What exactly does X stand for, as a brand?
I ask every entrepreneur this one question — X getting replaced by the name of their startup. And I have heard answers of all sorts, and of varying lengths. People have gone on to describe what their business is all about. They have told me stories on why they started the business, what pain points are they solving for their consumers, what their range of service offerings are. By the time they are done answering the question, it has gotten too long, too complex and sometimes too incoherent for me to keep track of it all. That is a mistake most of us make when we start thinking of ‘branding’ — a term that is more misused than used.
What exactly is branding?
As per BusinessDictionary, branding can be defined as the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind,
mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers. [Source]
If I had to take something out of that definition, that would be the highlighted bit — ‘mainly through advertising campaigns’. Branding is you putting the best foot forward for your consumers — while trying to be honest, sincere and being yourself. Branding is you trying to woo a date (in this case, your consumer). And that is why branding becomes extremely crucial.
Once you know the promise you are going to make to your consumers, you can start your brand building exercise.
Your brand building begins with you helping your consumers understand what to expect out of your services and differentiates you, as a business, from your competitors. This clarity helps you realise who you are, who you eventually want to be, and what do your consumers perceive of you as.
BRANDING IS NOT A SHORT CON
Branding is a long term strategy; you can’t decide on the action items in your branding strategy on ad-hoc basis. Why? Because building a strong brand having amazing brand recall, and offering services worthy of winning customers over takes a lot of work — work that you would be required to put in every single day. Today, I read somewhere — “Customer satisfaction is worthless, customer loyalty is everything.” While I don’t agree with the statement completely, the second part is right on the money.
To build an amazing business, a loyal consumer base is a must, and you won’t be able to do that well unless you have a strong brand presence.
THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS BUILDING A BRAND
Understanding who your consumer is!
That’s the very first step. I know it sounds trivial, but it really isn’t as much of a no-brainer as we tend to think of it as. I meet a lot of startups seeking small investment and/or mentorship, and most of them talk about their target audience in quite a macro fashion.
Your target audience can’t be “People in the age group of 18–35”
While I can understand the allure behind casting a wider net, but the more you spread yourself thin, the further you would be diluting your brand. And while having a strong, cohesive and clear brand identity is important for businesses of all sizes and ages, it is extremely critical for businesses that are just sprouting. The more you would be diluting your brand narrative, the less of an impact you would be able to have on your target audience.
“Single women in the age group of 18–25, earning between $5,000 — $10,000/mo, living in Tier 2 cities, sharing an apartment with friend(s), and eating out at least thrice every week” is a much clearer target audience profiling as compared to “People between 18–30 years of age.”
Ask yourself as many questions as you can think of, about your target audience. Are they a dog person or a cat person? Do they like to work out or do they prefer sleeping in? Wine — red or white? Beer — lager or ale? Are they liberal or conservative? Do they prefer facebook or snapchat?
Are all these questions relevant and impactful? I don’t know. But unless you do this exercise, neither would you. If this exercise is able to set my audience apart from the rest of the world, I would want to know of every single way in which they are different from others.
That will help you decide on a number of aspects of your branding strategy. What should your brand come off as — quirky or serious? A number of such questions will be answered once you have asked yourself countless questions about your consumers.
GIVE YOUR BRAND A PERSONALITY
I tend to give my businesses a name. The name of a person. If my business was not an entity but a person, what would that person look like for it to have the same level of impact in front of my target audience as I want my business to be having.
This helps me decide on the ideal personality my business should be having. And that dictates everything. The way the website needs to be designed, what the product is supposed to be like, what kind of a logo to use, the color scheme, the type of content in my content marketing strategy, what social networks to be present on, what should be the tone of my social media marketing. Everything. If you give your brand a personality, you would be able to figure out whether your brand, as a person, would be talking the way your tweets come off as. Brings consistency to the brand narrative — irrespective of the marketing channel you look at.
And no matter what you do, don’t fake it. Be sincere. Insincerity is more transparent than you can think of. Your consumers will be able to see right through it, and you would lose any credibility you have been able to build. If your consumers can’t trust you, they aren’t for sure going to buy from you.
START TELLING A STORY. AND STICK TO YOUR STORY
There are very few things in this world that have the recall capacity of an interesting story. Irrespective of who you are, and who you are talking to, you are always telling a story.
When you are talking to your prospective and current employees, you are telling a story. A story of how your company is going to make it big, and what you are doing to ensure that happens.
When you are talking to an investor, you are at your storytelling best. You are telling them why the space you are in is the right space to be in, and why you are the best guys to do what you are doing. It is storytelling at its finest.
So why aren’t you telling a story to your consumers?
Think of any sound brand, and you will always recall an interesting story they told — via a marketing campaign. Stories help you take your consumers on an immersive journey, connecting with them on an emotional level, and gives you the opportunity to create some sort of a differentiating paradigm for yourself.
Stories tend to stick with us. Leverage that when you are trying to build a brand.
GET CONSISTENT IN YOUR MESSAGING
I don’t care whether it is your website, your emailers, the social media pages for your business or your general marketing collaterals — Consistency is going to be your friend. That is the only way for you to be efficient and effective in how you present your brand.
How you should go about in forming your brand narrative?
1. Be extremely clear in what you want your brand’s story to be. Why you are what you are, what is the purpose of your existence, and what are the core values that drive you.
2. It has to be concise and crisp. Don’t make it so complicated that anyone trying to figure out what and who you are drops a thread or two halfway in your brand’s narrative. Always remember, you may think it is clear and concise, but you are living with that narrative day in and out. For someone who is getting exposed to it for the first time ever, things may come across as quite different.
3. At the very least, it should inspire action. And if you can, try invoking emotions. Nothing has the stickiness that can be created by invoking the right emotions amongst your audience.
4. If needed, it should be able to educate your audience on how you are adding value to their work/personal life. Get them to have that epiphany on how they have been losing out on a lot due to the simple fact that you didn’t exist so far.
5. It should be able to build a community. The sense of belonging in a tribe is something that has been encoded in us genetically. We thrive in groups, even if we don’t realise it. We prefer living in/around areas with population, we frequent places that don’t look like ghosttowns, and everywhere you go, you end up forming a small group you typically hang out with. Always build a tightly knit community. Engage with them, keep them engaged — both with your brand, as well as amongst themselves. They will be your most loyal consumers. Actually, they will be more than just consumers. The more engaged and involved a member of your community is, the higher are the chances of him/her being quite a vocal ambassador of your brand.
6. Have a narrative that sells itself. At the end of the day, businesses are in the business of making money. You simply can’t avoid that. So, get on that. But here is an advice.
Don’t sell! Always be selling, but without actively selling. That shit is just creepy!
How should you sell then? Always focus on just one thing — “Working towards creating a sense of authority, expertise and trust in front of your consumers, when it comes to your business domain.”
We, as consumers, like transacting with people we trust, and who we believe to be subject matter experts. As long as you are able to do that, you will see better conversion rates when it comes down to transacting users. The simplest way of doing so is by having a sincere intent to help your consumers out with their problem areas — irrespective of whether or not it will generate a sale for you. Whether you take the help of blog posts or social media pages to do that, or whether you create tutorial videos and webinars, always focus on adding incremental value to the lives of your consumers.
That’s it. Those are the simple rules when it comes to creating a strong brand positioning. Have a clear and crisp narrative, communicate it well, produce good quality content, and produce it with some consistency (and not as once in a while production). Consumers are able to have brand recall for some businesses because there is some aspect of that business that just stuck with them.
Figure yours out.