According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only a little over
one-third of small businesses will live to see the 10-year-mark.
Why do so many of them fail? They’re not getting people right. Companies struggle with:
The inability to provide value to the consumer
Lack of authenticity
Little to no strategic leadership
Weak business culture
Failing to connect with their audience
At its core, a business is a human endeavor. It’s all about people and the efforts they make to resonate with them. Success for a business happens when they get people right. And one of the most powerful ways to truly connect with an audience and succeed in business is through a strategically built brand.
Brand Defined: a Brief Overview and History
If this business were split up, I would give you the land and bricks and mortar, and I would take the brands and trademarks, and I would fare better than you. John Stuart, Chairman of Quaker (ca. 1900)
What is a brand? According to Merriam-Webster, a brand (noun) is “a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership.” It’s also “a public image, reputation, or identity conceived of as something to be marketed or promoted.” One of the verb definitions of a brand is “to impress indelibly.” The word brand comes from the Old Norse brandr , which means to burn. In its earliest uses, brands distinguished livestock from one owner to another.
The phenomenon of utilizing brands the world-over began in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. That’s when some of the most well-known consumer brands of today were birthed. Think Singer sewing machines, Quaker Oats, Prudential Insurance, and Coca-Cola. But this was only the beginning. With advances in technology, transportation, and improved communications, brands now represent not only how the world’s economies have come together but also how we are now demand-driven over command-led.
A brand is not only who you or your business are, but it’s the expectations, perceptions, and relationships that, together, answer the crucial question, “why should I choose you?” in the business world.
According to Marty Neumeier, brand thought leader, “A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”
Branding vs. Brands and Other Key Terms
So, is a logo a brand? Is brand the same as branding? Or brand identity?
There is much confusion around the various brand and branding terms. Let’s look at a few of them and see what the stark differences are.
Where a brand is a relationship, perception, and promise, branding is the marketing process that builds awareness and essentially puts that brand to work. Branding is built on establishing a clear brand message first.
Your business, on the other hand, is the entity through which you sell products or services.
Brand strategy is the foundation of a brand. It's the process of building a brand's personality (one that thinks and feels), tone, voice, and message that speaks on an emotional level to your audience's pain-points. All while providing value to your customers, building brand authenticity, creating a strong culture within your organization, and cutting through the competitive noise to subconsciously engage, connect, and resonate.
Brand identity is how a person or organization is recognized. It’s the tangible elements that can be seen, touched, and held. Brand identity brings different components together and unifies them. The logo, fonts, colors, products and packaging, and marketing collateral are all examples of brand identity.
A Logo is the visual symbol, icon, and font(s) representing and identifying a company, person, or service. We’ll touch on this more later, but it's essential to note that a logo alone is not a brand.
Now it’s time to dive into a few of the biggest misconceptions in branding and how understanding them can make all the difference in the world for your business.
Branding Mistakes and Misconceptions - The Prevailing Path to Failure
Branding and Marketing are the Same
In the business world, there’s lots of confusion around the differences between marketing and branding. Aren’t they the same? And which one should you focus on first?
Marketing is promoting “the buying or selling of a product or service.” It includes advertising, selling, and delivering products.
Branding, on the other hand, is about making connections and building trust to nurture relationships with new or existing customers and ultimately grow a loyal customer base.
Marketing invites and entices;
branding fosters and develops.
They’re very different, but they’re also dependent on each other. “Branding without marketing is a beautiful concept that no one can see or hear. But marketing without branding is a voice with nothing to say.” Stephen Houraghan, Brand Strategist and Educator.
Without that relationship and connection, marketing can result in the loss of a great deal of money invested because you’re not building and nurturing those relationships.
A Brand is Just a Logo and a Website
Most startups will begin with just a logo and website, often thinking what they really have is a complete brand. Eventually, though, they’ll hit a dead-end in their business and be back to square one. Why? Because a logo alone is unlikely able to connect, resonate on a human level, evoke emotion, and probably won't be enough to stand out in today's noisy world.
