"Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touch points." – Jonah Sachs
Your brand starts out as a story you try and tell the world. But that's not ultimately what defines your brand.
Your brand is defined by the market and what individuals within that market tell each other about your brand.
That's confusing to a lot of people. You might want your brand to be whatever you say it is. In fact, there are a lot of businesses out there insisting that their brand is something different than what the market says it is.
And they're wrong. You simply don't get to decide. You only get to influence.
The market's conclusion about your brand is shaped by how well you tell stories combined with how consistently you do what you say you're going to do.
So the question is: what is the story you want to tell?
Before you answer that, let's talk about why branding is so important...
A Strong Brand Magnifies Your Ability to Build an Audience.
Human beings are attracted to stories and community more than they are attracted to almost anything else.
When your brand tells a story, it attracts people. It grabs their attention. In the best of cases, it gives them a feeling of connection and community.
Everyone wants to be a part of something. They want to have a tribe. They want to have comfortable, predictable surroundings. And they want purpose.
Branding in the Real World: AirBnB
AirBnB have done a great job with storytelling. From their home page that instructs visitors to "book unique homes and experiences all over the world" to their Belong Anywhere campaign, AirBnB knows that community and human experiences make their service much more personal and engaging than booking hotel rooms.
If you don't know what story you want to tell, it makes it hard to build an audience.
Anyone that starts a business is going to attract someone. But you need a lot more than someone to build a real business. You need a lot of someones.
You can't get a lot of someones without building a strong brand.
A Strong Brand Magnifies Your Profitability.
This is probably the reason for branding that will excite you the most. As it should.
Time and time again, the market has shown a willingness to pay 3x, 5x, 10x, even 100x for products that, by most measure, aren't anywhere near 3x, 5x, 10x, or 100x better than the alternatives.
Branding is the intangible factor that magically increases profitability.
Starbucks' coffee isn't that much better than the coffee you can get at a gas station. In fact, some people would argue that many gas stations have better coffee than Starbucks.
So, why does Starbucks get to charge almost three times as much for basically the same thing?
Because of the stories they've told and the culture and community they've created.
Most people who buy coffee from Starbucks are buying much more than coffee. They're buying the experience. They're paying for their ticket to the club. They're buying, in large part, identity.
You might think that's silly, but you're probably a hypocrite for saying that. If you're like 99% of human beings, you follow the same behavior pattern in other areas.
How to Brand Your Business
Here's an intriguing question: Do you think you should tell the story you want to tell or tell the story that people want to hear?
I already established that branding is about storytelling and execution. But how do you determine what story to tell? Or, the type of story you want to tell?
Should you tell a unique story that comes straight from your passion, creativity, and worldview? Or, should you use your market research to tell people a story they want to hear?
My answer to this question is simple. Neither.
Think of this as a spectrum between being a pioneer and a peddler, with your goal being to find an equilibrium that works both for you and the market.
Pioneers & Peddlers.
A pioneer is someone who fearlessly explores uncharted territory and tries to bring something completely new to the market.
A peddler is someone who peddles commodities and look-alike versions of things that have already been proven in the market.
I'm not saying that being either of these is wrong. What I'm saying is that if you want to give yourself and your business the greatest chance of success, you need to understand all your options and set out in a specific direction with intention.
Too many entrepreneurs rush through the branding process and into the market without thinking any of this through. Because of this, they often fall victim to the various traps that are inherent with being a pioneer or a peddler
Pioneers have the advantage in many ways. They're often first to market and they get to share their unique vision with the world. With any luck, they'll end up changing the entire game. Think Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk.
The problem with being a pioneer is that it's very difficult. The success rate for pioneers is extremely low. When they win, they win big, but most of them lose.
There are advantages to being a peddler, too. There's a lot less relative risk (but there's still risk). It's easier to get started and to make money. You don't have to put a lot of thought into things.
The disadvantages of being a peddler are that you look just like every other peddler. It's tough to stand out. You're often in a race to the bottom. While you can make money more quickly, the margins are much lower. And fewer people care about you.
If you want predictable, repeatable success, I recommend living in the middle.
How to Brand Your Business: Be a Micro-Pioneer.
A peddler works in the downtown area, peddling their commodity to the masses for low margins. As long as there are people, you'll find the peddler on his stool in the same place day after day.
That's not where you want to be. You want to be out exploring the edges of your niche, finding gaps in the market that you can fill with your unique vision.
Just don't get in a boat and try to sail to The New World. There might be a Christopher Columbus inside you, but he needs to calm the $*%# down for a minute.
