No matter what stage of business you are in, you should focus on your brand now!
What is your brand?
Find it tough to answer that question?
Your brand is everything.
If you don’t have a well defined brand, purposely thought-out, clearly articulated and wrapped around researched buyer personas, then you have nothing.
If not you should stop what you’re doing instantly and read this article.
In this post I’m going to teach you why you should focus on branding first using sailing as a metaphor. I’ll also link to extremely valuable resources to help you define your brand.
Of course if you’re reading this odds are you’ve already started a business. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve been doing it for years. Does this article still apply to you?
Because you can instantly change the course of your business and choose a direct tack that will lead you where you really want, and need to go.
If you could have another chance at a fresh start with your business it should begin with researching, architecting and building your brand. Though, many entrepreneurs (including yours truly) tend to be the ready, fire, aim type in which case you’ve probably already built a business that works to a certain extent. That’s awesome! I’ll get to you lot in a bit.
So why work on branding first?
Simply put, a brand isn’t just who we are, it’s who we want to become.
A brand is a goal on the horizon. If running a business is sailing a boat on uncharted waters then defining a brand is choosing a rich and abundant port to end your journey.
Without a clearly defined brand you’re destined to spend your seafaring life fighting tropical storms and drifting East and West, lost at sea. When a major wave comes over the bow in the form of a new competitor in your market who is stealing share left and right you won’t know how to respond or why you should in the first place.
After the tumultuous fight is over and you wake up to a red sunrise you know the challenges aren’t over and you’re not even sure why the hell you’re floating out here all alone anyways.
If you’ve felt like this in business then you’re like so many others. The good news is you can actually start this process whenever you like and reap the rewards immediately. Of course the longer you take to define your brand the further out to sea you’re planning to go before finding yourself lost.
Imagine instead you have a clearly defined brand in place. You’ve studied the globe and chosen a rich port in a tropical climate half way around the world. A country where the people will happily take you in, exchange goods with you, entertain you and care for you for the rest of your days.
So how do we get started?
The first step in branding is to clearly define your buyer personas.
Go back to your captains quarters and imagine spinning the globe daydreaming where you’d like to end up. What kind of people do you want to spend your life with as a sailor at port?
These are the people of your personas.
Why should we define personas?
Traditional marketing called for a brand that was simply creative or clever. Something memorable and perhaps cute. Then companies became clever through the guerrilla marketing era and began crafting brands that separated them from their competition, creating a clear gulf.
An example of this is seen during the rise of Intel. Prior to what some of us remember as the Pentium 1, computer microprocessors were named with numbers like 186dx, 286dx, 386dx, etc. At that time there were literally thousands of manufacturers of these processors and they were all scrambling to gain market share. When Intel announced the Pentium 1 processor 90% of the market disappeared seemingly overnight and were never heard from again. That’s the power of a good brand.
The past 60 years has seen the branding geniuses of Ogilvy & Mather and other admen, the tactics of which have been tirelessly played out.
While traditional branding still exists and thrives to this day we have access to deeper amounts of qualitative data on consumers and businesses allowing us to build more detailed profiles than ever before. Now our brands can be made to represent an umbrella that houses multiple personas that are served by the brand.
Ultimately you need personas nowadays if you want to succeed online and furthermore if you’d like a tight and relevant brand.
How do we define personas?
Right now you’re on your home continent unable to do business with this distant culture. So first you need to get in touch with them (carrier pigeon perhaps?) and survey them as a stranger from faraway lands. You need to find out who they are, what they value, what they’re like, what they want and need, what is their day-to-day life like?
These are all elemental questions in buyer persona development.
You shouldn’t start by asking your existing clients and customers these questions, because they’re right here lost at sea with you. If you just want more of this lost at sea business then define your personas that way, but seldomly will those who are lost provide good direction.
Instead you should start by surveying people who you think would buy from you, but whom don’t know you and aren’t familiar with your brand. These are the people in this rich port across the blue.
The reason you want people who don’t know you is because they’ll give you the most accurate descriptions of what they value, their pain points, triggers, contentions, etc.
