Branding Your Business:
It's All About Feelings and Identity
When I'm talking to new business owners about their startup, I frequently ask them about their branding.
Quite frequently they respond along these lines: "A friend of mine is an artist and she's designing a logo for me."
This answer suggests that branding is merely a matter of having a captivating name for your product and a catchy logo for your company. Branding, however, is far more than these two essentials.
Branding is the identity that you carry in the minds of customers, as well as others who might become customers. It's what sets you apart in their thinking from businesses which offer similar products or services.
While brand names and logos identify you, they are not your identity. They are extensions of your identity. They merely serve as shortcuts to remind people of the identity that you carry in their minds. Which means that your first order of business is to determine the identity that you want to be known for.
This identity includes the unique features that distinguish you from your competition. I'm not speaking about being unique simply for the sake of being unique. I'm talking about a uniqueness that provides such benefit to customers that they choose to do business with you, when other choices are available to them.
Let me give you an example from one of my own businesses. When I began my leadership development firm 15 years ago, other players were already well-established in that space. Why should a huge corporation choose to do business with me rather than one of those highly reputable companies?
As I studied the competition, I came to realize that most of them were marketing what I would call a "cookie-cutter" approach. That is, everyone who signed up for their services went through the same steps and the same sequence of learning experiences.
Therefore, from the very first I built my brand around customized programs, specifically tailored to the needs of the individual client. To this day that feature is at the forefront of my marketing. And it has been the key to winning dozens of lucrative contracts over the years.
Now, customization was not the only element of my branding effort. But it addressed that key question, "Why should someone do business with me instead of someone else?"
Linking to Your Identity
Always remain focused on the fact that your identity in the mind of customers is your brand. Your logo and brand names are simply symbolic or verbal shortcuts that hook people's thinking to that identity.
Mentally speaking, a logo is like a clickable link on a web page. When customers see the logo, their mind clicks through to the way in which they view your identity — and how they feel about it.
Indeed, branding is as much about how you want people to feel about your company as about what you want them to think of it. In general, emotion is a major determinant in people's buying decisions. Some would argue that emotion is an even greater determinant than cost or logic.
If people do not feel good about your company or what you offer, the odds of getting their business (or their repeat business) are sorely limited.
The role of a logo or brand name is to trigger the kind of good feelings which will lead people to choose to buy from you rather than a competitor. This is why logos and brand names rarely have much clout when a business is just getting started. They may catch people's attention because of some clever design or wording. But until people have enough experience with your company to develop feelings about it, the logo has no leverage to persuade customers to buy.
Once they do have that experience and an attendant set of feelings, seeing your logo reminds them of their experience, whether good or bad. No logo is so powerful that it can override a customer's poor experiences with your business. Indeed, the logo will merely remind them of how bad the experience was.
This means that the purpose of your branding effort is not just to make people aware of you, but to engender certain feelings about you. And your logo and brand names become a shortcut for tapping into those feelings in the future.
Thus, if you like Coca-Cola, you respond warmly to its logo. It reminds you of a certain taste, a certain refreshing experience. If you don't like Coke, the logo will fire off an entirely different range of feelings and memories. And every time that you revisit those feelings, you become even less inclined to buy the product.
So here's the take-away from today's article. As part of branding your effort, you need to carefully consider how you want people to feel about your business. And once you've identified these feelings, you need to ask yourself this question: "What systems, procedures, and marketing techniques will I put in place to foster feelings like this?"
When you start thinking about branding in terms of creating feelings rather than merely building awareness, you begin to see that branding is woven into everything your business does. Every interaction with customers or potential customers sends a branding message.
And if that message is unflattering, even the most captivating logo in the world will not offset it.
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on June 26, 2014.