In no way am I discouraging you from following your dreams and pioneering if that's what you want to do. That's just beyond the scope of Six-Figure Grind. This site is about building a predictable, repeatable six-figure online lifestyle business. It's not about changing the world with your amazing vision (though you will change the world for thousands of individual people).
You can be a pioneer if you want, just be a micro-pioneer.
Pioneer on a smaller scale. Make existing, proven ideas better than they already are. Fill gaps that others haven't filled or haven't recognized.
Being a micro-pioneer allows you stand out from the crowd and bring new, important ideas to an existing market without the inherent risk of dying a painful death in uncharted territory.
This is exactly what Starbucks did, by the way (which proves that micro-pioneering can still explode with their right combination of ingredients). They didn't invent coffee or the coffee the shop. What they micro-pioneered was the idea of The Third Place...
Starbucks' goal is to become the Third Place in our daily lives. (i.e. Home, Work and Starbucks) “We want to provide all the comforts of your home and office. You can sit in a nice chair, talk on your phone, look out the window, surf the web… oh, and drink coffee too,” said Kelly. (Notice she put “drink coffee” last???) – From an interview with a Starbucks Manager in FastCompany
Starbucks is a prime example of taking a successful concept and building greater things from it, all centering around stories, emotions, and reactions.
How to Brand Your Business: Create a Brand Entity or Build a Personal Brand?
This is a question that stumps a lot of people. For me, it's always about building brands as separate entities.
I'm not that interested in being a celebrity. I'm not interested in being the sole face of things.
I'm also interested in a lot of different topics. There's no way I can be known for one thing. I'm good at so many things, interested in so many things, and can provide value in so many areas. To me, personal branding would be a limitation more than anything.
If you want to be in the spotlight and you want everything to rest on your shoulders, you can personally brand.
If you want your business to be able to operate without you and grow beyond you, create a separate brand. And if you want to be able to sell your business for top dollar later on, create a separate brand. Selling a personal brand doesn't usually go so well.
How to Choose a Good Brand Name
I'm a big believer in names not being super important. A name ultimately succeeds or fails based on the success or failure of the company itself, unless it's just an egregiously bad name.
Look at "Google." What is that? Nobody knows and nobody cares. Today, Google is a household name.
Look at Apple. What does "Apple" have to do with technology or computers? Nothing. And nobody cares. It's the largest company in the world.
If people can spell it, it's not too long, and it's not blatantly misaligned with your story in a way that detracts or distracts, it'll probably do just fine.
One semi-hard rule: Make sure you can secure a strong TLD (top level domain) for your name, preferably the ".com" version.
How to Establish Your Brand's Look & Feel.
Logos, colors, imagery, design, and fonts – these are all elements that help tell the story you want to tell.
For that reason, these things all need to fulfill three requirements:
- They need to be high-quality.
- They need to be in alignment with your story.
- They need to be used consistently.
If you're not a graphic designer, hire a professional to get you off on the right branding foot. It's that important.
I'm well aware that some companies are successful even though their branding elements are only slightly better than dog shit. Your goal isn't to see if you can accomplish the same improbable feat.
Do this correctly from the beginning.
I'm not saying that you have to go balls to the wall and spend thousands of dollars – just find someone that's a lot more competent than you.
If you don't have the funds to go with a graphic designer, use a service like 99Designs. They're a crowdsourcing platform for designers where you can host a design contest. You only pay if you're happy with the final result.
Typically, this level of branding is enough to get started without being so terrible that it's going to harm your efforts.
As a general rule of thumb, colors and fonts will be limited to three core assets.
For example with fonts, you'll want to choose a font to use for headings, a font to use for copy, and perhaps one accent font. Here's a good breakdown on how to choose fonts for your brand.
With colors, you'll want to choose two dominant colors and then one accent color. If you want a ton of guidance on choosing colors for your brand, check out this article.
Don't Forget About Product Branding!
Branding your business is one thing. What about your products, though?
Each product that you create and market needs its own branding as well. All the steps you went through to brand your business are the same steps you should go through to brand your products.
If this is your first rodeo, branding probably isn't something you're going to knock out of the park on your first attempt. And that's okay. Branding can evolve over time.
There are always opportunities to improve your branding or even go through a complete branding overhaul.
For now, just keep the two factors I mentioned earlier in mind:
- Make it high quality (relative to your budget and current abilities).
- Make sure it helps to tell your story.
All you can do is all you can do. Don't let this step derail you. Don't procrastinate about it.
For sure, don't wait around, afraid to move forward because "things aren't perfect."