I’m very interested in the work of Adele Revella at Buyer Persona Instituteas a consultative body for defining buyer personas. Their process for defining personas seems to be the most comprehensive, sophisticated and thoughtful while remaining very accessible in a world rife with industry jargon.
We’re currently sending clients to them for consulting and pursuing certification as buyer persona consultants ourselves.
Their 5 Rings Of Buying Insight™ methodology is bulletproof for defining personas and without getting into too much detail they are as follows:
· Priority Initiatives: Why do some buyers choose solutions like yours and why are some buyers happy with the status quo?
· Success Factors: What specific results do these buyers expect to see from buying your solution?
· Perceived Barriers: Why do your buyers think your solution won’t work for them?
· Buyer’s Journey: What details does a buyer consider throughout the process of deciding on a solution like yours and where are they impacted in this process?
· Decision Criteria: What does your buyer consider to be the most important elements about your competition’s offering and what are their expectations for each element?
If you learn by example then take their Example Buyer Persona and replace the info in each section with your own. Here are some more example buyer personas from Inbound Marketing software behemoth HubSpot.
For surveying your audience it’s best (not to use carrier pigeons) to use a manual process such as finding 3-5 people that might buy from you and asking for a detailed interview.
If you’re unable to easily track down a few people that you think may buy from you, or if you’d like a larger data sample then it’s possible to use a survey tool such as Ask Your Target Market (AYTM) to do the heavy lifting and sourcing participants in your survey.
Heck, you could even try Google Surveys, but I’m not as familiar with their ability to handle non-consumer related panels.
We’ll be using surveys later in the process of further defining our brand so keep those handy.
Once you’ve taken the time to develop your own personas, it’s time to craft brand messaging around those personas.
How do we start building a brand identity and messaging?
Now that you know a few things about these people from far away you understand they’re an entire culture. We just have to figure out where exactly we need to go to meet them, and what specifically we need to bring.
To do this I recommend starting your brand research with a SWOT analysis or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats.
If you’ve ever sailed (or seen Captain Phillips), then you know the captain and the crew perform ship-wide inspections before leaving port. Everyone on the ship checks every part to make sure there is no crack, no broken jib or pirate gate that could pose a threat. All the engines, rudders, sails and lines need to be carefully checked to make sure there are no weaknesses. The team is assembled and assigned parts of the ship where theirstrengths can be leveraged. Maps are drawn out and weather patterns are scanned to determine opportunities for smooth and fast sailing.
How do we do a SWOT analysis?
So as in a ship ready for maiden voyage, you need to assemble every member of your company in a completely open discussion with dry erase boards, Internet access for quick fact-checking and reference, and plenty of time to cover all the bases. Then begin the SWOT analysis checking for each of the following:
· Strengths: These are internal elements that give you a competitive edge. Always compare strengths against competitors apples to apples, not your recent improvements to previous states of the company. Anywhere you’re perceived as outpacing a competitor is considered a strength. Examples of strengths may be highly unique talent in the design department versus boring designers in your niche, or a negotiator on your team who happens to speak multiple languages.
· Weaknesses: Call on the most negative and critical person at your company for weaknesses. I jokingly say negative because I’m an optimist to a fault. So in many cases someone’s just being realistic when I call them negative. You don’t need an optimist to point out your weaknesses, they’ll take it too easy on you. Examples of weaknesses may be a shoddy customer service department for a fast growing company, or a failing infrastructure due to poor maintenance protocols.
· Opportunities: This is where an optimist can shine. We’re looking for temporal or time-related opportunities where agile decision making is key. If a gap opens up for a moment this serves as an opportunity. Intel seized the opportunity to name the first microprocessor something memorable and push the hell out of it. From our sailing allegory, consider this the man in the crow’s nest looking for tailwinds to push us in the right direction.
· Threats: Threats are just the opposite of opportunities. Again think of a person in the crow’s nest looking for icebergs and storm clouds ahead. Examples of threats may be a declining trend in proprietary technology such as Sony Memory Sticks, or environmental factors that wreak havoc on your company such as floods or tornadoes, also strong competition from larger brands or low price competitors.
