Building a business brand

What does it mean to build your business brand? Author Seth Godin writes:

The great brands of our time are not about what they are. They are about what they represent...Great brands represent something bigger than themselves. You can create this accidentally if you're lucky, but you can create it on purpose if you try.

—Seth Godin

Many business owners understand that a brand is more than a logo or name, but oftentimes don’t realize that successful branding can actually fuel the heart of a business. A well-shaped brand gives your customers something tangible with which they can connect, and gives your employees a foundation for spreading your message and recognizing (and embracing) expectations.

And it’s just as important for small businesses to intentionally shape their brand as it is for large companies.

Why?

Because every business needs a way for customers to identify, remember, and emotionally connect with it. That’s the power of a brand. When done well, it makes it easy for your customers to give you their trust and loyalty.

Let’s put it this way...

Your brand is your business’s identity. It’s the look and voice of your mission and values. It’s what makes your company unique and memorable. It’s the pillar around which you build your business’s reputation and community.

That said, building a business brand takes much more than putting a logo at the top of a website. It’s a long-term strategy for building momentum, generating loyalty, attracting new leads, and retaining excellent internal talent.

Here, we’re going to give you the ultimate guide for building a strong and long-lasting business business brand, step-by-step:

Step 1: Understanding a business brand and why it’s important

Did you know you have already business brand, whether you realize it or not?

It’s true.

As humans, we categorize and compartmentalize information, so that we can better process and understand its meaning.

Your customers will take what they know about your business, and instantly relate it to other information they’ve collected during their various experiences. Then, they’ll make snap judgements based on their first impressions - this occurs in parts of our brain that are not all conscious.

Your brand communicates to customers why they should give you their business.

Perhaps your business has top expertise in your industry. Or you provide an advanced technology that your competitors don’t. Maybe you offer a completely new service to the marketplace. Whatever makes you unique and special, your business should communicate it through all aspects of your brand.

Let’s walk through an example:

A manufacturing company sets up a table at a trade show. On the table, they display their business cards, photos of their equipment and facility, references and testimonials, sample products, leadership details, and pricing/ordering information. Their team members wear business-casual attire, and shake hands with those who stop by the table.

What they’re telling passers-by is: We’re experienced, we’ve done this before, we have connections with others in the industry, we’re confident in our pricing model, we’re professional.

At the table next to them is another manufacturing company. This table is sparse, with just a stack of business cards, some brochures, and a bowl of candy for passers-by. The team members are wearing jeans and ball caps.

What they’re telling passers-by is: We’re casual, we don’t have all our information together, we haven’t predicted what our audience might want to see and learn.

Whether Table #2 means to or not, they are showing potential clients their brand. Casual, informal, inexperienced. Attendees are walking by and making snap judgments based on their first impressions, and deciding immediately if it’s worth their time to invest their time and money in one business or another.

This is just one example of ways in which your business brand conveys your business’s strengths, weaknesses, values and propositions. Just as we choose to connect with people who share our core values, we choose to align ourselves with brands that meet our expectations and deliver on their promises. This alignment leads to long-term customer relationships and, in-turn, greater company growth.

Step 2: Defining Your Brand

Now that you know what a brand is and how important is, the question remains: how do you go about intentionally shaping and refining your own brand?

First, if you think about your business as a person, what would his/her personality be like? What adjectives would you use to characterize him/her?

Perhaps you would describe your business brand as casual, upbeat, and fun. Maybe it’s educational, professional, and trustworthy.

Think about how you and your team would describe your brand, and then consider how others would describe your brand.

Next, think about what your brand isn’t. What adjectives would you avoid using when describing your company? What don’t you offer? Who do you not want to be in your field?

Examine what makes your brand different from your competitors. How do you compare in your market? What void are you filling? Once you can define what makes you stand out in your industry, only then can you begin writing your story, mission, slogan, etc. that expresses what makes your business unique.

Once you have a grasp on your business brand’s characteristics and unique value propositions, ask yourself these questions to dial in your voice:

What is your brand message? Who is it for? What does it do?

After this initial discovery phase of defining your brand (learn more about the Harvest way to discover your brand with our Signature System), the next components of deliberately shaping a brand include:

  • Naming - your company, products and services
  • Messaging - your story, your mission, your promise
  • Voice - unique phrases, writing style
  • Target audience - your ideal clients and customers
  • Positioning - where you fit in for your market
  • Differentiation - what makes you unique and different

If you need more help, Harvest specializes in building business brands and we would love to talk with you about yours!

