What is branding and how do I go about it?

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For many smaller businesses, “branding” usually means “logo”. Occasionally it includes business card design and packaging but that’s usually it. Anything else is for the big boys with lots of money, like Coca Cola and Nike.

And yes, we get it. Logos, business cards and packaging are definitely connected with branding. They help tell your story. But there’s more to building your brand than designing the tangibles. Branding is a key element in determining how well your website will do its job. So let’s have a look at what a brand is, what it’s not, and how it’s relevant to your business.

What a brand isn’t

In marketing and business terms, the meaning of the word “brand” has changed over time. It now represents something entirely different to how people understood it 30 years ago. We’ve compiled a list of all the things a brand isn’t. Some of them might surprise you.

A brand isn’t:

  •  A logo, business card or packaging
  • A product
  • A service
  • A person

What a brand is

A brand is a nebulous beast and that’s the biggest difference between the brand of 30 years ago and the brand of today. It’s intangible and its success hinges on other people’s perceptions, not on your own. That can be a scary prospect.

A brand is:

  • An experience rather than an object
  • The end result of how others see your business, based on their own experiences and interactions with you at every level—not just your website

Why has it all become so complex? Because consumers have become increasingly sophisticated in the last 30 years. They’re far more discerning about what they buy and who they buy it from. Factors such as provenance, ethical business practices and sustainability are now key elements in many consumers’ buying decisions, especially around foodstuffs and textiles. For a lot of Millennials and Gen Xers, spending money is a political act.

So as a business owner, branding is no longer just a matter of coming up with some eye-catching packaging and announcing to the world that you’re selling widgets. Branding is about telling the right people why widgets matter and how yours can benefit their lives.

What makes a great brand?

You know someone’s done a good job of branding when just mentioning its name creates warm fuzzies. Or when you can distill the brand down to a one- or two-word summary encapsulating what it stands for: Apple equals innovation. Tesla equals electric cars (or solar batteries). ecostore equals eco-friendly.

Whether you actually believe these word associations or not boils down to the brand’s authenticity. We measure authenticity by how well the brand delivers on its promises. And that’s very much tied to the story behind a product or service, not the product or service itself. It’s the difference between selling native plants because you see a gap in the market and selling native plants because you’re passionate about bringing native birds back into your town and you want to provide habitat. Both are selling native plants but each will give their respective customers a totally different experience.

The second business is more likely to:

  • get involved in community-building activities
  • go the extra mile in providing information, advice and service
  • get creative with their marketing
  • generate a buzz

The only ways the other business can compete with all this energy and enthusiasm is by emphasising their “tried-and-true” status if they’ve been around for a while, or on price. But that means reducing margins and is unsustainable in the long term.

Authenticity is what makes your business unique and it should be the cornerstone of your brand. So don’t play fast and loose with your promises. There’s a lot to lose if you do.

Where do I begin with branding?

Ideally, you’d pay an expert to help you but if you don’t have the budget there’s plenty you can do to build your brand yourself. It’s yours after all, so in that respect you’re an expect too. Kick off by considering these:

1. The brand persona/archetype

The psychologist Carl Jung theorised that all human cultures shared certain universal, mythic characters as part of what he termed the “collective unconscious”. He called these characters “archetypes” and divided them into 12 primary types. Each archetype represents recurring human traits, themes or motivations, e.g. The Hero, The Rebel, The Lover, The Magician, and so on.

Brand personas or archetypes came out of this idea. Rather than focusing on a product, service or individual, a brand persona embodies the business’ attitudes and values and the intangible benefits it offers its customers: security. Information. Freedom. Inspiration. For example, a logistics company’s brand archetype might be The Magician because it makes very complicated things simple. It’s offering to wave its magic wand and transform its customers’ major challenges into something effortless and fast.

More examples, please

Not all industry groups or business families share the same archetype. One financial planner’s brand persona might be The Sage because he or she is motivated to share specialist knowledge through research and analysis. But another’s focus might be on helping clients to organise their finances to create more stability and security in their lives,  in which case the brand persona is The Ruler. Given their different motivations, which suite of products would each planner would focus on? My guess would be wealth creation for the first and insurance or superannuation for the second.

