Branding is huge. It’s holistic. It touches every part of a business and yet most people don’t realise this. So many people misunderstand what branding is and mistakenly think that it’s only the visual aspects of a brand that make up the branding.
They think it’s the logo, the colours, the typography. While these things are very important parts of branding, this is not what branding truly is.
“Branding is a customer’s gut feeling about a product or service or a company.”Marty Neumeier
Marty is a branding legend so it’s no surprise that he really hits the nail on the head with that summation.
Branding is whatever your audience, your customers, your clients perceive your brand or your company to be.
With that in mind, I want to take a look at three key marks that you really need to be hitting in your branding in order to stand out from the crowd and to make sure that your audience gets exactly what you need them to get in order for them to understand and unite with your brand.
So let’s just dive in and look at those three things.
What makes you different from your competitors?
Let’s not be naive and pretend that your business is the only business in the world, or even your local area, selling what you sell or providing the services that you provide.
In just about every industry, there are hundreds, thousands, 10s of thousands of businesses and companies that do the same thing. In a world where information is so easily accessible and competition is so heavy, it’s not enough to just have a good looking corporate identity, provide great service, or sell an exceptional product. You need to stand out from the crowd and show who you are!
Take our agency, Lonely Viking, for example. We’re essentially a branding and web development agency. There aren’t many of those around, right? (Sarcasm intended)
If we had an average name like “Best Website Design Studio” would that be compelling? A unique and intriguing business or product name is a powerful non-visual branding device and an excellent way to create differentiation from a potential customer’s very first interaction with your brand.
Human psychology is incredibly powerful. In Chris Voss’ excellent book “Never Split The Difference” he talks about how when we as humans are asked a question we are compelled to answer it and our brains can’t leave it alone until we do. When your brand or business name asks questions of the person seeing or hearing it you already create a point of differentiation. You draw them into the brand by asking a question of them that they feel they have to answer and the only way they can do that is by finding out more.
If our Lonely Viking logo was average, and our website looked exactly the same as other agencies who do what we do that would achieve nothing for our brand. If we used corporate language and dressed in semi-formal button-up shirts would that help our cause at all? If our marketing said, ‘we build websites for small businesses’ then in what way are we differentiating ourselves from the 10s of thousands of agencies who build websites for small and medium-sized businesses?
Now we don’t just build websites, we do full-scale branding projects, process automation, custom integration and custom web apps for SaaS companies, web agencies, and WordPress plugin developers. So there you see that another way we differentiate is with a niche offering to an industry niche. Sure, part of what we do is building websites, and even providing those services outside of our niche, but if we communicated that like most other agencies do by saying something like ‘We build high converting websites that generate leads for small businesses’ then we wouldn’t be any different, would we?
So, in your business, what are you doing to differentiate yourself, how are you standing out from the crowd?
There are loads of ways to create differentiation. Visually creating it is kind of a given but it is also achieved through the other things like the language and tone that you use when you communicate with your customers and suppliers.
Differentiation is also achieved through the manifestation and outworking of your brand’s values and purpose in every aspect of your business. It comes through in everything. We can easily see differentiation when it comes to the visual aspects. So hopefully your logo is different from all the other logos in your industry and your brand colours are colours that make your brand stand out from the crowd. The styling that you use on your images is also a great visual differentiator. Maybe you use specific colour grading on your images that really make them stand out.
These points of differentiation do amazing things. When your audience, your clients, your customers, your potential clients, your potential customers look at anything that you put out, They’re going to spot those colours, they’re going to spot the way that your image styling looks and feels. But beyond that, they’re also going to see and hear the tone with which you communicate with them. It’s in your marketing, in your advertising, in the emails that you send out, in the way that your salespeople speak on the phone. All of these things are part of differentiating your brand. And so when you use specific vocabulary. These are things that when somebody hears that coupled with seeing a specific visual style, without having to think about it they already understand that this is communication that’s coming from your company. So differentiation is super important because what you want to do with differentiation is to make sure that the audience who consumes any of the content that you put out, who deals with your company in any way. They immediately know that it’s you that speaking to them and not your competitor.
What are you doing to help your audience remember your brand and get them to talk about it?
The second key mark that we really need to hit with branding is memorability. What will make people remember you? And what will make people recommend you as a business?
Visual devices are very important when creating memorability for some of the same reasons that we looked at in the differentiation section. When your customers/audience see your specific colours used in a specific way, and they hear the use of specific language, when they see your logo somewhere, these are things that differentiate your brand but they can also make your brand recognisable on the second touch and help it to become memorable. Memorability is often better achieved with intangible things though.
How is your business going to leave an impression on people that will get them to remember it and recommend your products or services to others? How can you delight your customers? What experiences can you give them? How can you develop fans, rather than customers? Here’s where you need to do an exercise in answering these questions.
Let’s say you are a business that sells a physical product. How are you going to package that product in order to give your customer an experience that they love and cannot help talking?
A little while back, my wife bought some bikinis online from a company called Bacon Bikinis. And when the box arrived. It was a really, really nice box. It had some embossing on the box, and when she opened it up her bikinis were nicely packaged inside there but also came with some stickers and one of those little clips that you put on the back of your cell phone so that you can hold it between your fingers, and a couple of other little things. And what happened was, my wife, really loved that the experience of opening that box so much. And the way that the stuff came to her and it also came with a handwritten note, which maybe is a little bit overdone and can be contrived, but she really loved that handwritten notes and all of those extra little things.
