Branding is one of the most vital parts of growing a business. It’s how you differentiate yourself from your competitors. It’s how you stand out from the crowd, and it’s what your customers feel when they think of you. It’s the promise you make to your customers, and your business’s success depends on how well you fulfill that promise.
Your brand is the exact blueprint of how you will represent yourself to your customers. It’s the manual that tells you and anyone in your company who and what your company is not only from a design standpoint but also, who your customers are, what their wants and needs are, what the voice and tone of your marketing efforts and communication will look like.
Branding is the upstream driver of everything that comes underneath a business’s marketing campaign. It drives culture, tells customers what to expect, and ultimately drives a business to succeed or fail.
We’ve all seen brands change and grow throughout the years. Logo changes, changes in marketing messages, new angles and approaches to delivering a product or service — a brand’s changes evolve and mold to fit different changes in the market. Most brands who’ve stood the test of time use these three ways to differentiate themselves and stand above their competitors.
1. Sell emotions
If you look at great brands, you’ll see trends emerge. A mentor I once sought for advice used to say, “success leaves clues,” and while there is a lot left unseen when you look at large corporations… There are many traceable and tangible variables that can be monitored and valuable information to be gleaned from them. First and foremost is that most brands sell emotions.
Coca-Cola sells happiness. So does McDonald’s. Visa sells the feeling of freedom. Toyota sells freedom, reliability, adventure. Many large brands sell you a feeling and deliver it through service or product. They deliver it through an experience.
Understand what emotions your customers are craving, and you will win your branding efforts. Oftentimes, a business’s marketing campaigns focus too much on delivery mechanisms and not the state the customer will be in once they receive the product or service.
Most customers don’t actually want the specific item, service, or product they purchase. They actually want more safety, security, happiness… or less pain, less stress, less time or effort output, and more results. Most customers’ wants and needs are simple. While attempting to stand out, entrepreneurs tend to overcomplicate things and think that because their mechanisms of delivery for their products are so different from their competitors that their customers care as much about it as they do.
This isn’t true… Ask yourself questions like;
What emotions are evoked when my customers receive my product or service?
What are the pain points that my customers are trying to solve?
What is the end-state of receiving my product or service for an extended period of time?
What are the results my product or service delivers?
Use the answers to these questions to understand what your brand or business delivers. Create a roadmap of the emotional journey your customer goes through. Then speak to each part of the journey in your marketing messages.
When people are first learning about your product or service, what are the emotions they are feeling? As they move from a cold/unaware person to a warmer and more educated lead, what emotions and thoughts do they have about your product and service?
Map the customer journey using emotions as the basis for transformation and let your marketing then speak to each segment as they move through the conditional logic that is your marketing funnel.
2. Consistency is key
Consistency is the key to any branding campaign. Since branding is a promise, you make to your customers. This promise MUST be made consistently throughout your front and back-end marketing campaigns to maintain integrity.
One of the hardest things about our current entrepreneurial world is how many shiny objects fly around our purview and get us distracted. I have often found myself exploring new and deeper territories of marketing, new ways of advertising, or new ways of delivering our product or service.
It’s so easy to see a gap in the market and innately rush to try to fill it. As entrepreneurs, we capitalize on the opportunities we see in front of us. That’s the job of an entrepreneur… It’s to see room for improvement in society and then create that improvement.
When you define your brand, you create a container for your business. You figure out what fits into “the box” that defines who and what your business is and who it serves. You understand what it is that you do you and what you don’t do. When you’ve created this roadmap, it allows you the ability to say no to opportunities that will create inconsistencies in your business.
Define your brand, create a consistent message that speaks to your audience’s emotions, and make sure you continually measure any and all new possible products, services, or marketing channels against who and what your brand is. If it fits, run it. If it doesn’t, you’ll know, and saying no will be so much easier.
3. Create Community
Branding isn’t just about messaging anymore. It’s not just about consistency either. It’s also about creating community. The best brands created communities accidentally. For instance, Costco didn’t intend to create a community with their memberships, but you know if you’re a Costco member and you’ve had a discussion with another member that you’ve likely talked about some product or service they have. Maybe you like their gas or their return policies… Maybe it’s the deals on dried mangos (that’s me). I often find myself sharing tips, tricks, or items I have found valuable there… but it’s only relevant to those that have a membership.
You’ll find that communities are created inadvertently by large brands. If you own a Toyota 4Runner, you’re a part of a club that only 4Runner owners can be in. That community of enthusiasts then created more containers for the community online through forums, Facebook groups, and other places to gather and exchange knowledge.
eBay is another great place to look at community building done through forums. If you google nearly anything about eBay, you’ll find that their forums generally dominate the SERP. In those forums, you’ll find sellers and customers collaborating to find answers to their questions.
Large brands create community by their prominence in society. Just by buying a product or service, you signal to others in the world that you are a person who “does things like that,” as Seth Godin would say.
If you buy a Tesla, you signal to the world that you’re forward-thinking. Maybe you like technology, renewable energy, or you just like fast cars? No matter what emotional reason you bought the car, fun, safety, prestige, status… or any other reason, you still signal to the world that you’re the type of person that would buy a Tesla, and you join a silent club of Tesla owners.
Great brands don’t just silently induct you into communities… Great brands create communities and places for their customers and clients to congregate, communicate and create new relationships. Look at Peloton and the gamification and ability to ride in classes with others or look to Literati, the online book club curated by celebrities and thought leaders that allows you to not only get access to the knowledge that has shaped Stephen Curry, Malala Yousafzai, and Richard Branson’s life’s, but you actually get access to a community where you can speak to other book club members and the curators themselves.
This type of community creates 2 powerful psychological processes.
In the age of information… finding the information we actually need is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack. We often find ourselves with answers, but because the internet is open source, it’s hard to trust that the information we get is true or exactly what we need…
When you create a community and involve celebrities and thought leaders, you do two powerful things for your customers. You allow them to relax and trust the information’s validity (compared to a forum or googling.) You’ve earned social authority with them by leveraging someone they know, like, and trust…
At the end of the day, branding is much more than marketing or a logo… Branding is exactly how your customer feels about you and your products/services and every touchpoint they’ve ever experienced from your business. It’s about providing your customers with solutions to their problems that create a change in their lives and, most importantly, in their emotional state and quality. It’s about creating a consistent place of business where they can reliably come to get their needs met. And most importantly, it’s about creating a community where they know their answers will be met with the best and most reliable information they possibly can get.
As information and technology become even more widely democratized, your business and brand will win or lose based on these three foundational factors. Can you define who you are, who you serve, and then consistently provide solutions and community? Answer yes to these three questions and your brand will inevitably grow, win more market share and become a staple in your customers’ lives.