Think about it this way. If you're in a crowd of people, you can dress as best you can to align with your identity and style. You can look unique and more distinguished than everyone around you. But in a crowd that large, you'll more than likely get lost in it. You'll be confused, garbled, and unclear of what to say from one minute to the next. And you'll be trying to make a connection and resonate with just too many people. There's no authenticity, consistency, or a clear understanding of who you are behind your style. But with the right strategy in place, you'll define not only who your audience is but who you are. And thus, you'll be focused, aiming to attract the right kind of audience in a smaller pool of people and know exactly what to say when you cross their path. That is a brand and one built on strategy.
Your appearance or identity will unquestionably be valuable when you do meet the right people at the right time. But without an understanding of who you or your audience is, distinction, a clear message, and a voice and tone, you’ll struggle to resonate, connect, and build relationships. And you’ll lack authenticity.
Your logo becomes vital to your business only after your brand becomes relevant. And your brand becomes relevant through brand strategy.
Neuromarketing: Knowledge That Rocked The Marketing World
We've looked at what a brand is, what it isn't, and how important it is to know who you and your audience are to clearly convey your message and connect. But, what does the brain have to do with any of this? And how do you craft a message through your brand that will influence your audience to choose you in the business world?
Your message has to tap into the part of the brain where our human buying decision is developed.
According to Gerald Zaltman, Harvard Business School professor, “95 percent of our purchase decision making takes place in the subconscious mind.”
What does that mean? If your business focuses on features, benefits, and pricing in your messaging, you're speaking to the conscious mind, which only makes up 5% of the decision-making!
So what is the subconscious mind, and why does it take the lead in buying decisions? Let's look at your brain to learn more.
The New Brain (Rational Brain) processes written languages and complex thinking. It’s the largest part of the brain.
The Middle Brain (Emotional Brain) processes emotions.
The Reptilian Brain (Instinctual Brain) is subconscious, instinctual, and the oldest part of the brain. The reptilian brain conserves energy for preservation and body function.
Roger Dooley states that our brains will always fall back on the reptilian brain whenever possible. Because our bodies are focused on being energy-efficient, we’ll avoid the neocortex whenever possible and will even try to get out of it if we’re forced into it. So simple is key.
Simple is Key
This might be some interesting information, but what does this mean for branding and, more importantly, your business? Well, it’s everything.
Easy-to-understand and straightforward messaging over multiple mediums paints a consistent picture and speaks to the old brain.
If our reptilian brain tried to process every message we are exposed to, we wouldn’t have the energy to function on a basic, survival level. That means that if your brand speaks a message that the reptilian brain won’t understand, it’ll be dismissed.
“Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But It’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” - Steve Jobs
Apple is a brand that takes their very complex products and simplifies them for their audience, both the visuals and communication so that you don't see the hand of the magician, only the magic behind it.
Check out this iconic Apple ad to see how they allow their audience to personally experience their brand through strategic messaging.
Stealing Your Audience’s Heart Through Emotion
To connect to your audience's reptilian brain, you must weave emotion through everything you communicate.
Despite our complex brains, we as a species are quite simple. Babies may not understand what we're saying, but they know emotions. And coupled with story, emotion helps take us on an extraordinary journey. You can resonate with your followers on a level that critical features and benefits simply can't.
Nike uses emotion to connect with its audience time and again. Check out one of its iconic commercials. Do you see how impactful your message is when it's crafted to speak to your specific audience in a simple yet powerfully emotional way?
Now that we’ve looked at what part of the brain brand messages need to resonate with, let’s begin to look at how to build a brand that does just that.
Why Brands Built on Strategy Are a Game Changer
Brands That Can't See
We've already established that a logo by itself isn't a brand, that successful marketing relies on a strategically built brand, and that a brand's audience will more than likely dismiss complicated, non-relevant communication that doesn't connect to their reptilian brain. But brands without strategy are prevalent in today’s marketplace.
They may be running hard and fast, but they’re unsure of where they’re going. Even with a marketing plan in place to attract their audience, they can't resonate or foster and develop relationships with them.
