Working on branding is essential whether you’re starting a new company or seeking to refresh—or even maintain—the image of an existing one.
Branding encompasses much more than highly visible elements like your logo. In essence, your brand is the sum of how you think of your organization and how others think about it. The degree to which these views coincide depends on how effectively you present yourself to the world.
Everything from how your employees answer the phone to how customers differentiate you from competitors is part of your brand. While you can’t control all of these elements, you can control the image you project by following a few simple steps. The advice below will help you build a strong brand that will help you attract and engage loyal customers.
1. Understand your unique value
Think about what value you provide, and to whom. What need are you meeting? What makes you stand out among others who offer something similar? Think about the intangible as well as the tangible needs of your customers; your value may encompass your style and approach as well as your products or services.
It’s important to keep your constituents’ viewpoint in mind when thinking about the brand image you want to convey. Once you pinpoint what’s unique about what you offer and how you do it, turn those notions around to focus on what customers get and how it makes them feel.
Your customers may be looking for value, convenience, freedom, comfort, credibility, security, reliability, uplift, or maybe just a smile. Make sure you consistently give them what they value from you. If you’re all about friendly service, every interaction with your organization should show it, whether it’s through the website, on the phone, or in person.
2. Start with a sound logo concept
Your logo is the lynchpin of your brand identity—that is, the visual representation of your brand. Because it’s such a recognizable feature, the underlying concepts you want to convey with your logo are worth exploring thoroughly before you start thinking about design.
A logo should reflect your core attributes. All elements, including graphics, colors, and any accompanying type, should combine to convey both a visceral and an intellectual message. Depending on what business you’re in, this may mean balancing disparate elements, such as warmth with professionalism or fun with financial stability.
It takes finesse to manage this balance without creating a contradictory mess. Determining in advance which elements should hold sway will make the design process more rational and result in a stronger logo.
3. Hone your message
Messaging around your brand should offer a quick, simple takeaway that focuses on one or two specific benefits. One of the most common mistakes companies make is trying to convey all of the intricacies of their offerings or processes in one breath. Either they’re unable to prioritize or they hope that by saying everything, they’ll get something to stick.
On the other end of the spectrum are organizations that speak in such broad strokes that they say nothing at all. By oversimplifying, they end up just confusing the people they’re trying to engage. In a recent example, Rhode Island unveiled a new statewide slogan, “Cooler and Warmer,” to universal furrowed brows.
We worked with one national nonprofit that had run into trouble on both fronts. They started with boilerplate that described six overlapping program areas, each with four or five components. When they determined that information overload was keeping recipients from responding, they swung the other way and ended up with a variation on “we make things better”—admittedly simple but also meaningless. When we entered the picture, we helped them craft a concise and compelling message by zeroing in on what their constituents valued most about their work.
4. Think consistency
Consistency is key to establishing a strong brand. That means maintaining the same tone as well as the same message, regardless of what form the communication takes. Every place you interact with the customers should reflect your organization’s ethos, whether it’s your virtual presence or your office space.
The same applies when you’re communicating to different audiences. You may market to kids and their parents, to millennials and middle-aged professionals, or to members and funders—your essential value doesn’t change with each group, and neither should your message. In addition to strengthening your brand, consistency will help you prevent mistakes such as condescending to some audiences or succumbing to overly trendy usage.
Staid companies often misstep by aiming for hip-chic in media geared toward younger audiences. Resist this temptation. Young consumers are savvy about such attempts and will likely see right through them; in the meantime, you risk weakening your brand. To put it another way, social media isn’t a place to get cute or vulgar unless that’s part of who you are.
5. Be true to your values
Remember that how you see your organization is only part of your brand; the other part is how everyone else sees it. For your brand to take hold among your audience, you need to live the values that inform the brand. For example, if your values include promoting unity and inclusiveness, be sure that all of your communication embodies those qualities.
Whatever your values, get everyone on board to convey them consistently. This will not only reinforce your brand but also offer the kind of superior experience that can turn your customers into your best brand marketers.
An Apple executive once said privately that Apple customers were so enthusiastic in talking up the latest product release that they sometimes turned off those who were uninitiated. “They’re our best source of advertising, but sometimes they go too far,” he admitted. After a moment’s thought, he added, “All in all, it’s not a bad problem to have.”