Every new business owner eventually comes to that burning question: “How do I master branding for my company?” Unfortunately, branding is often confused with visual assets (a logo or wordmark) or your marketing efforts (ad campaigns, social media, etc.)
In truth, branding is a bit more complex — and it’s not entirely up to you as the business owner. You cannot “buy” branding any more than you can buy success. However, you can set yourself up for both with the right mindset and tactics. Here’s everything you need to know about branding your business.
What Branding Is — And Isn’t
To truly understand branding, it’s helpful to look at the most successful branding efforts…what we might call “name brands.” Think about Coca-Cola or Apple. Think to yourself, what do you expect from those companies? What kinds of feelings or images pop into your head?
For many people, Coca-Cola evokes warm fuzzy Christmas stories or memories of going to the movies. By contrast, its competitor Pepsi may call up that distinctive “pop, fizz, ahh” sound or the fanfare of a sporting event.
Meanwhile, Apple is arguably most famous for its minimalist aesthetic and innovative ethos. Even people who don’t use their products can instantly recognize the brand and perceive it as a luxurious, whimsical, and cutting-edge (for better or worse) brand.
While marketing (i.e., Coca-Cola’s polar bear commercials and Apple’s clever tagline “Think different”) certainly played a crucial role in developing these brands, there was something even more essential to branding. These companies identified their core values, figured out how they overlapped with their target customers’ desires, and put two and two together.
Branding is all about cultivating those happy feelings in your audience. Although all those tactics are crucial to your strategy, it is not a logo design, influencer partnerships, or great copywriting – these elements are a mere piece of the branding puzzle.
The Ingredients Of Strong Brand Development
Remember the famous line from Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.” Sadly, this isn’t true in branding. You can have a great product, but it won’t succeed if there isn’t a market need. (See Apple’s early history!) And even if there is a market need, you also have to create the experience your target customers want — and resonate with them more than your competitors do.
Here’s another example: Sephora vs. Lush. Both are high-end cosmetics brands with brick-and-mortar shops throughout North American malls. They offer in-store sampling and consultations, luxurious products, and gift sets. However, they attract different types of customers, and no one could confuse the two brands. Why? Take a look at these core brand elements and their respective differences:
The Buying Experience
Sephora, a high-end cosmetics store, features sleek, brilliant displays, makeup demos, and a rewards program, to name a few. Everything is geared toward creating a glamorous feeling. Customers feel like VIPs.
By contrast, a competing cosmetic store, Lush, displays its products on wooden tables, bundled with string or set out in baskets. The lighting is warm and friendly, giving their stores an organic, handmade aesthetic, which appeals to those who seek comfort and indulgence.
The Market Position
Although Sephora’s prices are higher than typical drugstore brands, the company still offers lots of sales and discounts, positioning them as a luxury brand for budget-conscious consumers. These people regard Sephora as a splurge but still appreciate a good deal.
By contrast, Lush prices its products as the organic, artisan items they are. As a result, people who shop at Lush are willing to spend a lot on cosmetics. Moreover, they accept no sacrifice in quality; this makes Lush appealing to highly discerning consumers who want specific benefits from their cosmetics.
The Brand Values And Personality
Sephora’s tone of voice is confident, dominating, and a bit sassy. They focus on offering premium products and promising a glamourous experience to all customers. Their visual tone has a sophisticated vibe, with lots of gold, rose, and purple, along with brightly lit product photos. This all ties together with their tagline: “We Belong to Something Beautiful.” Their mission is clear: to sell high-end cosmetics that resonate with their customers’ passions.
Meanwhile, Lush is much more whimsical and funky yet has an aspirational tone. Their commitment to cruelty-free, vegetarian products and their community impact are prominent on the website and in-store signage. Visually, they’re a bit earthier and human-oriented. Lush is a socially conscious company, and its branding shows it.
Why Branding Matters
From the examples above, you can start to understand how branding is more than just the “pretty face” of a company. It attracts the types of consumers who want to buy those products. People who want a VIP cosmetics experience won’t go to Lush and pick hand-cut bars of soap off the table. Those who wish to purchase cruelty-free products or a more handmade aesthetic won’t go to Sephora. The products offered at each store are comparable — but it’s the experience that needs to resonate with the right audience.
You may be thinking, “My company doesn’t have lots of competitors. So I don’t need to carve out such a specific niche.” And you may be right. But consider this: a brand is more than customers’ preferred aesthetic. It’s all those good feelings that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are so good at evoking. When you cultivate a brand, you’re not just calling in your ideal customers. You’re also convincing them to stick around!
Remember, Lush’s values of cruelty-free cosmetics, vegetarian formulas, and community impact aren’t just selling points. They’re also the values held by their target audience. So, even though customers could find similar products at Target or Wal-Mart, they keep going back to Lush because they enjoy the feeling Lush gives them.
When you successfully develop your brand, you cultivate that value-driven, compelling experience for your customers. That instills loyalty and makes your customers feel welcome and excited when they engage with you.
How To Properly Brand Your Business
Now that we’ve covered the basics of branding and how it builds your loyal customer base, it’s time to make it happen. But, unfortunately, here’s where many business owners make costly mistakes. It’s not enough to whip up your logo and tagline and start running ads; you shouldn’t create any visual assets until you fully understand your target audience and what makes them tick.
Indeed, those name brands have gone through some trial-and-error. (Again, look at Apple’s early history — especially their first logo.) But the key is consistency, both across your various text/images/etc. and with your customers’ expectations.
Here is a hypothetical scenario: you’re creating your own cosmetics company. You figure you’ll keep it simple and name it after yourself (i.e., Jane Smith Cosmetics). You like green, so you make your color scheme and logo with shades of green. And you’re eager to drive up sales; you figure a mix of low-end and high-end products will appeal to a broader customer base.
Then, you open your business. It isn’t long before you discover there’s another Jane Smith in cosmetics, and she’s pulling most search engine traffic. Some customers accuse you of being a copycat. Meanwhile, you realize that your green logo makes you seem like a vegetarian cosmetics company, but you don’t offer any vegetarian or vegan formulas. And because you’re trying to attract so many types of people, you’re not standing out for any particular group.
This hypothetical example proves why you must (a) conduct extensive research and (b) gain a thorough understanding of your business’s core values, personality, and niche. Everything else follows from that.
Essentially, branding your business comes down to 3 core tasks:
- Know your business’s target audience, competitors, pricing strategy, and market position. Refine these before you do anything else. Otherwise, you will be casting too wide a net — or releasing it in the wrong direction.
- Craft your business’s personality. Just like a person, this entails your tone of voice, core values, visual style, and so on. All of this should mesh with what you established in Step 1.
- Create your logo/wordmark/etc. along with all your website copy, taglines, etc. Yes, this step is last on the list! And don’t feel stuck with it: you should test as much as possible before going live.
The Bottom Line
Branding is not easy. And sadly, even if you thoroughly research your market and refine your approach, you could still end up mismatched with your target audience. If that happens, though, don’t despair. As long as you align with your efforts from that crucial requirement — what will cultivate the feelings I want my customers to have — you can recover your brand. It’s better to tweak than to go back to the drawing board! But if you start with your logo and visuals, you’ll almost certainly bounce back to square one.
All that said, gaining clarity on your business’s personality is a challenge. Often, you’re too close to it, and this is the stage where hiring a professional branding strategist can help tremendously. Plus, they can do the extensive research you need to form a strong foundation for your brand. Finally, take your time: Branding is what will turn your occasional buyers into lifelong consumers, so it’s worth your while to focus on branding that will make an impact.