Every great business begins with an idea. It starts a solution or service to solve for a problem or need, and a story behind what inspired it all. In the hustle and bustle of taking your idea and turning it into an actual business, and ideally the kind that generates meaningful income, you must take time to connect with that story.
Because businesses that are remembered for something more than just the things they sell are the ones that take the time to craft that story into something that their customers truly connect with. They become more than just a business; having a story makes them a brand.
But how do you uncover your story and make sure that it lands with the people you aim to attract? And beyond just knowing it or writing it down, how can you take that story and amplify it into something that people truly connect with?
The most important thing to remember is that while branding seems like an entirely creative process, it’s one part art and one part science. Even if you don’t believe you are the creative type, there are steps and exercises you can embark on to dig into the story of your company to build a brand that both you and your customers believe in.
1. Identify your ideal audience
The hardest thing for customers to navigate and resonate with is a company that sends mixed messaging. Great branding and marketing start with telling and sharing with consistency over time. One of the first things you can do to establish consistent messaging as a company is to get crystal clear on who you should be speaking to—your target market.
Who is your product and services built for? What problem does it solve for them? Where would they hear about your company? What are their pain points?
These are all questions you should be asking to identify and understand your ideal customers. In addition to asking questions, take time to build up to three ideal customer personas.
For inspiration, it can be helpful to even base these personas on existing customers so you have a clear sense of the scope of their personality and needs. Although not every single person that buys from your company will match these personas to a tee, establishing a sense of who you want to engage with will help you refine your messaging to speak clearly to the type of person that you want your company to attract. If you need help with the persona process, we walk through it in one of our courses called Marketing That Matters.
2. Remember that your brand is more than your logo
New business owners often believe that branding is about making your mark, and then applying it to everything your company produces. But your branding is about so much more than that. Your brand is about your personality as a company, the way you do business, how you treat people, your company values, your culture, and your reason for being in business in the first place. It’s about taking all of these things and embodying them through your actions and engagements in the world and with your customers.
Take time to reflect on who you want your company to be in the world of business, and what you want to stand for—your mission. Then focus on how you can showcase and bring these elements into your brand. This is about more than just the words you put on your website, it’s about how you show up and represent in the world of business.
3. Define what compels your customers
A brand that is bigger than just a logo is one that thinks constantly about the needs and experiences of the customer. A brand that stands out is one that creates marketing and messaging that connects and resonates with those very same people. Spend time really getting to know your customers, and evaluate internally how you want to inspire customers to take action to engage with your company.
This is about understanding their needs and emotions. It’s about connecting with them when they can benefit from the products or services your company can offer, and about truly offering solutions that help people.
Navigating this part of your brand means tapping into empathy and truly understanding where your customers are coming from, and how you want them to feel after connecting with your company. If you can tap into emotions to create positive customer experiences, you are that much more likely to create loyalty to your brand and business.
4. Establish a brand voice
Branding and marketing aren’t just about who you are speaking to and what you are saying to your ideal audience, it is also about how you say it. Take time in your business to establish a consistent brand voice that your customers can connect with. Ask questions like:
Is our brand voice strong or soft? Educational or inspirational? Is it formal or more casual?
You will know you are one the right track when your brand voice resonates with customers and they say that your marketing felt like it was speaking directly to them. The key is to make this voice relatable to your audience, and consistent across all of the assets and messaging your company creates.
5. Curate your brand aesthetic
Brands are partially built up of ideas, but they are also built of more tangible visible elements. Your company colors, the typeface you use, the style of illustration or imagery you put on your marketing, are all critical elements in defining and differentiating your brand.
Make a point to focus and define the “look” of your company early on and run it by potential customers to see if it stands out in a positive way. Once you settle on an aesthetic you like, don’t deviate and use a mix of styles or visuals, as it can be confusing to customers.
Although these elements may evolve over time as design and your own style changes, but make a point to pick pieces that are harmonious with each other and stick with them for a while. If you fall out of love with these elements, know that you can always rebrand, but if you make a change, you will need to implement it fully.
Having a clear aesthetic will make your brand memorable, and ideally, a customer should be able to identify something as being a part of your brand because of how it looks even if it doesn’t have your logo slapped across it.
6. Figure out where your brand should live online
There is no doubt that internet marketing can be a huge driver for sales for small businesses. There are tons of tools and platforms that can make it simple and easy for you to sell your companies goods and services online, but it’s equally critical to consider the places you want to promote your business offerings to make sure that what you promote actually converts.
With the myriad of social media platforms, SEO/SEM activities, and ads that you can run online it can be tricky to tell which place is the right place for your business to show up, and it can be exhausting promoting in a million different ways.
At this moment, it’s key to return to the concept of your ideal customer(s) and ask yourself, where do your people hang out? Whatever the answer is, that’s where your business needs to be posting and promoting content.
Rather than trying to tackle every channel, pick three core social platforms and two internal ways to promote yourself and focus your marketing strategy, storytelling, and content around what will resonate best in each place.
7. Identify your 5 core stories
It’s not just enough to show up on sites or social media anymore and just pitch your products or services. People who are actively engaged online are attracted to brands and businesses that are using these mediums to tell stories that their target customers can relate to.
That is why it’s critical that you determine and define a set of core stories that can operate as an ongoing reflection of your brand on social media and the web.
The key is that less is actually more. People want to find and follow folks for specific things and if your posting is about a million different products or services, people will get confused and unfollow because of the inconsistency in content.
Try your best to distill your brand down to 5 core stories designed to attract your ideal audience and then curate your content around these storylines to attract lasting followers and turn them into paying customers.
8. Share in consistent & genuine ways
Lastly, you need to consider now just what you share, but how you share and how that shapes the way that others may feel about your brand. As a society, we are going through a very interesting era in branding and marketing that has involved a lot of #influencer content and affiliate advertising.
What we’re seeing is a steady decrease in people engaging with this kind of content even though online sales continue to soar. What this means for your brand is that people don’t want to be sold to in sneaky ways. They want to know an ad is an ad and they’re okay with that as long as you’re being honest.
So aim to be genuine in the ways you put your brand into the market. Remember that the people who promote your products (paid or otherwise) will also be seen as an extension of your brand, so consider who you partner with carefully.
In the end, you want to focus on telling your company’s story in consistent, engaging, and helpful ways to deliver content that feels curated to inspire the customer to learn more rather than leverages “influence” push them into purchasing your products or services. People want to buy from real people and real companies that they feel connected to, so build a brand that presents itself online in a manner that is just as genuine as you would in person.
Remember, building an impactful and memorable brand isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time and it can be simplified by walking through these steps to clearing know what your brand is meant to share with the world. From there you can define processes and content that will take the brand you’ve built and amplify your company’s story in consistent ways to in turn attract the customers that you’re meant to work with.