Nothing sticks. Why? Because more is expected of brands today.
Where we were to where we’re going
Long before the branding world and mass media of today existed, businesses were more localized, and reputation was everything to them. They focused on quality products, keeping their promises, making connections with their customers, nurturing those relationships, and gaining more loyalty, trust, and brand advocacy.
As the localized companies shifted to big corporations and technology changed the business culture, those connections were lost. There was not only a disconnect between the business and the consumer, but there was also a disconnect between the employee and brand culture.
Fast forward to the social media era when millennials mastered their digital tools and began speaking out. This power shift caused consumers to demand businesses and brands to listen to them, understand them, and give them what they wanted. They're collectively voicing their opinions and making buying decisions based on how a brand and business behave in the marketplace.
Brands that adapt to this power shift listen to their consumers and meet their needs through a human brand, coming full circle to the localized businesses that lived and died on their reputation. This concept is where many companies are missing the mark. But you don't have to be one of them.
It's time to finally examine how to build an effective, human brand that thinks, feels, and most importantly, communicates with intentionality to the people who need to hear its message most. One that connects to the reptilian brain.
We’re talking about how to build a brand that’ll move mountains.
9 Steps to Building a Successful Brand That Can
Ultimately Build a Successful Business
Let's dive into how to build a brand that'll grow your business, elevate your confidence, and help you gain a competitive edge in your industry.
1. Internal Brand (Brand Substance)
Your internal brand is your purpose, mission, vision, and values. It guides and directs the business and assists with decision-making. When built and carried out properly, an internal brand can help establish authenticity, a cornerstone for brands to survive in today’s demand for humanization and authenticity.
Let's briefly look at each of the internal brand components and how they establish the foundation for your business.
Brand purpose is the why behind what you do as a brand, aside from commercial gain.
According to Simon Sinek, published author and inspirational speaker, “Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do… . Some know how they do it… . But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do.” Establishing your why drives the rest of your business.
Sell to individuals that believe what you believe, hire people that believe what you believe, and talk about what you believe in. If you do that, you’ll attract individuals that believe in what you do.
A vision statement is a declaration of what aspirations and goals a brand aims to achieve in the future. The vision is different from your brand’s mission in that:
Mission: the present
Vision: the future
Mission: the everyday
Vision: the someday
An organization’s mission statement is a directive that guides daily decisions and actions. Consistent commitment to a brand’s mission is at the core of building a strong brand.
A mission answers the question, "What are we going to commit to in the every day to achieve our vision in the someday?"
A company’s values are the moral principles and philosophies that lead and guide the business, the brand, and its decisions. Overtime, commitments to and actions based upon these values become who your business is.
When everything in the internal brand comes together, it creates a brand culture which in turn establishes a work environment that people want to be part of.
Now it’s time to discover who your target audience and competitors are, what makes you different, and how to position yourself in the hearts and minds of your audience.
2. Positioning Strategy:
The Cornerstone of Your Brand
Your entire brand moving forward hinges on the positioning strategy. It’s that important. And it can be the difference between the success and failure of a brand and overall business. You’ve got to ask yourself, “What's the one thing for which you want your business to be known?
Let’s look at the main components of positioning strategy.
1. Audience Persona- The center of it All
Here’s a question for you. When was the last time you were really excited about buying something? Do you remember what got you excited? What were you hoping to achieve after you purchased this product or service?
- Would it make you better?
- Was it a solution to a problem?
- Or would it help bring balance to your life?
How that product or service’s brand communicated to you was likely built upon:
- The type of person you are
- The types of wants and needs you have
- The emotions you go through
The business' brand message not only connected with you through emotion, but you were inspired to take action. Their message bridged a gap between their product and your want or need. But you can’t bridge that gap without knowing who your audience is. This is where the magic in branding begins.
Through this in-depth knowledge, you’ll be able to develop a brand personality that resonates with them and create a message that will cut through the competitive noise to connect with them. Your audience receives thousands of messages and advertisements a day. You’ll want yours to cut through that noise.
