I recently gave a talk on branding, a term that we know gets used quite a bit, but I wonder if Freelance consultants and business owners fully understand what a brand means and how the brand can be put to work in service of the business? It is vitally important to first, recognize certain identifying characteristics of the business, which need not be complex or unique, and then spin those characteristics into a mythology or a story, a brand narrative or creation story, that is then packaged and marketed as a brand, destined to become a powerful selling tool.
Depending on your business, you might even build a brand around your location. Maybe you own a restaurant, or a hardware store, in Idaho. Common impressions that Idaho natives and Americans in general have about Idaho—rugged, outdoorsy, resilient, folksy, friendly, mountainous, beautiful—can be used to build a distinctive and compelling brand narrative. The essence of Idaho can become a defining characteristic of the brand.
Other branding possibilities are grandmas recipes (restaurants), the size of the establishment (large and comprehensive or small and curated), the longevity of the business, the number of generations that the same family has owned and operated the business, prestige clientele, expertise in a niche market, or superb customer service.
The function of a brand is to communicate. The brand is the reputation of the business. What a business leader must decide is the primary message that should be communicated and how to articulate that message.
What can the brand tell current and prospective customers? The brand tells them what to expect when doing business with you and your company—the available products and services, that the business can be trusted to deliver what they expect it to deliver, for starters. Branding is about reassuring. Branding is about consistency, predictability, trust, dependability, familiarity, the customer experience and comfort.
If the business owner or leader does it right, the brand will become habit-forming and the list of repeat customers will grow. Customers will be motivated to refer their friends, family and colleagues to the business. They will endorse the business on rating sites like Angie’s List, Yelp and Trip Advisor.
When examining and/or refreshing the brand, remember that the brand is two-sided. There is the internal brand and the (better-known) external brand. The internal brand represents what the business owner and leaders feel describes the brand. The external brand is how the business is perceived by the public, i.e., customers. The internal brand is self-image and the external brand is reputation.
It’s easier to start the brand examination internally—what do you, business owner or leader, want your organization to be known for? What do you interpret as its competitive advantages? What do you see as the value proposition or distinguishing characteristics?
The external view can be assessed by talking to customers, whether the best customers or occasional users of the products or services. In both cases, it’s important to ascertain what has persuaded them to do business with you. What brought them to your establishment, how do they feel about the experience and was the problem solved or objective achieved? Who is motivated to do business with you again and why? Who will not do business again with you and why?
In this way, business owners and leaders can determine what customers and prospects consider to be the defining competitive advantages and selling points. Conversations, face-2-face or by social media, and customer surveys are among the useful ways to learn what makes a difference and keeps customers coming back—or drives them away. If something can be summed up in a clever tagline, so much the better. Most of all, the business must promote what customers value most and express that message in language and symbols that will resonate.
When the value proposition, i.e., the value that the products or services will deliver to customers, perceived competitive advantages and selling points have been recognized and articulated, the business owner and leaders can confidently spread the word by way of promotional channels that customers and prospects trust and put the brand to work for the business.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock,” whose approach to branding has both a physical and professional dimension.