The SWOT analysis exposes all the hidden details about our business and brand and allows us to lay all the cards on the table in front of our company internally. If you’re truly forward-thinking about your management style you’ll then allow your team to start addressing all of these issues by giving them autonomy to be creative and find a fun solution for each one.
Now you know where your company is positioned in the market and you can begin crafting your brand messaging around your persona’s and your SWOT analysis.
How de we define the brand?
There are ultimately 5 steps that will lead us to a well defined, bullet-proof brand. You’ll hear them called all kinds of different things and we have our own sexy name for them, but they pretty much work the same way no matter who you ask. When faced with a difficult question in each of the 5 steps below, reference your Buyer Personas established in the previous steps to find good answers:
· Vision Statement: The Vision Statement describes that port on the distant horizon. This is what you want your company to become in the future. Ultimately this should be one sentence long and not explain howthe vision will be met, we’ll get to that in a bit. What are your most important products and services and which ones will you never sell? What is unique about doing business with you and how will people describe your business? Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Here are some example Vision Statements:
San Diego Zoo will become a world leader at connecting people to wildlife and conservation.
NPR with it’s networks of independent member stations, is America’s pre-eminent news institution.
Smithsonian is shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.
· Mission Statement: The Mission Statement is defined as the purpose of the company. Mission statements should be simple, clear and concise.Don’t use industry jargon and focus on motivating people inside and outside the company. What are the specific market needs for the company to answer and what does the company do to answer them? What guiding principles define our approach?
Here’s a great example Mission Statement from Google:
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
· Essence: The essence is the intangible parts of your company that you want people to feel when they do business with you. The essence of the company should typically be defined with one word. What do people experience when they interact with your offering? Check out this great deck on the 9 Criteria For Brand Essence.
Example essences from a great HubSpot article include:
Volvo = safe
Disney = magical
Lamborghini = exotic
· Personality: This is what makes a brand really human. Personality is all about the behavior of a brand. This can be difficult as there can be too many characteristics you’d like to consider, but try to keep it simple. Think, are you smart and helpful? Are you polite and curtious? Are you deep and creative? Are you fun and easy-going?
· Unique Selling Proposition: The USP (Value Proposition or Brand Positioning Statement) is probably the most important part of the brand identification process. You’ll want to keep it down to a sentence or two that clearly describes your offering’s unique value and how it benefits your personas. This statement should define the audience, category of brand, offering benefit, differentiate brand from competition, and confidently assert the brand will deliver on it’s promise.
Consider the following for your USP; Whom are you speaking? (think persona) What market segment does your offering benefit? What’s your brand promise (rational and emotional) What makes your brand different and why should your personas care?
Here are some examples of good Value Propositions:
CampaignMonitor: Email marketing software for designers and their clients.
BaseCamp: Easy cloud project management software for companies.
How do we put it all together?
The final part is to put all of this together in a way that makes sense and works seamlessly across your marketing media.
I recommend creating a single Branding Guidelines PDF document that has all of your personas and branding work in the order we built it here. Then share this document with everyone in your company to make it absolutely clear what your company is and does. These are the captain’s orders.
Through the process of designing your logo, you’ll pull from this document and actually add to it once the logo is finished.
When designing your new site, you’ll be better able to architect content and map out pages because you’ll be trying to aim content at your individual personas and you’ll use your brand messaging to answer their needs in the most concise way.
When creating ads you’ll be targeting specific pain points for your personas and you’ll be able to segment campaigns to your various different personas.
Blog articles can be written to answer concerns your personas may have and bring down their barriers to entry.
As you’re sailing across the wild blue yonder you’ll notice that when challenges come up like new competition or outside threats, just hold your bearings true with your branding and personas and focus on your customer’s needs and you’ll be able to pull through.
Over time, your brand may need small revisions just like a rudder needs frequent adjustments to steer the ship straight. Before you know it you’ll feel the heat of foreign latitudes, hear the sound of unfamiliar sea birds and commerce bustling in the port of your dreams. Your business will then become what you once imagined it to be.
This article is a deep dive on the topic of branding originally covered in Who Wants A Powerful Inbound Marketing Plan For Free?