You may have had a business idea for years and you finally were able to get it launched. There’s nothing like a brand new baby business. New businesses are full of hope. There’s no telling where it could go, what it could do, what doors it could open.
But first, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you to get your business recognized by others. The first thing on your plate should be branding your business. Good branding is much more than having a fancy logo and a consistent color scheme. Let’s look at why brand strategy is important and seven key elements of branding for new businesses.
What is Branding?
There are many who believe that branding is simply your logo and letterhead design, but the concept of branding goes deeper than that. Branding includes the way that you communicate with your customers, the way that you speak internally, the ‘voice’ within the marketplace that you wish to establish.
Simply put, branding is the combination of everything within your company that makes it unique. Not only does your branding identify why your company exists and who your company exists for, but it also shapes the expectations of your audience.
In short, branding reveals the essence of your company.
Why Should I Care About Brand Strategy?
Your company’s brand strategy determines the overall impression that you wish to cultivate with your customers and your peers. When you first establish your company, you want to draw a line in the sand that says “this is who I am and what I want to be known for.”
Let’s say that you want to be known as ‘The Caring Paper People’ and you have a presence on most of the social media outlets. To your company, caring means communication. In order to do that, you have to consistently monitor everything related to your brand on these channels to prove that you care. The goal of the strategy is to form strong relationships with customers so that they become evangelists for your brand.
But think about this. What if this company’s brand strategy didn’t involve communication? What they say and what they do will be in conflict. As time goes by outside people will add to and influence the way that your brand is perceived by others through reviews, word of mouth, and other channels not controlled by you. A single bad review or one very determined customer can dramatically change the direction that your company is going in.
If branding reveals the essence of the company, your brand strategy has to include how you communicate that. If you have a style of communication and a strategy for dealing with problem situations, you can weather bad customers, and perhaps even turn your biggest critics into allies.
Where do I begin with brand strategy?
Brand strategy should begin when you first make the decision to start your company. The declaration of values, the knowledge about what your company does, mapping out how you’re going to do it, and more… that’s all part of the brand strategy.
Remember that your brand strategy is a living document and should be evaluated on at least a yearly basis. Markets and tastes change, and companies have to change to reflect that. If you find that the tone of voice that your company is portraying should be tweaked, it’s perfectly okay to re-evaluate and tweak it.
However, any tweaking to your branding still has to align with your values. If you let the market and the opinions of others dictate how you are and how you act, you won’t stand out in the marketplace. Every teenager learns this and you can save your growing business the same growing pains.
Here are the 7 essential questions you should answer as you create your brand strategy. Each one will help you define your business in the marketplace and construct a branding roadmap for your company to follow.
At its core, what does my company do and what problem does it solve?
The answers to this particular question are usually fairly simple. “We sell widgets” is a perfectly good answer. But, the second part of this question takes it one level deeper. You may sell widgets, but what itch does that scratch in your customer? You may run FB ad campaigns, but what ultimately, what does that do for the client? Peace of mind? What pain points does your business solve for its customers?
Who is my company’s target audience?
No, ‘everyone’ is not your company’s target audience. Even if you’re selling food at your restaurant, you’ve still got a target audience, whether it be young and trendy 20-somethings or the fit and feisty 50-somethings.
Companies that sell the same thing might cater to different audiences. For example, a company that creates large rolls of paper might be focused on the art market or they may cater to the architectural and engineering community. The paper is the same, but the branding and the approach that they’d use to sell would be completely different.
If you haven’t already created personas of your ideal customers, this would be a good time to do it. This will give you a mock audience that you can bounce your branding ideas off of. Think about who your perfect client or customer is going to be… then for your branding, your attitude, your *essence*… ask yourself what you would need to do to transform those people into your raving fans.
What does my company value? How do I want to be perceived?
These two questions form the foundation of your branding efforts. From this, all of the marketing material can be created, all of your interactions can be established.
So, back to ‘The Caring Paper People’ mentioned earlier in the article. This company values communication and staying in contact with clients. Because of that dedication to clients, special orders are a priority, and the Caring Paper People want to develop a reputation for satisfying needs. For instance, they might build an extensive FAQ about paper to educate customers with a focus on how they can avoid wrong purchases.
As you’re thinking about your branding, what kind of tone of voice do you want to portray? Are you the hip and trendy company? Are you irreverent and quirky? Do you want to be portrayed as authoritative and kind? That shapes your branding.
Where is my target audience located?
This isn’t baseball. You’re not hitting it where they ain’t. If you know that your audience is on Facebook and Snapchat, then you should be on those platforms as well. And when you know the platforms, you can change your approach accordingly for each platform.
For example, folks on LinkedIn are a bit more formal because it’s very business-like – your target audience might respond better to case studies and white papers if you’re a B2B company. Facebook is more informal. Twitter is much more informal. The message doesn’t just have to align with your audience and your values. It also has to align with the channel so that your branding has maximum impact.
Why was this company created?
If there’s no real reason behind the formation of the company other than, ‘I think it will bring me money,’ then your company’s got a higher chance of failing. Most companies out there, even the extremely large ones, were started with a need in mind.
So, you might have a car dealership because you saw a place where you could sell cars differently or because you love a particular brand. You might start an internet course that teaches confidence because so many people have come to you for tips and advice. You might have an online store that sells to larger people because your friend couldn’t find a good dress.
Whatever that WHY is, it’s a powerful part of your branding. Lean into it. It will make you seem far more authentic to your audience. We all know businesses want to make money. It’s not enough to stand out. Expressing the other reasons you’ve made your business is much more powerful.
What is your company’s story?
At this point, try to write an about us page that describes your company’s story using the information you’ve collected. Crafting a great company story takes time and should be thought about carefully. Your story shares your ‘why’ to the world. What you’re doing when you’re publishing your company story is giving your clients an idea of who you are and what you stand for. It should be true, consistent, and incorporate what you’ve discovered answering the other questions.
Many of the best stories incorporate the hero’s journey into them, placing the company as the guide to the customers, leading them through thick and thin to ultimately conquer over the trials and tribulations that they face.
What are your company’s mission and goals?
You’ve taken a look to the past, deciding your company story and how it was created. What is your company’s future? This is the time to make a mission statement and goals.
Are there any big things that you want to accomplish? Do you want to put shoes on everyone in the world? Do you want to feed all the homeless in Boston? Do you think that all women should feel sexy in their own skin?
Whatever it is, it’s the capstone to your branding. The guiding light that will steer the company into the future. And since you’ve taken the time to create a branding foundation, your mission can be much more clear.
With the answers to these 7 questions established, you can start creating your communication style, your logo, your color scheme, and all the rest of it. You are no longer ‘just another hamburger’ but you’re ‘Steak and Shake’ or you’re ‘Five Guys.’ All the design work grows in strength because it will be informed by the answers to these questions. In other words, with good branding, you will express that essence that sets you apart from your competition.