Step 3: Make Sure Your Visual Identity Aligns with Your Brand

Once you have a solid grasp on your brand’s characteristics, it’s time to think of how to convey them visually. Consider colors, fonts, photos, and icons, and how they all play together to evoke an emotional response from your audience. Think about what you want people to feel when they are looking at your business’s visual assets.

First and foremost is the development (or redesign) of your logo. Your logo is an invaluable representation of your business brand - think of it as your first impression. When customers and clients see your brand logo, what will they think? Ideally, they’ll immediately spot the same characteristics you’ve used to define your brand.

Additionally, consider your website, social media profile images, newsletter headers, marketing materials...all the visual and digital representations in which your audience absorbs your brand’s identity. Your visual assets work together to create overall brand awareness, and elicit an emotional response from your viewers.

In considering your approach to marketing, think about how you want your audience to feel when they see your materials. Motivated? Inspired? Confident?

Alternatively, think about what you don’t want your audience to feel to help guide your process of choosing and portraying a visual identity.

In the end, you should be able to answer this very important question: How does your visual identity help tell your unique company story? If you need more help, Harvest specializes in building visual identities and we would love to talk with you about your marketing!

Creating a Marketing Plan

Step 4: Create a Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan is an essential component to all your marketing efforts and ensuring you reach your business goals. Whether you’re using print ads, television, social media, newsletters, direct mail, etc., a marketing plan provides the how, when, and where you’re going to deliver your message to your target audience.

Start by asking, how am I going to get my business brand in front of my audience? Where and how are they going to find me?

Then, follow the steps below:

First, before you plan your marketing activities, it’s essential to set your strategic growth and revenue goals. Think about where you would like your company to be in one year, and then work backward each quarter, each month and each week with actionable steps you can take to reach those goals.

Once you’ve identified and understand your business goals, you’re armed with the information you need to make sure you’re spending your marketing efforts in the right place at the right time.

Next, choose which marketing activities your business will focus on to reach your specific goals. Be sure to look at past numbers (if you have them) and analyze where you’ve experienced growth in the past, so you can determine if there are opportunities to build upon previous successes.

Your marketing channels might include:

  • Social media
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Print advertising
  • Email newsletters
  • Inbound marketing (blog posts, infographics)
  • Community partnerships
  • Search engine marketing

Finally, build your marketing plan that will ensure you are spending your marketing dollars on the right efforts at the right time. To dive deeper into the actionable steps of developing a marketing plan for your business brand, read Harvest’s blog post: How to Create An Annual Marketing Plan.

Preparing a Marketing Budget

Step 5: Prepare a Marketing Budget

Based on your marketing plan, you’ll need to assign specific dollar amounts to each of your marketing channels to reach your business goals. First, however, you’ll want to allocate an overall marketing budget for the entire year.

If you’ve never done this before, read our post on Preparing An Annual Marketing Budget with best practices for determining which percentage of revenue your business should be spending on marketing.

Next, allocate dollars to both specific campaigns and ongoing projects. Identify your high-priority projects first, and make certain you’ve assigned appropriate dollars to the areas that have the most revenue-generating opportunity. Marketing should be considered an investment, so be sure to consider both your immediate and long-term ROI.

Remember, additional opportunities may arise throughout the year, so be sure to include room for flexibility. At some point, you may want to move portions of your budget from one campaign or channel to another, as you measure success and pivot where needed.

Step 6: Promote Your Brand

This is where the rubber hits the pavement.

It’s time to execute your marketing plan through digital efforts, networking, advertising, inbound marketing - essentially, all the available and relevant methods of communication to tell your audience about your brand. Think about how you want your audience to experience your brand as a whole, and how you can carve a niche in your market that makes you noteworthy and memorable. When all your marketing efforts are combined, do they create a clear picture of who you are and what your brand is all about?

Read more: How to Market Your Brand Remarkably

In order to start promoting your brand, you’ll need a firm grasp on all the components of your marketing strategy.

  • Traditional Sales - Educate and train your sales staff about your product or service, and how to sell it. Giving them a repeatable system to follow, and get them comfortable tracking data in their CRM and following up with customer and client leads.
  • Networking - Learn how to market your business socially. Determine the value of networking conferences and events, and decide who will attend to promote your brand, and how much time to spend.
  • Advertising - Select where and how you’ll advertise (print, social media, radio, TV). Have a system in place for knowing how much you’ll spend and how to trace your results from ads.
  • Social Media - Know the differences between social media platforms, and determine which are most appropriate for your brand presence. Decide on the amount of time your team will spend, which tools to use for posting and management, and your process for post approvals.
  • Out-Of-The-Box Marketing - Get creative with other ways to get your audience’s attention! Perhaps it’s a branded sample product, a postcard mailer, or an influencer rewards program.

