Over the past decade or so, the way companies market their products and services has radically changed. The rise of social media, blogging, and other content platforms have given businesses new avenues to connect with customers and forever altered the approach to engagement.
One of the most profound changes is in the area of branding. The average customer doesn’t want to do business with a faceless corporation anymore. Rather, they want to support companies — regardless of size — that share the same values they do and connect with them on a much more personal level.
Understanding this shift is crucial to successfully marketing a business to the modern consumer.
In this two-part blog post, we’ll discover what a successful company brand is and why it’s important. Then we’ll lay out how to realistically build one in five logical steps. Let’s get started.
What Exactly Is a “Brand”?
Before we go over what a brand is, let’s talk about what it’s not. A brand is not a logo, business card layout, social media profile, or fancy website design. It’s actually much simpler than that. And infinitely more complicated.
Your company’s brand is the story that other people — customers, industry folk, competitors, etc. — tell themselves about who and what your company is and does.
This is a simple concept. But it’s complicated by the fact that your company’s brand can (and will) be interpreted by different people in a multitude of ways. They key to strong branding is being able to tell the right story to the right people.
Take Apple as an example. Whether or not you use their products, you most likely have a narrative about the business in your head. Supporters see them as cutting edge and expertly designed, while naysayers find them overpriced and impractical. This is by design.
And like Apple, your company brand should also attract the right people and repel the rest. This is what exceptional branding is and we’ll dive deep into how to build it in this article. But first…
Is Branding Really Necessary?
We get it. You have a million and one things on your plate already. Perhaps the thought of something intangible like your company’s brand just doesn’t seem realistic. Or maybe you run a gravel or lead pipe business. “We’re not trying to be the next Apple,” you say. Is branding still necessary?
The answer is yes. Remember, a brand is simply a story that others tell themselves. Which means every organization needs to establish a brand in order to better control the narrative that’s already happening.
And the more personable and relatable you can make your company’s brand the better.
Take Manhattan Mini Storage as a source of inspiration. How interesting could branding possibly be for a storage company? Extremely, as it turns out. Their snarky, bold statements have been popping up throughout New York City for years and are always good for a laugh.
Fortunately, branding doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming. Use the five steps we outline in this two-part blog series to craft a successful company brand in no time.
The 5 Step Process
Now that we’ve established the importance of a company brand, let’s talk about how to develop one effectively. The process can be broken down into five (logical) steps.
Step 1: Define Your Brand
Your company’s brand starts with (surprise!) the company. Take an honest look at the business. Where is it now and where do you want it to be one year, three years, ten years down the road? What values does is stand for? What does your business do better than everyone else?
These are important questions. Let’s dive deeper into each:
Start and End Points
What should people think of when they hear your company name? Industry leader? Reliable partner? Off-the-wall game-changer?
Specific company brand goals will require different steps to achieve. Becoming known as an industry leader calls for a different set of steps than achieving “reliable partner” status. One is not better than the other, they’re just different.
Once you’ve decided on the goals for your branding efforts, you need to determine where the business currently stands. How do people — customers, competitors, industry folk — already see your company? And how close (or far) is that image from the goal?
Once you’ve determined the start and end points, you can plot the most direct route between them.
Let’s talk about company values. What do you, as a business, care about? What do you stand for and support? Every organization is different and there’s no right or wrong answers here. Just be honest.
Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is a great example of a brand that not only has strong values, but uses them in their branding. Whether they’re running campaigns to promote racial justice or educating people on climate change, when people think of Ben and Jerry’s, they oftentimes associate it with the social causes the company supports.
Once you’ve created a list of all company’s values, put them in order. By prioritizing the things a company stands for, you’ll gain the ability to make better decisions when different opportunities arise.
Your Strengths and Desires
What does your company do better than every other business out there? Maybe you offer a superior product, or go the extra mile on customer service. Perhaps you offer better pricing (although competing on price alone is HARD) or a more complete feature set.
Knowing what your company excels at is crucial to building a successful brand.