2. Competitor Audit
The competitor audit is instrumental in gaining insights into your competitors and audience. And when you come out on the other side of this research, you’ll begin to discover gaps in your industry. You’re looking for the gap in your market that only your brand can fill. That gap will become your differentiator.
3. Differentiation: the most important element in your brand strategy
Your differentiator is the power behind positioning.
It’s the experience your audience will get with you that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s what makes you different. And it’ll add tremendous value to your audience.
Seth Godin makes a challenging statement about standing out in today’s market "Make something worth talking about... make something remarkable." Because ideas that spread win… . [And] the only way to win is to get talked about.”
Make a difference to the right group and make it worth talking about. That’s your differentiator.
4. Positioning Statement
Your positioning statement brings your audience persona, competitive audit, and your differentiator together clearly and concisely, guiding all external messaging and communication moving forward.
Why should your brand be remembered?
Now that you know who your audience is, what makes you different, and have a statement to guide your communication, what or who will you convey that message through? Your human brand!
3. Brand Persona:
A Living, Breathing Brand that Thinks, Feels, and Moves with Intentionality
1. Developing a human personality
With consumers' demand for brands to become more human, how can your brand speak to your audience with a resonating, humanistic but powerful voice?
Human brands have to talk to their audience, not at them.
- An outlook on the world
So how can a brand talk to its audience and ultimately resonate on a human level?
Think for a second about human relationships. You connect to character traits, individual personalities, or behavior traits, either consciously or subconsciously. That same connection with an audience can only be made when brands exhibit human behavior traits.
By developing a human brand, we can tap into different human desires and characteristics and attract other desires and traits, resulting in a clearly defined, specific personality.
2. Bring your human brand to life
Understanding your audience at their height of need when they cross paths with your brand is vital. Only then can you capture your language, voice, and tone. How your brand looks, feels, thinks, and acts.
When your brand has a real personality, content creation, communicating, and marketing becomes so much easier, powerful, effective, and efficient.
Now that we have a human brand, let’s develop something impactful for it to say.
4. Core Message Framework
Jeffrey Lant’s Rule of Seven states that you must connect with your audience at a minimum of seven times over 18 months before they remember you.
That’s a lot of touchpoints, so you’ll want your message to be clear, provide direction, and be consistent with who your brand is.
And ask yourself, “What do you want your audience to understand about your brand?” Moving forward, your core message framework guides your:
The key to this core message framework is that you’ll use simple communication with emotion woven throughout, all while consistently conveying a message that’ll connect with your audience and influence what decisions they make in their reptilian brain.
Traditional businesses' well-worn path begins with just a logo, website, and social pages, thinking they have a full brand. But this doesn't lead to long-lasting success. You'll need a strategy to craft a message that'll land in the hearts and minds of your audience.
And one of the most powerful ways to communicate your message is through story.
5. Brand Story Framework
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” - Jonathan Gottschall
Stories can help convey information in a meaningful and personal way, assisting its audience in understanding.
Story activates a much deeper part of the brain than fact sharing.
We love stories because we become part of an emotional journey. And we find ourselves in those stories.
Your job as a brand is to deliver your story in small, bite-size pieces.
Now, as we head to the last few steps, we’re about to bust some myths about branding.
6. Brand Name and Tagline
We know what you're thinking. How is it we're just now creating the brand name and tagline? Isn't that the first step to take when developing a business? Unfortunately, this is another big misconception in branding. Most brands and companies develop their name first, missing an opportunity to deliver a key message to their audience that reflects their messaging, positioning, and overall strategy.
Your tagline is what you want your audience to remember about your brand in the most concise amount of words possible.
The tagline acts as an anchor to recall your brand’s messages, stories, and experiences. If you can get your audience to remember the anchor - it leads them back to the brand remembrance and recognition.
The website and brand identity (just wait - we haven't forgotten about those!) work with the tagline to link back to brand experiences. And your audience won't need to remember everything, only the anchor.
A brand name created within brand strategy is another opportunity to deliver a key message and ties to your internal brand, positioning, personality, and messaging.
