I remember one of my first introductions to branding. I was sitting in a workshop and the Nike logo popped up on the screen and then Mercedes and then Coca Cola. It’s the most common way to explain branding. Showing popular logos and letting the audience realize they have a connection to that logo, good or bad, and therefore a connection to that company and their product. That is branding, but that’s not all that branding is.
People’s lives are becoming more open and consumers more educated on what a solid business brand should look like. Consumers are starting to have a more critical eye and expect a higher level of experience when spending their money. Starbucks will always redo a bad drink. Victoria’s Secret will wrap your purchases like a birthday gift. Apple will forever be dedicated to sleek and sophisticated electronic style. You need to find ways to communicate your brand to the world like these companies do.
The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when thinking of branding is, “What else can I put my logo on”? or “Does my website look consistent and flow nicely and with my logo?” Yes, all of that matters, but, it’s so much more than that. Branding is so much about the overall customer experience which has so many in’s and out’s, places to excel and places to improve. To effectively convey your brand message to your clients you need to look at the overall picture of what you’re communicating to your audience. Walk yourself through the client process and see how they see you.
Would You Smile Already?
As a wedding photographer, I always tell my clients about my second photographers that will accompany me on a wedding. I stress to them that not only do I care about them being about to produce quality imagery, but I also look for people with similar personalities and demeanor to me as well. If I’m trying to get my clients to “pay me for who I am rather than what I do” like I said before, then who I am needs to be seen in my personnel as well.
I often tell the story about an amazing photographer that I chose not to hire. Typically, before I hire a photographer they come along on a test wedding not only so I can see the work that they produce under the same circumstances that I’m shooting in, but so I can see how they work as well. Once, I had a photographer join me for this on-the-job interview and wow did I love the images that came back. What I didn’t love was that throughout the whole day the photographer looked angry. When I addressed this, the photographer stated he was so focused on creating great imagery that he was in “the zone” and didn’t realize he was coming off negatively. Ok, fine. I could accept that, so I gave him another shot. The second time around it was unfortunately still the same. His images were fantastic, his ability to smile through stress was not. One of the biggest day-of perks my brides experience is that I am calm, collected and seemingly in control the entire time. Even when everything is going haywire, I’m still smiling. Being able to do be a rock for my clients is part of my brand and indicative of the experience I want my clients to have, so every member of my team needs to know how to do the same.
You want your clients to value the product and service you’re offering them. Especially if you run a boutique business and are charging a premium for it. Part of being able to do get your customers to pay your price is conveying to your clients that you too value what you’re offering.
If you’re selling high end fashion apparel, you cannot be trying to sell it while wearing off-the-rack. You need to wear staple pieces from high end brands to be convincing to your clients and to relate to them as well. Too bad clothes aren’t typically a tax-deductible purchase. If you’re selling photography and want your clients to pay top dollar for it, then you have show you treasure captured moments too. Hang professional pictures of you and your family up in your studio space or talk on social media about your next planned time on the other side of the camera.
Even more specifically the brands that you buy, wear and show your support of says a lot about the kind of person you are and what your business is an extension of (more on that later). Political affiliations aside (though not to belittle the effect that can have on business), the brands and type of brands you visibly support will communicate one thing or another to your audience. Make sure that it’s communicating exactly what you want your brand to represent.
Who Are You?
This is ultimately what branding is about if you’re a small business owner and your face is the face of the company. The best part about this is that you can simply build the business around who you are. In fact, the most well-branded small businesses I’ve seen are ones where the owner has done exactly that. A wedding planner I know, who is an Anthropoligie nut with Restoration Hardware all over her house, became wildly successful by making her business an extension of herself and her personal and home lifestyle. It seems like a no brainer but it’s amazing how many people I’ve seen attempt to create a business that’s the opposite of who they are. One of two things will happen in that case. Either the business owner changes who they are to be a reflection of their business, or there’s a disconnect between the owner and the brand that leaves clients subconsciously confused.
Take Steve Jobs for example. That man looked, dressed and acted like everything we know Apple to be. He was simple and sleek with an intelligent sophistication about him. He practically was a black iphone. Could you imagine if he was the opposite? If he wore Free People clothing and acted like a flower child? Or if all of a sudden he took up the hipster trend and traded his black shirts and almost wireless glasses for plaid and thick frames? He wouldn’t be Apple anymore.
To quote Gary Vaynerchuk again in his book Crush It, “Watch me for two seconds and you know exactly who I am and what I stand for. Authenticity is key… I’m not putting on a performace when I do the show or my blog spots – I’m just being me.” When you make you business about you, all of the above will more easily fall into place.
Branding is a continuous task that evolves as your company grows. There are endless ways to brand your business. It can be seen in something as small as the type of post it notes you use or as large as the billboard space you just rented. But if I were to sum it up, these three words perfectly describe the basis of branding in a small business setting. Just be you. Start with you, end with you and be true to you everywhere in between.
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