It’s important to note that the company’s strengths should NOT be determined by you alone. Ultimately, your customers have final say on what you do and don’t do well. So make sure to listen to what they say (either directly or indirectly) when it comes to determining areas of strength. If you’re not entirely sure what they think, it might be a good time to ask.
Company Brand Audit
Now it’s time for a company brand audit. What’s already out there, on the internet or otherwise, that could prove harmful to the brand you want to build?
This could include less-than-desirable photos of previous employees, negative online reviews, a website that doesn’t work or has dead links, mediocre social media or blog posts, or anything else your ideal audience (more on your audience in the next section) might find unappealing.
This also includes irrelevant information, like a newspaper article about how your office softball team won the championship last year. This kind of information isn’t bad, per se, but it isn’t helpful either. If these kinds of details populate the first page of Google results when your company’s name is searched for, look to remedy the situation.
Once everything that’s either harmful or irrelevant to your brand has been found (or as much of it as possible), look to get it removed. The things that you control — like posts on your own social media pages or blog, for example — are easy to delete or unpublish.
Disagreeable content that others control — like undesirable social media posts that others have made about you — may be tougher to have discarded. But do your best to contact the correct people and request removal.
Taking this audit step at the beginning of any branding effort is important and will allow you to build on a solid foundation moving forward.
Step 2: Define Your Audience
Who are you trying to reach? Where are they and how can you learn more about them? These are basic questions that need to be answered in order to build an effective company brand. Think about it. If you never actually reach anyone, either you don’t have a brand at all, or it’s a bad brand that needs an overhaul.
It’s important to note at the beginning of this section that one of the keys to defining an audience is to realize that you won’t be able to please everybody — nor should you try. Those who attempt to appeal to everyone typically end up pleasing no one. It’s just the way it is.
Some people really take this concept to heart and even define the kinds of people they’re NOT targeting as well as those they are. Just to make sure they always speak to their ideal audience and no one else.
But how do you actually define your ideal audience?
After reading through step one of this guide, you should now have a solid idea of what your brings to the table, the values that are most important, and all areas of strength. These each come together to build the foundation of a company’s brand.
Now it’s time to discover who you’ll “sell” the brand to. If the goal is to sell more subscriptions to your e-commerce analytics SaaS product, for example, those that run or market e-com sites may be the perfect audience.
If you operate a news and/or media company, on the other hand, the audience would be the people interested in the topic. For instance, a sporting news website would probably find success marketing their brand to Sports Illustrated Magazine subscribers, ESPN app users, and sports-themed Facebook groups.
Once the target audience has been defined, it’s time to develop a persona. This should be an archetype of your audience and, depending on your niche, may represent a vast group of people (like those interested in sports in the above example).
This persona should include a name; demographics such as age, gender, and professional duties; current work challenges; what keeps them up at night; etc. For more detail on crafting personas, visit our blog post on the topic.
What does your audience want and how can you provide it?
For some industries, this is an easy question to answer. But if your first thought was, “I have no idea!” when we just asked what your audience wants, don’t worry.
Simply take to the internet and investigate. What problems does your audience struggle with and how can you solve them? The web is full of blog comments, chat rooms, social media groups, and more where people get together and discuss what’s on their mind. Talk to your colleagues, friends, or anyone who might have good input you can put to use.
These places are goldmines for audience research.
Ultimately, developing a strong company brand and becoming someone others can trust really comes down to an ability to solve specific problems. If you can consistently solve problems that others care about, building a successful brand with strong customer loyalty will be a shoe-in.
Another reason that audience research is so important is because you’ll learn where they like to hang out and what kind of content they like to consume. Do your people prefer blog posts or video tutorials? Are they Instagrammers or Facebookers?
This information is vital for both those who serve an extremely narrow target audience, and those who sell to a vast, global market. And when you know the answers to these types of questions, develop a brand strategy that reaches this audience through the channels they already use.
We’ll discuss audience location and various channels to reach them in part two of this guide. But for now, know that where your audience is, is crucial information. After all, a company brand can’t be built without an audience.
Step 3: Develop An Image
Developing a company image is the act of amassing everything we’ve talked about previously — values, strengths, audience, etc. — and fuzing it together into a consistent and tangible business snapshot.