After the tagline and brand name have been developed, we’re finally ready to create the logo.
Because of society's diminishing attention span, you must deliver the right block of your brand's story at the right time. And if you succeed, you'll earn the opportunity to share another block of your story again. With the right amount of engagement, you can lead them on a path of discovery, addressing pain points while describing life without the problem they're facing.
7. Strategic Visual Identity
1. Logo design built on strategy
Your brand identity is how you as a business and brand are recognized. It’s the tangible elements, including your logo, that represents and identifies who your brand is.
And it’s where most brands mistakenly begin and end.
We're not saying your logo isn't important. It's an essential element within your brand identity because it's your own unique mark that only you have. And it's how people visually connect with you, with the help of your brand colors, name, and icon. It is vital. But if it's not built on strategy, it'll hurt your business in the long run. Because your logo isn’t strong enough on its own.
For example, look at how much you know now about your brand now, your audience, your competitors, and your messaging. Until this point, you've built a brand that thinks, feels, and connects like a real person. It knows what to say, whom it’s talking to, when to speak, and how to act.
Your brand will have limitless impact when your brand identity (especially your logo) ties in with your strategy—helping your audience recall your messaging, building that consistency and trust that's missing in so many brands today.
Now, let’s get into a few basics about creating an effective brand identity system.
2. Creating your brand identity structure
For your brand identity to be effective, successful, powerful, and unique, it must be simple, distinct, and memorable.
It’s important to strategically create your logo and visual tools around the right colors, unique fonts, and impactful icons, reflecting your messaging, audience, and brand persona. Your logo will more than likely be the first touchpoint your audience experiences. Reflecting its true identity will only make it more memorable.
Now that you’ve got a comprehensive brand, let’s put it to work!
8. Brand Presence
Your website is the doorway into your brand, and it’s important to design and develop one that works for you.
1. Design and build your website
One of the most powerful tools for your brand will be your website. Your website should educate and inform, attract customers, tell a story, and provide incredible value to your customer. It’s how your audience will learn more about you, your product, your service, and your overall brand. Your website should reflect your brand’s messaging, voice, tone, and identity. And it should prompt your audience to take action.
Note: *We highly recommend hiring a developer and designer separately to give the best of both worlds. Remember, anyone can't be the best at more than one thing.
2. Physical collateral and social presence
Knowing your audience and where they live online is important. Be sure to consistently tailor your messaging, design elements, conversations to each platform.
Business Cards and Stationery
Your business card design and stationery should be unique to the brand. Brand consistency across print and digital presence are vital. Each touchpoint is an opportunity to convey another piece of your message and story, building authenticity, trust, and confidence in your product or service.
9. Implementation and Managing Your Brand
With a brand built on strategy, you can paint a comprehensive picture, utilizing multiple touchpoints, and apply your brand to any marketing framework.
After developing the positioning statement, core message, and story frameworks, you’ll be able to drill down and extract more details for future campaigns. These frameworks will guide your communication, help you stay focused, connect with your audience persona, nurture the relationships with them and resonate with their reptilian brain.
Your marketing team will be able to then strategically place the right message in front of the right audience at the right time. All while cutting through the competitive noise and landing in the hearts and specific places in the minds of your audience.
So when you need to create a social media post, how-to video, or advertisement, you’ll refer back to your strategic elements and extract your message. You’ll be able to clearly define which part of your message you want to use and grow your business.
That’s strategically built brands at work.
Success for each individual business will look different. In fact, it'll be as unique as you, the business owner. But at the end of the day, there is an inner why that drives the reasoning behind your company's establishment. There's a specific audience that wants or needs the services and products only you have. And your business can have an authentic and consistent personality, voice, tone, message, story, and identity to influence through a transformational story.
If you build those elements out and create a brand founded on strategy, you'll have the blueprints in-hand to run with your vision and help impact the world. And that brand will support in reaching whatever level of success and accomplishment you aspire to achieve.
One message, one block of story, and one customer at a time.