Branding

Branding is one of the most misunderstood concepts out there when it comes to business terms. While there can be a lot packed into the definition of branding, the lack of understanding stems from various misconceptions about what branding actually is.

What Is Branding?

Some think their business brand is their logo. Others believe that branding is marketing. And some believe that branding only belongs to large organizations. Even Donald Miller, writer of the popular book StoryBrand, says: “I think you need to be making about 500 million dollars before you even start thinking a whole lot about branding…”

Branding, however, isn’t any of the above. In fact, it is something you already have. And since you already have a brand, the only question is whether it is enabling you to move forward, or holding you back. Your brand is either a liability or an asset; there is absolutely no middle ground.

You may be wondering, how you could possibly have something you never thought about. The answer is quite simple…

Branding is a perception. To be exact, it is your market’s perception of your business. It’s the sum total of their opinion, feelings actions and experience as they engage with you.

If you have not yet thought about your branding, you are seriously missing out on the opportunity to strategically develop and design your market’s perception of your business.

Strategic branding will give any business an edge. Skipping this step is like building a home without the foundation. While there are many businesses that have pushed through and were able to grow without developing their brand, they will sooner or later face pain-points that may be solved by strategic branding.

Pain #1: Your marketing is expensive and is not giving you results

Most businesses will dive into marketing without ever considering their brand. These businesses will spend thousands of marketing dollars, getting little or no results, staying convinced that the pain they feel is due to a marketing problem.

So, they keep marketing more and more, in different ways but never connecting the symptom to the underlining cause. It may take quite some time and a lot of waste before a business owner realizes that switching marketing tactics alone may not do the trick.

Strategic branding will give you the clarity you need to communicate your direct value to market. We have seen a tremendous increase in marketing results, by just fixing the brand. The sooner you invest in brand clarity, the sooner you will see your desired returns on marketing.

Pain #2: You are generating a lot of unqualified leads

What is more painful than wasting time? Pursuing leads that are unqualified result in just that. Even if you manage to close a sale, an unqualified customer will likely hurt your business. That is, because to an unqualified customer, what you offer is a commodity and has no value.

You may have had to already adjust your pricing to close the sale, or you were asked to add a few additional items to the list of deliverables. If you are a service-based business with longer engagement terms, expect a potentially difficult journey.

During a thorough branding process, you would spend time understanding your ideal customer. Let’s say your best customer’s name is Bob. What would happen if you had a thousand Bobs?  How would that impact your business? This is why it is so crucial to understanding Bob exactly, and to strategically go after customers exactly like him.

Pain #3: You are having customer loyalty issues

You may be pretty good at getting customers in the door. However, getting them to stick around, or to do return business with you is much more difficult. This is the time when branding can help you strategically align customer experience with your brand promise.

Customer experience should not be happening in your business by accident. The best brands invest time to design their customer’s experience. As Maya Angelou says in her famous quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Strategic branding considers your customer’s journey with your company and will identify the most important touchpoints. Delivering a WOW experience whenever possible, will turn your customers into brand advocates. You will have a loyal base that will not only return but will recommend your business to their friends and family.

Pain #4: You are dealing with owner dependency issues

Let’s go back to Bob, your favorite customer and ask him why he loves doing business with you. If your name comes up as the reason, you may be dealing with owner dependency issues. This may be ok in the beginning stages of your business, but as you are trying to grow, you may be experiencing a lot of stress as at some point you will certainly reach your maximum capacity.

There are definitely reasons why your customers love you, and cloning yourself is just not an option. Branding exercises can help identify those values and transfer them to your company’s brand.

So, the next time Bob is asked why he loves doing business with you, he should refer to your brand. This will make it much easier for you to scale, and it can add tremendous value to your bottom line when you are ready to exit and sell your business.

Pain #5: You are losing business to your competition

Many businesses will spend countless hours trying to massage and refine their product listings, service deliverables and their list of features and benefits. The problem is that the market usually doesn’t care.

What the market cares about is likely not the WHAT you sell, but the aspirational value they get when they do business with you. Your customers don’t just want to buy from you, they want to belong. If your competition has the same or more expensive prices, with fewer features and benefits than what you offer, this may be what they are getting right.

Branding will help you clarify your WHY and bring that to the spotlight. This will help your customers tap into the real value you bring to them. You will no longer be a commodity and compete on pricing or features and benefits.

Pain #6: Your old, bullet-proof strategies are no longer working

Sure, you’ve built a successful business. You have systems, processes, a bunch of loyal customers, and during the years you have even invested in your brand. But something has changed and that is the market. As time has passed, you’ve failed to innovate and remained the same. As a result, your business has become stagnant and you just need something new.

A brand refresh could be your answer. During a brand refresh, you would take a deep look at what’s working and what isn’t in light of your company’s vision. You would be able to identify your new market as well as their aspirational needs in relation to your business.

A modern look, new clarity and leading with those newfound values instead of those old features and benefits, could help you take your business to the next level.

Pain #7: You are having trouble recruiting or retaining employees

One of the largest investment businesses make is in their workforce. Dealing with a high turnover, or difficulty hiring can both be devastating blows to your business. When you are hiring or dealing with your existing employee culture, your employees become your target market.

It is when their perception of your brand could make, or break the day. The same aspirational values you bring to your customer will become vital when dealing with your employees.

Branding will help you identify the characteristics of your ideal employee, which will come handy when you are recruiting. Remember, employees, want to belong just as much as your customers. They will feel fulfilled working for you if they know that they are important and can clearly set goals to help you deliver your brand promise to your customers. A fulfilled employee is a loyal employee.

As Simon Sinek says: “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money; but if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

Are you ready to consider your brand?

As you can see, branding penetrates deep into many aspects of your business. The lack of attention you give to your brand can easily be the very thing holding you back. As you deal with pain symptoms in marketing, sales, customer experience, and hiring, consider your brand. Could a solid brand strategy be the solution?

A brand-first approach to your business could very well be the only thing you need to help you get to the next level.

Orsolya Herbein

Orsi (pronounced Orshe) Herbein is creative director/partner of Brand3 Inc, a small brand consulting firm in Harford County, MD. Orsi is a branding expert and a self-proclaimed visual problem solver.

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