11 May What is a Brand?
If you search the term “brand,” you will find many different answers.
In the broadest sense, your “brand” is your company’s identity.
It is not what you think about your company. Rather, it is what others think. You can craft highly compelling Mission/Vision/Values statements, but you create your real brand day in and day out – with your actions, your relationships, and your business practices. Some describe it as what others say about you when you’re not in the room.
That’s your real brand.
As a company, you express your brand in multiple ways:
- a logo, tagline, brand colors, fonts – your visual brand
- customer service – how customers experience your business
- workplace culture– what it’s like to work for you
- business identity – what it’s like to work with you (for example, as a supplier or another business in your community)
Let’s consider each element of your brand identity separately:
Your Visual Brand
One of the most common points of confusion is a belief that a company’s logo and visual symbols are their brand. In fact, these are only the symbols of a brand.
With these visual symbols, companies try to be memorable. The symbols are meant to “brand” the company in the minds of consumers. This is the origin of the term.
But like many other words in the English language, the original meaning has taken on a much broader meaning.
When people come to know your company by its brand symbols alone, you have built a successful brand. Think McDonald’s golden arches, the distinctive Coca Cola lettering, or the Nike swish.
That high level of visual brand recognition is a form of equity.
Who You Are for Customers
For customers, your brand is created by all their interactions with you, beginning with the first impression.
Customers seek out your product or service to fulfill a need or solve a problem. The easier you make it to meet that need or solve that problem, the more favor they will lavish on your brand.
If you prove you can successfully meet their expectations each time they come to you, they will reward you with repeat business, referrals, reviews, and brand loyalty – meaning they choose you over your competitors.
Without customers you have no business. Meeting or exceeding customer expectations is the fundamental building block of brand success.
Workplace Culture as an Element of Your Brand
The environment inside your company is another element of your brand. What is it like to work for you?
If coming to work every day promotes contentment and satisfaction, the people who work at your company will reflect that – and communicate that to others. If it does not, this too will be communicated. All of it becomes part of your brand.
Remember, your brand is not the company you created in your mind; it is the company you’ve created in the real world.
Building a strong brand requires the active participation of employees. Companies who know this invest in their employees. They are intentional about creating a workplace culture that supports personal and professional growth for employees.
A strong workplace culture helps attract and retain good people, reduces the costs of turnover, and can turn employees into powerful brand ambassadors – people who actively promote the brand.
Business and Community Relationships that Help Define Your Brand
How your company interacts with other groups also adds to or detracts from the value of your brand.
Are you known as an honest and fair business partner? Do you pay suppliers and vendors on time?
Are you known for doing anything other than what you’re selling: your product or service? For example, are you active within your local business community? Does your business support charities that your customers, your employees, or your business associates care about?
If you can answer yes to all these questions, you are actively building up your company’s brand identity.
This is also where companies can demonstrate their commitment to the vision and values they declared in their lofty Mission/Vision/Values statements. Walking the talk, it’s called; and it is a powerful brand builder.
Identifying Opportunities for Your Brand
Growing Your Communications Capacity
Great communication is a crucial element in building a successful brand. “Great” communication for the purposes of this article means clear – and useful. Growing your communications capacity will help with all the audiences you work with.
- Clear employee communications helps your people deliver on your brand promise to customers and achieve career success.
- Clear communication with customers supports the buying process – helps consumers to understand, choose, buy, and – when necessary – return products.
- Clear communication with all groups helps shape and manage expectations, creates transparency, and leads to trust.
Almost ALL of a company’s official communication is brand communication.
Some of the best opportunities for companies to communicate their brand are not sexy – but they are continuously available::
- hiring materials
- employee handbook
- product catalogs
- company brochure
- marketing materials
- social media
- white papers
All these necessary communications display the brand. And there are lots of ways weave in storytelling that will leave an impression and makes people remember you.
People love stories. Assuming that your business meets a need or solves a problem for people, you should have a good brand story. Tell it.
Corporate storytelling is an art – but there is a lot of science behind it. If a company can weave stories into their different modes of communication, they find it easier to distinguish themselves from other companies. This is because your company story is the one thing you can be sure is truly unique.
Masters at corporate storytelling are companies like Levi’s jeans, Warby Parker eyeglasses, and Benjamin Moore paint. They use storytelling because it taps into the emotional side of people – the side with which we make most buying decisions.
Who consumes your product? Computer scientists or painters, civil engineers or moms? Although each customer group requires a different type of communication, almost all can be made to understand your product better through the creative use of storytelling.
Brand Ambassadors: Partners in Your Brand’s Success
When you get other people buying into and helping tell your story, you have created brand ambassadors.
Inspiring employees, customers, and business partners to be brand ambassadors is a tremendous opportunity for brand building.
Anyone who loves your product or service – or respects your company as a community citizen – can be turned into a brand ambassador. You supply the words (key messages), images, opportunities, and incentives for them to speak on your behalf.
Third-party endorsements are much more convincing than anything you say about yourself – that’s why reviews, testimonials, and endorsements are so important. Employees speaking at professional conferences or appearing in ads are inexpensive ways to do this.
