As entrepreneurs we often find ourselves up against competitors who are better known than we are. They have a better brand that is able to attract more customers and gives them the possibility of setting higher sales prices. But how do we create an authentic and credible brand for ourselves?
When you start your company, branding is always one of the first things that you work on, even when not doing so consciously. Branding begins the moment you decide to start a company. You set the tone for the company brand with the culture you create, your core values, and your industry vision. Even the savviest logo and visual design cannot override these intangible elements of your brand. The company name, your first logo or brand typography are supporting players in the brand you create through your actions and intentions and those of your employees.
A brand will have a stronger identity when built on good common sense values as well as values that distinguish the company from its competitors. Your values should provide a contrast and clarify the possibilities of choice for the customer. Customers choose brands when they feel a distinct identification with the company values. The more explicit the values and the stronger the contrast, the easier it is to attract customers.
To make a brand believable it has to be authentic. An authentic brand is rooted in the real values of the company. It aligns with how a company functions and responds to customers, vendors, the market, even its own employees. Branding is about finding the identity a company already has and ensuring that there is a consistent expression of those values in all aspects of the business, internally and externally.
One of the best ways to “authenticate” your brand is to take an inventory. Do you have written core values and a vision statement? Do your actions and company decisions align with your values and vision? Living your brand means behaving according to the brand you say you are and taking powerful actions that let the character of the company shine through.
Once you feel confident that your company is functioning according to a clearly defined set of values, start developing the outside expression of your brand. What would be the ultimate way to express the brand? What do other companies with your values do? What would tell current or future clients that your company shares their values?
Branding or marketing?
Branding is not the same as marketing although there are overlaps. Branding is how your company presents itself. Marketing takes that brand/company presentation to consumers. A well-branded product is easier to market because potential customers already connect with the brand before they even become familiar with the product.
Many paths to the strong brand
A strong brand has many facets: the visual identity, the voice identity, the physical identity, and the attitude identity of the company. The last of these comes from the values and vision, which we have already covered.
The visual identity reflects the values of the company in a graphical way. Select colors and typographies that best express what the company stands for and compel potential customers. Photos and illustrations should tell the company’s story and support the brand. It is best to employ the services of an expert to create or polish up your visual identity. Even if you have a strong idea of the visual brand for your company, employing a graphic designer to prepare digital files for you up front will save you time and money as you begin using your visual elements in brochures, ads, and on social media.
The voice identity of the company is in direct continuation of the visual identity. Also called “tone of voice”, your voice identity is about the words you use and the way that you express yourself in your promotional materials. Are you the conservative, experienced company or the young, progressive company? What is the key message in your slogan or headlines? Part of the voice identity is also the names you give your products. Do they have technical names, are the names similar to the company name, and do you use English or foreign names? The voice should “speak” to the audience you are trying to reach.
A third piece of the branding puzzle is the physical identity of the company. Physical identity deals with how your products are designed and packaged, but also with you and your employees’ physical appearance and attire. Part of your physical identity is also the location and decor you have chosen for your office. All physical aspects of the business should reflect the company’s values to further authenticate the brand.
Making a difference
When you run your company authentically, have a good reputation, and give customers a clear vision of who you really are, they are more attracted to your products and your company. Maintaining a consistent brand in all aspects of your company identity - visual, voice, physical, and attitude – builds loyal customers who will become your brand ambassadors and “raving fans”.