Since all companies have different goals, values, and ideal audiences, your brand will be different from the rest. And that’s exactly the point. Remember, the purpose of a branding is to stand out from others in the field.
But there are a few common traits of successful brands, regardless of industry, audience and goals.
Authenticity has become a bit of a buzzword in marketing circles over the last few years. But it’s still widely misunderstood. So let’s clear up any confusion.
An authentic brand image does NOT mean you share every small detail of your company; tweet what your CEO ate for lunch, or make derogatory remarks about competitors — no matter how accurate. Frankly, this will just make your company look unprofessional.
True professional authenticity, the kind that can propel a business brand to success is different. It’s using your unique company voice to deliver expert knowledge on a topic and connect with your customers. That’s it.
Depending on what your business is all about, your brand might be straightforward or quite emotional. It could be witty or thought provoking. As long as it’s true to your values, goals, and audience, it’s authentic.
We all have that one friend, right? The one who never shows up on time, forgets conversations we’ve had with them, can’t be counted on to help with important tasks. Sure, we love them dearly, have a long history together, and have made many special memories with them. But don’t you ever just wish they could get it together and be consistent?
Consistency is a wonderful trait — especially in a company. And your ideal audience will greatly appreciate consistency in a brand. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to project.
Simple things, such as delivering products on time, posting blogs at the same day and time each week, or articulating company values in a cohesive way over a period of time can all go a long way toward building a credible, consistent brand image.
And you know what? Consistency builds trust and people buy from those they deem trustworthy. So no matter who you’re trying to reach, show them a high level of consistency and you’ll find your branding efforts are more successful.
Creativity is another important brand trait. But don’t worry if you’ve never considered yourself a “creative” type or sell a “boring” product. A creative image is still within reach.
True creativity is simply providing solutions to important problems. A gravel company that always delivers their product on time — despite bad weather or traffic or various industry-specific issues, is a creative company.
Many people confuse the terms “artistic” and “creative.” They think that if their company doesn’t design websites, or custom build cars, or provide any kind of service or product that requires some level of artistry, they can’t be a creative company. This isn’t true.
If your business regularly solves problems for your customers, you have (or work for) a creative company. The trick is putting this creativity on display for the right audience to see. We’ll talk a little bit more about this in the “channels” section in part two of this guide.
Let’s quickly discuss the physical look of your brand. Depending on what you’d like to achieve, this look — website layout, employee uniforms, etc. — can play a part in whether you actually achieve it or not.
For example, a business that operates in the fitness industry would likely benefit from ensuring that staff members have a certain level of health and vitality. They’ll have a hard time getting customers to take them seriously if they don’t.
Similarly, companies that cater to c suite executives should make sure the target audience sees their business in the appropriate light. This could mean implementing a company-wide dress code, a professional email signature, or even educating the customer service team on specific vernacular for a target market.
The takeaway here is to make sure your business looks the part.
All of these specific traits, when developed, will help a brand stand out, be memorable, and successfully attract a target audience.
Build the Foundation
Well that’s it for today. Our next post on company branding will cover ways to reach your target audience and how to optimize and monitor your brand approach for success.
But for now, focus on the foundational elements we discussed in this post. Start with your company’s goals, values, and strengths. Then, develop ideal audience personas and learn as much as possible about this unique group of people.
Finally, strategize ways to hone your brand’s image. What traits can be emphasized to better portray your business value to the people who matter? We’re sure you’ll create a unique recipe that really speaks to your unique company and who you want to reach. But don’t forget that authenticity, consistency, and creativity are essential elements for most brands!
We’ll be back soon with part two.
In the meantime, use the comments below to promote your company’s brand. We’d love to hear about what you’re doing, who your target audience is and any struggles or triumphs you’ve experienced on your branding journey so far.
Jacob Thomas is a freelance copywriter and content marketer based in Bend, OR. His professional writing approach has helped numerous businesses gain more traffic, leads and sales. To contact Jacob, visit www.jtcopywriting.com.