Who could be an ambassador for your brand? Sit down and make a list – and a plan to get them going.
Avoiding Risks to Your Brand
A Poor First Impression
Many people will first experience you online – people who are searching for the kind of solutions your provide. An unprofessional website will hurt your brand.
At a minimum, every company needs a professional website that offers value to their customer and represents the company well.
A social media program may be optional (although not everyone agrees on that). But if you’re going to have one, make sure it also meets the highest professional standards you can manage. What’s required? Consistency, relevancy, and usefulness are essential.
Some companies think they’ve got to be present on all social media platforms. However, companies that are highly protective of their brand only use the social media they can use well. Using social media poorly (inconsistent, irrelevant, useless) will not help build audience and bring in customers, But it can make your company look bad.
Each platform has unique characteristics, and it’s possible to succeed using just one (or two). The choice should be based on where your kinds of customers show up. And how much time – or budget – you can put into creating consistent, relevant, and highly useful content.
While most businesses want to have some social media presence today, it is better to be absent than to look bad. You can’t open a Facebook company page and then just let it sit there. Better not to have it at all.
What makes you look bad? Things like:
- Infrequent posting
- Outdated or wrong information
- Typos, misspellings, or bad grammar
- Bad links and error messages
- Low quality photos
- Irrelevant or inappropriate photos
- Blog: non-strategic; unplanned random topics with no clear purpose
DIYing – Doing it All Yourself
Trying to do everything yourself presents another type of business risk. Help is readily available from professional copywriters and content creators to help business owners avoid or fix these kinds of mistakes.
There are lots of good reasons for hiring professionals to handle some of the communications workload for your brand. Objectivity, outside-the-box ideas, and multiple voices behind the writing are three very good reasons.
Professional copywriters can audit and upgrade the content on business websites at a cost far below that of the business you lose from making a poor first impression.
As for social media, outsourcing the function (or assigning the job to someone else inside your company) will transfer the accountability, and keep your postings on schedule.
Most professionals will also be experts at using the measurement tools provided by social media (analytics) and can provide regular reports on what content people click on most and which social media platforms generate most of your traffic. Using these tools gives you the information to shape and refine your tactics over time.
Most of all, hiring professionals frees you up to focus on what you’re best at – running your business and building your brand.
Ignoring Brand Consistency
Brand consistency is vitally important if the goal is to achieve brand recognition. Lack of it is a huge business risk. If you get too creative with messaging – always changing – or too free with the look and feel of your brand symbols – how will the public always know it’s you?
The very concept of “branding” is based on consistency. But ensuring consistency is something you have to be intentional about and must enforce.
Companies trademark their brand symbols and will fight in court to protect them if another company tries to appropriate or imitate them. But to help people who have permission to use your symbols, it’s a good idea to publish a brand style guide.
A style guide is formal a document that tells everyone how the visual elements of your brand must be treated. For a corporation, it may be a manual. For a small business, it may be a single page. But having one saves a lot of headaches, and keeps everyone on the same page. It also demonstrates seriousness about protecting your brand.
Send it to all the writers, content creators, graphic designers, and the entire sales and marketing team. If multiple writers creating content for a single brand, they will rely heavily on the organization’s style guide.
Protecting Your Brand in the Age of the Internet
The internet has been a game-changer when it comes to brand communication.
On the one hand, it presents massive opportunities to reach worldwide markets. Today you can run a marketing and communication program that services all your audiences efficiently, and without spending a fortune in advertising.
But new risks come along with that.
- For one thing, businesses pay a price for poor online communication. If a company looks second-rate on the web, consumers decide that their product is too. Badly written copy, dense text, grammatical errors all take away from people’s trust in you .
- Then there are other potential perils – like online reviews. Unhappy employees can post negative reviews on sites like Glass Door, where prospective employees can easily find them. And many good companies end up with bad customer reviews on sites like Google and Yelp. The cost of bad reviews can be high. All it takes is one or two to chase away prospective customers and cut into your bottom line.
- The internet also has made piracy a commonplace crime. Companies, as you grow, have to ever more closely monitor the web to protect their copyrights and trademark rights. Artists, designers, and anyone creating copyrighted material must be vigilant in protecting their visual (mostly) assets from thieves.
But here’s the good news. It’s easy to take control of your brand online.
Professional Help to Manage Your Online Brand
As copywriters and content creators, our goal at The Allyson Group is to be a partner in creating your company’s success.
When we work with companies, brand conversations are at the forefront of our work. Only a complete understanding of a company’s brand gives us the information we need to:
- understand your audiences so our content can target their hopes and dreams
- communicate your company’s key messages
- create relevant, useful visual content
- utilize multiple writers and still maintain brand consistency
We audit your existing online properties and share the results. Then we work with you to make a content plan. Content planning takes the guesswork out of what, when, and where to put your content online. It even answers the “why.” We plan content quarterly, and can assign different
Our work provides the consistency, relevance, and usefulness that serves your customer and “brands” your company as reliable and trustworthy.