So, now that my wife’s looking for bikinis again, can you guess the first place she goes to look for one? Yup, exactly! Bacon Bikinis. Because they created some memorability with their packaging and delivery. They created an experience for her that left an impression. And even more than winning her over as a repeat customer, something else happend too. She took photos of the packaging and the bikinis and all the little extra things and she put it on social media, saying how stoked and impressed she was and how the experience was just incredible.
She gave them free advertising on her social media. Ok, it’s not totally free because they had to pay for the packaging and those extra little things, but they didn’t have to actually pay for a Facebook (or Google) ad, and the ad that they got was far more valuable than one that they would have paid for. The one that they got was by a genuine person who had bought a product who was recommending the product based on an experience that she had. And she was recommending it to people who know and trust her so they get to leveraging that trust. That is powerful branding and marketing!
So in your business, how are you creating memorability? What is your sales process like? What is your after-sales like? Even more importantly, what experiences are you giving to your customers? What are you doing in order to develop fans, rather than just customers? These are all really important questions that you need to be asking, and answering, for the good of your customers and your business.
The ultimate goal of branding is to turn your customers into fans. In fact, even more than fans, you want to create a tribe (or a community) that your customers can belong to. Memorability and creating experiences for them is one of the major first steps in getting a customer to move from being just a customer to being a fan and then, from being a fan to being a member of your tribe. Once somebody feels like they’re a member of your tribe, you have a brand ambassador who will shout about you from the rooftops.
Think about ways that you can delight your customers/audience. Discover experiences that you can give them that will change them from customers to fans. Think about ways to create a space for them where they can express themselves and where your brand becomes a part of their identity. That’s when your fans become members of your tribe.
Is everything you do, and put out, sincerely representing and communicating your brand as it should?
The third mark that you really need to be hitting in your branding is consistency.Being consistent with your branding (visual and otherwise) is what builds trust and helps your audience know that something comes from, and represents, your brand without you having to tell them. When they hear a certain sound, see a certain image style, read/hear the tone of your marketing/emails, talk to a salesperson, the list goes on. These things need to hit the mark every time!
Think about brands that don’t have to put their name with a logo, they just use the logo mark on its own. Brands like Nike, Apple, and Twitter are able to do that. This is just one checkpoint to reach in getting customers recognising your brand without you having to tell them it’s your brand. But it goes so much deeper than this and there is so much more.
Last year I traveled to the UK, and when I was in London I walked past the Apple store on Regent Street. Looking at the store, it struck me that, although that building looks typically British in its architecture, I could immediately tell without seeing any Apple logo that this was an Apple store. The store has a big glass shopfront. It’s super spacious and has the iconic light-coloured wooden display tables with all of the product on them. It’s full of people and it’s got the Apple staff walking around in bright coloured t-shirts. And this is part of Apple’s brand consistency (it’s also part of their differentiation and memorability – love them or hate them, their branding is excellent!). No matter which country or city you go to, if you go to an Apple Store you can see that it is indeed an Apple Store without even seeing the logo or any printed visual brand identifiers. And you know when you go inside you are likely do get the same treatment and experience that you did the last time. It’s that kind of consistency that starts to build trust.
In your business, you need to work as hard as you possibly can at being consistent. You want to be sure that every time somebody sees something you put out, it looks and feels and sounds the same as it did the last time, so that they know that it came from you. Differentiation is incredibly important, as is memorability, but if you’re not consistent you’re going to break down the hard work that you already put into differentiation and memorability. So if today, your brand speaks in a certain way and tomorrow it speaks in a different way, people will be confused. At best, they won’t know who put this communication out. At worst they’ll know it’s you, lose trust and talk about the bad experience with others. Again, if today, your logo looks a certain way today and tomorrow it looks a different way, that’s going to confuse people.
A few years ago my wife and I travelled to Los Angeles, California, and stayed with friends-of-friends in Orange County. Dave and Beth couldn’t wait for us to experience In-N-Out Burger. They really talked it up and you could tell that they were proud of California’s favourite burger franchise. They took us to get burgers and even told us which off-menu items to order (they knew the off-menu items because they’re fans). The taste and quality of the burgers are part of theIn-N-Out Burger branding and in order for them to get fans like this, they have to consistently make great burgers and give their customers a great experience every single time! Dave and Beth wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about sharing their favourite burger place with us if they thought we might get a bad burger this one time would they? Nope! But they had never had a bad one so they didn’t even think twice to recommend it. How were the burgers, you ask? Incredible! And this is how In-N-Out Burger uses consistency to create fans and tribe members.
Consistency is what’s going to help them to recognise your brand without having to think about it. They’re going to hear the vocabulary, they’re going to experience the tone, they’re going to see the colours, the styling. They going to talk to a well-trained support person who treats them with respect and makes them feel valuable. Every single time it’s exactly the same. And that is what’s going to build trust, make them remember, and further reinforce that your business is different and better than your competitors.
Consistency is so key because once you have fans and tribe members, they will start communicating your brand to others, and continue to be consistent on your behalf. They know that what they recommend is trustworthy because they’ve experienced that consistency. Just like In-N-Out Burger.
Are you hitting these three points in your branding? If you’re not, my suggestion is that you take some time to sit down and make notes about how you can hit these three points. Write down how you can differentiate your brand from your competitors and what you can do to create memorable experiences for your clients/audience so that they keep coming back. So that they recommend your products or services to others. Think of how you can be consistent in everything that you put out. Think of how you can create a tribe or community around your brand so that you have ambassadors helping the brand grow.
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