Small-Biz Branding: How to Charm the Socks Off Your Clients (Because Everyone Hides Money in Their Socks)
What’s your brand identity?
Are you the hilariously refreshing modern art gallery where I know I’ll find all the best new works? The friendly and human-talking tech company that doesn’t make me feel lost in algorithms? The deliciously-yet-healthy cooking chef that doesn’t restrict my eating pleasures to just kale (and who comes with a generous side of wine)?
Or are you just another art space, the cheapest samey-jargoney software guys, one more chef with the “organic bug.”
GINORMOUS difference, no?
Whom would you hire if you were shopping in these industries? And more importantly: Like whom would you rather be? I think we can all agree that the first examples have A LOT more to offer. And that a lot?Comes from branding.
What is Branding, Really?
Oh, we know you’ve heard countless definitions of branding by famous people and not. A lot of these definitions are probably true, too. But instead of a definition, we want to give you an analogy to try on for size: (sizes analogous to business requirements)
Your brand is to your business what your personality is to your body.
Can you imagine your body functioning in the world without a personality? What would you have left then? Just an eating, sleeping, bowel-moving machine that functions in precisely the same ways as all the other bodily-function-performing crap-producing machines. Yikes!
And labeling your business simply by what you do (wedding photographer, software company, biz coach, just another dentist) is like describing yourself on a dating site as a “warm body.” That’s the minimum requirement anyone would expect of you. And although everyone requires that in a partner, no one is looking just for that.
In business, as in dating, we all look for personality. Because personalities are magic! They’re deep and complex and delightful. They motivate us, and complete us, and challenge us. But MOST importantly? The personalities we choose to connect and interact with reflect something of ourselves back to us. They verify our own identity, and confirm our beliefs on how things should function in the world.
And just like all human beings have personalities, so do all business have brands. Big and small. Just because you’re a small business it doesn’t mean you can’t have a personality. A BIG personality even. A loud, refined, funny, quirky, exclusive, quite, playful, charming brand-personality.
And no, your brand will not just go away if you simply ignore it. It will most likely grow into a scruffy, unbathed, beard-scratching, dirty-fingernailed castaway. And if you’ve seen the movie, you know how boring that is! So let’s not let you down that path, yes?
So how do you build a true identity for your business with a charming personality that positions you as a premium brand? By starting from the inside out. So roll up your sleeves and let’s get practical yo!
1. Design your… purpose!
Surprised we didn’t say logo?
Your logo is not where your brand starts. Your logo is the visual (and most visible) representation of your brand. Not the heart of your brand. Starting your brand development from your logo is like looking for the perfect partner and only looking at (tinder) photos. We all know how long that’s going to last…
If you plan to be in business for a while, you better start by design your purpose statement first:
Why are you in business? What are the values that drive your business?
That’s what people really want to know. Why are you here? Do you just want my money? Do you just want to get the job done and get out? Or do you have a deeper purpose that connects you to me?
Nike is in business to offer fitness inspiration (not just running shoes). The MoMA is in business to fuel creativity (not just exhibit art). Ted is in business to promote innovative ideas (not just to offer a fancy soap-box). These are businesses and organizations with a purpose. Businesses and organizations that drive their work through their values, not their function.
What is your purpose? What values drive your business?
Take out a piece of paper and actually write these down. (Yes, NOW!)
What value would you like your business to add to this crazy, drunken world of ours?
2. Determine your ideal audience
Is your audience part of your brand? Absolutely! Aren’t the people you date in a way part of your personality? Doesn’t dating a motorcycle-riding dare-devil or gallery-browsing hipster say something you and your values in life? Yeah, it does!
Knowing your audience and understanding who you match with is just as good as knowing yourself. Because it helps you position yourself and your brand. Who is your business for? Who are your services for? Are you serving people who want to feel taken-cared of and special? Busy moms looking for quick solutions? Tree-hugging good-hearts who’d choose “green” over “cheap” any day of the week?