In order for your brand to truly come to life, remember to measure, adapt and repeat. Make sure your marketing efforts are meeting your goal ROIs, pivot and be flexible where needed, and rerun campaigns and promotions that generate the greatest amount of engagement and revenue. Steady brand growth comes through understanding the effectiveness of your overall marketing strategy and building on successes along the way.

Step 7: Nurture and Strengthen Your Brand

Now that you’ve captured your audience's attention by promoting your brand, it’s time to build recognition and make your brand unforgettable. Here, some of the focus should be shifted toward nurturing existing client relationships and raising your customer lifetime value (CLV) for those in your most profitable verticals.

In strengthening your business brand, consistency is key for building customer trust and loyalty. Aim for consistent quality in your products or services and message, and consistent quantity in your outreach efforts.

Tips for promoting brand loyalty include:

  • Engaging your customers - Solicit feedback and reviews, and build momentum through communication.
  • Staying relevant in your industry - Keep tabs on what your partners and/or competition are doing, and educate your audience on industry trends and current news. Build credibility as an expert in your field.
  • Providing value - Organize events, deliver complementary add-ons, or create further education or instruction on your product or service.
  • Showing appreciation - Offer loyalty promotions, insider access, or special status based on number of purchases or longevity as a customer. Don’t forget birthdays and holidays - send a card or message to show you value them outside of regular business interactions.

Don’t forget about nurturing your brand from the inside as well. Building a strong company culture with values that align with your brand message strengthens your business’s overall identity, and empowers your team to deliver your message authentically.

For example, if you brand centers on excellent customer service and care, set the example internally by creating avenues for employees to voice feedback and get the information they need. Or, if your brand aims to be family-friendly, hold company events where employees can bring family members, or offer on-site childcare services or daycare vouchers.

When your employee culture reinforces, supports and clarifies your brand, you may find your team becoming your own best brand evangelists.

Step 8: Refine and Improve Your Brand Over Time

Building a brand strategy is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. Longevity in your marketplace is going to stem from tracking, evaluating, and improving upon your ongoing marketing efforts. As trends and technology advance, you may find your brand either at the forefront of change, or left in the dust.

When you consider the speed at which many industries evolve based on technology advancements alone, it’s clear that tuning-in your brand to the needs and wants of your target market is an ongoing and worthwhile enterprise.

Here are some tips for staying in-touch with your brand performance and improving over time:

  • Make periodic check-ups and audits - Schedule regular audits into your marketing calendar. At least quarterly, get an overhead view of your marketing progress and how it relates to your strategic business goals. Set benchmarks for achievements, and then analyze why you did or did not reach them.
  • Evaluate your verticals - Should you add new ones? Drop old ones? Think about your ideal clients and their characteristics. Have they changed over time? What effects have technology and trends had on your marketplace? Are there new opportunities available that didn’t exist one year ago?
  • Measure and improve your results - Identify your key performance indicators (KPIs), and measure them regularly to determine if your marketing efforts are achieving their goals. For example, do you want your brand promotions to result in greater event attendance, or online sales? If so, spend time analyzing your marketing budget to determine if the funds you’re assigning to various platforms are sufficient or need to be reallocated.

Lastly, always be improving the way you communicate with your customers. Utilize new technologies and social media for interacting with your audience on their turf. If needed, create a library of assets for your sales and marketing team to use with branded materials (visual, or phrases/replies) that can answer questions and inspire loyalty. Try to anticipate your audience’s needs and wants, and then provide answers using branded, cohesive means of communication.

Flourishing Brand = Sustainable Growth

Developing a successful brand strategy takes much more than design savvy and sales know-how. It’s a company-wide endeavor to hone in on the mission, values, voice and presence of the business.

Inside and out, a defined brand presence sets expectations for performance. When you connect with your customers and employees in a manner that’s authentic and consistent, you’ll find a strong brand improves the health of your company, provides your entire team with direction and motivation, and increases the lifetime value of your customers.

Deliver on the promise of your brand, and you will see the fruits of your labor ripen into sustainable, long-term company growth. If you need more help, Harvest Media specializes in building business brands and we would love to talk with you about yours!