Last Sunday eve I joined the masses of people on their weekly pilgrimage to scour the aisles of capitalism and stock their pantries in an attempt to both prevent starvation and summon euphoria in the shape of a colourful fridge. What should have been a menial task felt more like a scene from Hunger Games, but that’s not the point. The point is that I caught myself on a confronting journey of discovering my own work at play. The thing is, I’ve been doing this branding thing for quite some time now. And as they say, do anything for 5 days a week (more like 7), 8 hours a day (sometimes 16), and you’re bound to become reasonably good at it. And I often do feel like I have become reasonably good at this whole branding thing (for the record, my mum thinks so too). But last Sunday, in the madness of Woolies with about 7 billion women rushing around (not sexist, true) in a sea of shopping trolleys and commercial chaos, I was caught out at my own game.
It went a little something like this:
We needed jam. That’s easy, I bought the one we’ve been dolloping on our sourdough for the last 8 years, it’s tasty AND has a nice logo. Win. Next on the list, milk. I bought the one my partner swears by — the one with an inch or two of full-fat thick cream sitting at the top that makes me dry retch at the thought of it and says that it supports local farmers. Add to trolley. And finally, we needed eggs. Well, of course, I’m no sinner, so I bought the free-range ones with the green and blue sticker because they a). Satisfy my desire to be a relatively good human, and b). The sticker is the least ugly on the shelf. Great, done.
As I returned home and began unpacking my groceries, it dawned on me that not only did I not even see any other jam, milk, egg options on the shelf, I didn’t even consider whether I was getting the best price/choice/morally-aligned product. Branding in its best form had gotten me. One undeniable fact about successful branding is that it swells within you, building a solid foundation of trust and loyalty, without you even thinking twice. Just like it did to me. When you’ve got a solid brand and your messaging is crystal clear, your product value goes straight to people’s brains without them having to think too much about it. When executed effectively, good branding equates to customer trust. And guess what? Trust means that people just like me, will pick your product off the shelf without even considering another option.
Some will say that this is Marketing. And in effect, they’re right, but if you ask me, good marketing starts with good branding. Because, the thing is, if you do your branding well, you’ll have all the tools you need to make your marketing efforts count. If you’re running a million and one marketing initiatives with high hopes of getting traction, but little consideration for building strong branding foundations, then I’d recommend throwing those marketing dollars in the Trevi Fountain instead.
I’ve seen many companies’ marketing efforts sink rather than swim, and I believe it’s because they don’t have a strategic basis on which to find a foothold. In a sea of sameness, their advertising and brand communications are not rooted in standing out, and so, they tend to fit in instead. Their unique selling point is less point that and more pointless as it camouflages itself among the rest.
A solid brand will:
- Deliver your message clearly
- Confirm your business’s credibility
- Connect your business to your customer emotionally
- Motivate the buyer
- Cement customer loyalty
- Get people to buy your jam, regardless of the fact that it costs $9 a pop and isn’t even organic
If you thought branding was just a way to use a variety of gimmicks and a carefully curated selection of fonts to catch the eye of a passing customer, you’re missing the point. A good brand carries the weight of an entire business. It is the strategy that builds a relationship and the foundations upon which a customer places their trust and loyalty without considering alternatives. When a consumer sees the brand, she or he attributes a range of values, characteristics and emotional connections to it.
Expert marketers assert that it’s impossible to create a solid product/service offering and marketing strategy without building a strong branding identity. Building it should precede PR activations, SEO improvements, social media strategies, content creation, and the rest of it. Successful businesses figure out who and what they are before embarking on these other missions because, at the end (and the beginning) of the day, your brand influences your design, your language, and your entire approach.
If you’re blowing your marketing dollars without first establishing and communicating your brand proposition, you’re effectively throwing your hard-earned moolah into a celestial black hole.
- GIVE YOUR BRAND A PERSONALITY
Inject some serious Myer-Briggs into your brand by making it the one that people desperately want to talk to at the party. Be friendly, accessible, genuine, relatable, and full of great anecdotes about popular culture and sojourning the expanse of continental Europe that one time. Smack Bang Designs is quirky and fun because the people who work here constantly make each other laugh. We crack ourselves up first and foremost, which could be a worry. Still, our own enthusiasm seeps via osmosis on to our audience as much as we can possibly muster. However, our playfulness is only a fraction of our company personality. The rest of it is hard work, credibility and creativity.
- BE THE GOODEST OF GOOD
The simple fact is, selling your stuff to other humans is hard work, so you have to be darn good at it. If you can’t create a bloody amazing product, then it might be better to stick to Netflix and popcorn of a weeknight. Building a brand is a slog, and it’s not for everyone.
It’s simple, but ultimately essential: Products and services that show craftsmanship and quality are increasingly rare. We are (sadly?) a world of materialist guzzlers that love convenience and quality, so when we find an app like Uber, or a product like the iPhone, or an experience like Asos, we get verrrrrrry excited. Be the best in your class, run in your own lane, put your head down, and make something worth taking notice of.
- TARGET YOUR PEEPS
Never try to please everyone, or you’ll likely please no-one. Rome wasn’t built in a day, hey hey hey, so don’t try to be an overnight success to the entire world. That’s silliness! As you double down on your audience and continually sharpen your offering, you’ll find firstly who your target people are, and also, that your target audience naturally expands. Don’t try to set out with a hunger for entire world domination, do love your obvious and devoted fanbase like Edward loves Bella Swan: obsessively (and a little bit creepily).
- SAY IT LIKE A BROKEN RECORD
Branding is clearly articulating what you want people to know, do, and feel with every blog post, Instagram photo, tweet, and webinar. It doesn’t stop. Branding is a continual journey and will never sit in your ‘finished’ pile. When thinking about branding and marketing, remember that marketing starts and stops. Branding is what carries on between marketing events. It’s what keeps your people coming back for more, liking your daily social posts, subscribing to your emails and telling their friends about your amazing website layout.
- GET SOME GROUPIES
Once upon a time, your logo was all that mattered. Nike, much? These days, you’ve gotta bring a scintillating story, an enticing identity, and that certain je ne sais quoi — hence, branding reigns supreme. People immerse themselves so much in brands they love that they inadvertently become brand groupies, telling the masses about their love through their style, social media and word of mouth. They Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat all the things that they love (and conversely, some of the things they definitely don’t). So that should be a very clear indicator to you, lovely business owner, to work towards acquiring some groupies of your own. The people who wear your gear, use your service, eat your product — and tell the world about it on live stream as they do it.
- GET FUNKY-CLOSE
There’s nothing like getting up close and personal with a stranger’s armpit on a peak hour Cityrail train, right? We’re not suggesting this. We are suggesting you directly interact with both your current fans and your future ones via every platform you can possibly think of. Get on top of social media, learn about it, harness it, make it work for you. Email your people with valuable content, giving them something to giggle at or exclaim with glee when they receive a freebie. Get in their space in the best possible way, and they’ll return the favour.
- DELIVER THE WHOLE BRANDING SHE-BANG
People have high expectations. They want authenticity, consistency, transparency, and quality. This means you’ve really gotta ‘bring it’ with the whole branding experience. Just like Lumiere dazzles Belle with a fabulous feast full of dancing furniture and a talking teacup, you’ve gotta dazzle your own crew. At every possible touchpoint — logos, culture, website, social, email — lay out your brand with your best foot forward. Wear your Sunday best, only every day! Yep, that’s the sort of commitment it takes to build and build and build a brand with legs.
Image Credit: Nadia Lachance