Most businesses don’t fit neatly into one brand persona; there are usually one or two others that are also relevant. But one will stand out and have the strongest influence over how your business expresses itself. If you realise that you don’t like it much, or you don’t believe it’s a true reflection of your business, that’s where re-branding comes in. This can be a large, costly exercise though. Better to get it right from the beginning.

The value of identifying your brand persona

This brand persona stuff might sound like pop psychology but big agencies use it all the time to help focus their clients’ campaigns and communications. When a business is very clear about what it’s offering behind its product or services, it can then target the people who are looking for those things. This is what marketers mean when they say, Focus on benefits, not features.

Discovering your brand persona is easy. There are dozens of online questionnaires that will do the job. We really like Kaye Putnam’s. It not only identifies your archetype; it also suggests colour schemes for your office based on that archetype! The n-Vision Designs questionnaire digs deeper, with detailed information about sub-archetypes and supporting archetypes. Definitely one for the Sages…

2. The buyer persona

This builds your brand from the other direction: identify your ideal client or clients and then put all your energy into targeting them. It can seem counter-intuitive to narrow your focus and a lot of smaller businesses struggle with it but any content marketer worth their Kanban will tell you that the most effective content is targeted content. Trying to be all things to all people never works. It just dilutes your message.

So what makes an “ideal” client or customer? That will depend on the nature of your business and what you’re offering. If you run a cafe, your ideal client is probably a regular who loves everything you dish up, brings all their friends and visiting family members, regularly shares pics of everyone enjoying themselves at your cafe on social media, and so on. So your challenge is to create content that will attract more people like that.

If you’re a self-employed plumber, your ideal clients will know exactly what they want and communicate this clearly. They’ll also have realistic expectations, listen to your recommendations and pay promptly. Perhaps they should live within a 20-kilometre radius and give you lots of referrals as well. But if you’d rather sub-contract on large projects or only deal with commercial jobs, your client personas might have different qualities (although prompt payment seems to be a universal requirement).

Invent your dream customer or client

If you already have an ideal client or two, you’ve got a good base to build on. Find out why they keep coming back and give them more of it.

But if you don’t have an ideal client, invent one. Give them a name, an age, a marital status and find a free stock image on Pixabay to represent them. What’s their education level? How much money do they make? Do they have children? If so, how many and what age(s)? Do they own their own home or rent? How do they vote? What are their concerns? What do they need and how can your business help?

The value of identifying your buyer personas

Again, this might all sound a bit “woo-woo” and maybe you don’t want to dig so deeply but there’s sound reasoning behind building buyer personas. The better you know your target market, the more able you are to put yourself in buyers’ shoes and empathise with them. That means you’ll be able to speak in their language and you’ll never be short of ideas for content.

Let’s say you’re a speech language therapist and you specialise in helping children. Your young patients come to you via two different groups: concerned parents or professionals such as teachers or medical practitioners. Parents and professionals, then, are your target markets but you can’t satisfy both with the same content. They speak different languages. They’ll have different questions. They’re coming out of different motivations. If you understand these, you’ll be able to connect with them through your website content in a very powerful way—starting with separate landing pages.

The Content Marketing Institute has produced a great, in-depth guide to help with building buyer personas and Hubspot offers a free, downloadable template.

Tying branding and content together

So how does all this work?

The purpose of your brand persona is to help identify exactly what you are offering your customers. It should inform the style, tone and language you adopt in communicating this. If our Magician logistics company is true to its persona, it should use words in its content that reflect this: transform, change, magical, reshape, renew.

The purpose of your buyer persona is to focus your attention on who you’re targeting, so you can make sure you’re reaching the customers you actually want. By understanding your target market, you’ll know the most appropriate medium for delivering your content (e.g. video versus image-heavy posts or long-form text). And you’ll know how to make your content relevant by putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and giving them the information they need. You can address their questions, concerns and objections before they’ve even raised them.

Combine these two elements and you’ll be well on the way to creating an authentic brand that offers your audience valuable and unique content. Use your brand persona to keep all your communication consistent. Use your buyer persona to give you ideas for new content. You’ll find that your branding and content will fuse together, with each always influencing and reinforcing the other.

It’s a great platform from which to go forth and create success!

Niki Morrell

Niki is the creative director of Bold Communications and co-founder of Good Honest Content. A former radio host with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, she's been helping Kiwi and Aussie businesses with content marketing and strategy since 2012.

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