Using the above example, Nike has done an incredible job catering to their customers emotional needs. Nike’s mission statement is to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete”. See what they did there? Nike isn’t selling shoes to their customers, they are selling an aspirational promise and a lifestyle. Their brand is about self empowerment, and encouraging everyone to “Just Do It.”
Define what value your company, product or service will provide to your customers’ lives and make that the overarching mission statement of your brand. Don’t pitch them products or services, but sell them on a lifestyle of how your company will change their lives. When your customer has an emotional relationship with your brand, they will be less likely to be swayed to another based on cost or convenience.
Creating a Clear Branding Plan
Once you have delved into the mind of your target audience, it's time to implement that into your own branding ideals. Remember, your "brand" is the whole experience of your company, and needs to maintain consistency throughout, so it is important to create a detailed brand guide before you start creating logs, printed materials, etc. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but without it your brand can come across as hodgepodge and inconsistent, which gives your consumers an uneasy vibe. A carefully curated brand strategy helps you stay focused on your mission and values. Once you have clearly defined your brand, it becomes easy develop marketing strategies which will save you time and money in the long run.
Give Your Brand a Rich Personality. To create a band that resonates with people, start by thinking of your brand as a person with a complex personality and specific values attached to it. When your customer forms an emotional attachment to your brand it is similar to the bond they form with a person.
- Write a short biography of your brand as if it were a person. List 3-5 personality traits you seek to embody as well as 3-5 you’d like to avoid being associated with. For example is your brand sophisticated and minimal or fun and colorful. Think about why your customers would be attracted to said “person”. These personality traits are the building blocks of your brand and will later serve as guidelines when maintaining consistency. For example, when creating your logo make sure you do a check against those positive and negative traits to make sure it is truly reflecting your brand’s personality.
- Identify the core value or lifestyle benefit you are offering to your customer. Write down 5-7 questions that would lead someone to seek out your company. Have you ever heard a commercial say something like “Are you tired of “x”” or “Do you ever feel like “x”? and thought “Wow, yeah that is totally me!”? That is what you are aiming for. This helps get in the mindset of your customer and what they need and will lead them to your solution.
- Once you have identified your customer’s pain points (step 2) it is time to develop your promise to them. Your promise shouldn’t necessarily be a description of your product or service, but rather an emotional connection. For example, BMW’s brand promise is “Genuine Driving Pleasure” and Starbucks’ is “To inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time”. Your promise should be unique to your company and vision.
- Create a visual mood board for your brand. Select images that will reflect the vibe or feeling that you want your brand to convey.
Once you have defined your branding strategy you will be ready to move on to creating your other branding elements and will be assured in your creative direction! Going through this discovery will leave you with a clear direction of where you want your messaging and branding to go, saving you time, money and emotional struggle.