Understanding your ideal audience will help you better understand the ways you can connect with them.
And brand building is all about connection building. Deep connection building.
So take out that piece of paper again, and beneath your values, describe the people who’d value your purpose. Who are the people you’d love to do business with and who’d love to do business with you?
3. Create your logo
Think of this stage as the dress-up stage: You’ve already found a purpose for that “warm body” of yours and positioned it to attract the perfect matches. Great! But you can’t sent it out naked! No one’s really going to look deep into your (company) eyes to see who you really are. (Instead, they’ll just ran away screaming flasher! flasher! NOT a good first impression at all!) People need external cues, visible expressions of your values and your positioning, so they can identify with you.
In the human world, we call these visual cues “clothes.” In the business world we call them “logo.” Both give a visual representation of your world, and for that we call them style.
Thinking that your brand is your logo is like thinking that someone’s outfit can tell you everything you need to know about that person. And that’s a bit shallow. A good logo (like a good outfit) is only the tip of the iceberg.
A good logo is the culmination of your deepest values and a representation of your position in the world.
Now that you have those values and positioning in front of you, jot down a few ideas about symbols, colors, and other visual elements that you might represent them. (Go on. Do it!)
4. Speak your truth
Now that your biz is all dressed up and ready for your ideal audience it’s time to give it some killer pickup lines, no? You don’t want to go to the party parroting everyone else and expect to make an unforgettable impression! “Just do it.” “Think different.” Ugh! “Got Milk?” (Sounds like you need a stiff one!)
Much like your logo are the cloths of your brand and the visual representation of your values, to become a complete personality your business will also need to find the right words that speak of your heart AND speak to your ideal audience.
Imagine if your ideal date stepped out a Ferrari in a Gucci outfit and started talking like a redneck hillbilly. Or what about if your skinny-jeans-wearing hipster date professed a deep love of capitalism? It would totally throw you out for a spin and disconnect you from that person! So don’t do that to your audience!
The ultimate expression of your brand’s language is your tagline. A tagline seems like an easy thing to create: just 5-6 words thrown together with a dash of clever! But it’s not that easy in fact, because those few words have to encapsulate everything your business is and does and stands for. And there never was a better time for us to put on our thin-rimmed round glasses and say: “Choose your words wisely, kids!”
What’s your company’s pickup line for the giant big-ol’ biz party we all live in?
What combination of words would have power enough to show your values attract your ideal audience in an instance?
You know the drill… write a few (or a hundred!) variations out!
5. Set your brand guidelines
How do you keep your business and your message consistently on-brand without risking falling into the way-side of “me-too” look-alikes? You set definitive guidelines on what your values are and how you represent them.
Brand guidelines may seem like they belong to brand maintenance rather than brand building and brand development, but that’s not the case.
If you want to be consistent with your brand and grow it in a natural way without stretching it in every-which way, you need to set clear and definitive brand guidelines from the beginning.
What if your company gets invited to a conference? Or an exhibition? Or to participate in a partnership? Or what if you want to launch your own private event for select customers? How will you accessorize your brand for each of these and how will you speak on each occasion while still remaining true to your values and your ideal audience? All this should be included in your strategic brand guide. Because if you don’t know, you just don’t know, ya know?
Or should we say, charming!
Don’t let your business be a nameless “warm body” that people pick up when no better options appear on the list and whose name the never remember and whose existence they forget the minute the job gets done. You know you’re worth a lot more than that and have soooo much more to offer than simple, mechanical, bodily functions.
When you become a personality brand with a heart and a purpose that knows how to connect with your audience and delight your customers and speak in their tongue? No one will ever treat you like only another photographer, or only another decorator, or only another tech fix, or only another whatever-agency…
When you become a charming personality brand you become THE ONLY ONE in the eyes of your ideal audience. And when you’re the only one?
You’re no longer unmemorable. You’re truly unforgettable.