chapter 2

Branding | Deciding what your company stands for

Brand. It’s one of those funny words that gets tossed around a lot without much care or discretion.

To really dive into what brand is, we need to spend some time talking about what brand isn’t. How many times have you heard something like this: “I really like their new brand” or “the packaging has the new branding on it”? Often, I’m sure. For a long time now we’ve laboured under the delusion that brand equals logo. Wrong. Or that brand equals corporate identity. Wrong again, Charlie. They are mere outputs of a much, much bigger concept that we need to get comfortable with before we move on to how you can cultivate and care for your own brand.

So let’s start by dismissing the idea that brand has anything to do with the visual identity of an organization. That’s putting the cart so far before the horse that the horse is looking at you like, “What...what am I supposed to be doing here...idiot.” And there’s no need to take abuse from a horse.

Now that we’ve cleared up that little misconception about what brand means, let’s talk about what brand actually is. More importantly, let’s talk about what YOUR brand is.

If you’re reading this collection of articles, it’s clear that you’re committed to whatever it is you’re working on. That’s a great start. You may already have things in motion and are looking to take things to the next level. No matter where you are on the journey, I want you to ask yourself some important questions: Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you building this business? Why do you get up every morning, switch on the computer and create?

Now wait! Hear that? That answer, the one you just gave, THAT is your brand. That is your raison d’etre. That is your mission. That is your goal. And it should be reflected in every little thing that you do, everything you produce, every conversation you have with your customers or clients, online or offline. And we can neatly package all of that into one word. Brand. Brand is the manifestation of your reason for being. It must permeate every facet of what you do and be made real in everything you create, from your core product to an off-the-cuff note you write to a valued customer.

Your brand must permeate every facet of what you do and be made real in everything you create, from your core product to an off-the-cuff note you write to a valued customer.

Comfortable with that? Good. But everyone that works with or for you has to be totally comfortable with why you do what you do, too. Brand is not built in the board room; it’s built on the shop floor — so include your team (if you have one) in any activities that involve your brand, its definition, its application, and its evolution.

Once you and your crew are comfortable with this concept, it’s time to distill it into some practical applications.

It’s important (and fun) to find creative and engaging ways to communicate your brand to the wider world. It’s all fine and dandy to have a clear brand and a great product, but it doesn’t mean diddly if no one knows about it. So give your customers — even if there’s just one of them and it’s a friend or your mom — an opportunity and a reason to talk about you.

Create moments of delight. Create moments of personality. Create moments where they forget that you’re a service provider and they connect meaningfully with you as a person, even if it’s just for an instant. How? Follow up an order with a handwritten note just saying thanks for being a customer and inviting them to get in touch with any feedback or questions. Acknowledge that it’s not a business-to- consumer transaction, but a human-to-human transaction. And use what you already know about your customer to create that delight.

If a previous customer gets in touch, don’t act like it’s the first time you’ve ever met them; we wouldn’t do it to someone in the real world, so don’t do it in the business world. Even a “Hi Mr. Jones, great to hear from you, oh hey how is that sprocket working out for you?” is such a powerful tactic. By referencing a past interaction, we’ve moved beyond the realms of simple transaction — we’re now cultivating a relationship. And that is where we build long-term loyalty. Invest sensibly in that relationship, and you have a customer for life.

So what about brand positioning? Branding can often try way too hard to make us appear to be something we’re not; bigger, smaller, more international, more local, etc. We think about it when we name our business (Jack Smith’s Agency vs. Smith Global Partners Inc.) or even how we refer to ourselves (e.g. I vs. We). But I’ll let you in on a little secret...It doesn’t have to be that hard.

If you clearly and honestly communicate who you are, you don’t have to spend the time and energy living a lie (and inevitably being caught). There will always be clients and customers that actively look for small, boutique businesses and shy away from HyperGlobalMegaCorp. As you grow, you’ll start to attract the type of customer who looks for a company with a bit more heritage and history. And that’s exactly what you’ll be when they come calling. But if you’re trying too hard to be something you’re not, you’ll alienate the people who actually want to work with who you really are. Besides, we all know boutique is where it’s at in 2015, right?

If you clearly and honestly communicate who you are, you don’t have to spend the time and energy living a lie (and inevitably being caught).

Now I know we don’t know each other that well (yet), but I want you to promise me something. I want you to promise me that you’ll give your brand the time and attention it deserves. When you’re a small business, there’s a lot to keep your eye on just to keep your head above water. And because of that, brand tends to be neglected in smaller businesses. But in return for your promise, I will make YOU a promise: I promise that if you invest emotionally, financially, and cognitively in your brand now, it will pay substantial dividends in the future. And now that you’ve got your eye on your brand, don’t lose sight of it for even one second. Not today, not tomorrow, and not in 10 years when I’m looking at you on the cover of a magazine. (Will we have magazines in 10 years? Who knows, but if we do, I expect to see you on their covers.)

Work hard. Stay positive. Build something. And to add some fuel to your creative fire, I want to leave you with a bushel of delicious branding nuggets that have tickled me over the last year or so.

  • Pact Coffee, a subscription coffee company in the UK, tracked me down after an exchange on Twitter and sent me a box of coffee and a handwritten note referencing our online conversation. I am now totally in love with them.
  • An online music community regularly sent out handwritten notes and stickers to some of its more active users and watched their already impressive engagement metrics skyrocket.
  • An airline uses technology to enable their inflight service teams to identify frequent fliers and address them by first name. Sounds simple, but the use of a first name without looking at a piece of paper is a powerful gesture.
  • A boutique hotel in NYC fills your room with your favourite snacks and drinks so you don’t feel so far away from home. Even better, they remember your selections so when you come back, even
    years later, the fridge is already stocked. They are investing in the relationship, not the transaction. They’re the hotel I’ll always stay in when I travel to the Big Apple.

About the author

Alex Hunter is a company incubator, keynote speaker, angel investor, and branding expert. Alex most recently served as the Chief Executive of a venture-backed digital music company, steering it from pre-alpha to Series A financing, a successful international M&A deal, and multi-national growth.

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