One of the biggest mistakes any small to medium size business can make is not investing time and money into their brand identity. So why is it that so many SME’s invest in building their brands?
I’m a business owner myself and I know the daily demands on your time when running a business. You may think brand building is relatively unimportant when struggling to get your product or service to market, or even to try and find your niche market fit. But don’t dismiss the power of good brand building.
Good branding does not cost the earth and nobody telling you to hire expensive brand strategists to explore your company’s market or image. But it is important to go beyond just picking some colours and a nice font and then calling that you’re ‘Brand’.
Below I have put together some thoughts on how we can all learn from the big brands and how we you can make your brand just as powerful within your industry.
Develop your brand standards
Think about everything you know about Coca Cola. Now think about a new can that has been released which is blue and has ‘Times New Roman’ font as the words ‘Coca Cola’. You can’t picture it right?
That’s because Coca Cola has one of the clearest and most recognisable brand standards out there. Everything from the packaging, television commercials, website and social media profiles, draws on its colours, fonts, motifs and experiences. None of this is just by coincidence.
A big part of Coca-Cola’s success comes from its ability to transmit feelings and expectations through its branded elements. When you see that red and white can, you know you’re going to get a crisp, refreshing beverage, no matter where in the world you’re buying it.
One key way to develop your brand is to create a set of design rules that tie together the look and feel of all your marketing materials. These rules are often referred to as “brand standards.” Ideally, brand standards do the double-duty of creating awareness of your brand and differentiating your brand from your competitors. Think you’re not big enough to worry about your brand? We recommend that even the smallest companies develop and maintain brand standards from the very beginning.
The breadth and depth of your brand standards can vary greatly, depending on your needs. Keep in mind that if you’re too strict, you may get issues when trying to be creative, while if you’re too loose, design chaos can result. Focus on strategy and consistency in the following five areas:
1. Logo. There’s perhaps no single more important element to your brand standards than the consistent use of your logo. First, you should never alter or redraw your logo. Second, its placement and sizing should remain consistent within each communication vehicle (for example, your letterhead, brochures, postcards, fliers, etc.). Rules can vary according the type of material you’re using your logo in, but they shouldn’t vary drastically.
And if you want to look like a large company, remember this irony: The bigger the company, the smaller the logo.
2. Graphics. Use distinctive symbols and shapes in a consistent way. Choosing the same basic graphic elements will help customers remember your brand faster. Also, be consistent when using borders and/or backgrounds–or show a pattern of consistency that complies with your brand standards. For example, you could choose a cupid-themed border for a Valentine’s Day ad and a clover-themed border for a St. Patrick’s Day ad. In both cases, your border should be consistent in size and/or weight (the amount of emphasis it receives relative to the other elements on the page).
3. Colors. Color is one of the most important components when it comes to brand identity. The colors you choose will make an immediate impression on your audience, and play a large role in memory retrieval. Therefore color can significantly impact someone’s perception of your brand. For example, gold, silver and burgundy are perceived to be upscale, while green is viewed as fresh and healthy. I highly recommend you research and/or test-market certain colors before you commit to a palette. One easy–if not scientific–way to do this is to create a brochure or ad in three or four different color palettes, then survey various people for feedback. And remember that colors have different meanings in different cultures.
4. Fonts. Choose just a handful of fonts for use on all your materials, selecting at least one serif font and one san-serif font. Serif fonts have “feet” at the bottom of the font to guide the reader’s eye, while san-serif fonts don’t–“Times” is an example of a serif font; “Helvetica” is an example of a san-serif font. Serif fonts work well in paragraphs or body copy because they give the eye something to “hang on to.” San-serif fonts should be reserved for headlines, numbers in charts, very small text or text that’s reversed out of a color. As a general rule, you should use no more than two fonts in a document, although a third, decorative font could be used sparingly.
5. Illustrative or photographic style. Consider what type of visuals-pictures–you want to feature on your marketing materials. Will your visuals consist of illustrations or photos? Try to stick with one or the other. Regardless of your choice, your visuals should be similar in style and color usage–black and white, four-color, two-color, etc.
When you’ve identified rules for the above areas, write them down and distribute them to any employee or vendor–such as a printer–who may need to reference them. Your brand standards will go a long way toward building your brand equity. It’s worth the time and effort to do it right.
Dedicate one agency and person with your company to guide and enforce brand standards
Once you have worked with a brand agency to create your brand standards, it is critical that you appoint either the agency or someone within your team working with the agency to manage this and enforce this with all your marketing material online and off.
Your brand ‘ambassador’ should be involved with everything that your brand goes out on whether it be packaging, online marketing or offline brand collateral. No matter how branded elements play into your company’s business processes, give this person/agency the overarching authority to make changes — even if they aren’t convenient (or cheap).
Just like Coca-Cola wouldn’t let that purple can go down its assembly line, don’t let anything your company produces interfere with the standards you’ve set for yourself. Doing so will only create confusion and diminish the effectiveness of your efforts.
Embrace telling your story
There are many great examples of storytelling. But this nike example is a great way in showing how this can be done. Check out one of the ‘Find your greatness’ campaigns produced by Nike
Harnessing the power of storytelling isn’t limited to the big brands alone. We tend to think of stories as things that might begin with “once upon a time,” present us Good Guys and Bad Guys, take us on a journey which is resolved, if we’re lucky, with a happy ending.
But how does a Powerpoint presentation fit into this scheme? Or a television spot promoting a particular product benefit? Or a marketing campaign that aims to associate your brand with a certain set of images and feelings?
Share the story of how your company came to be. Post case studies that show how you’ve impacted the stories of your customers. Forget about talking like a marketer and instead focus on sharing the things that make your company unique.
Brand storytelling is:
· The reason why your company came to be
· What motivates your team to wake up and come to work everyday
· How your product came to be
· What types of customers find value in working with your brand and why
· A transparent view into the people behind the company
· A relationship-building tool
· More subtle than you realize
· A concept that underscores your entire web presence
· Something that your entire team, at organizational levels, embraces
· A look into who you are as a company
Brand storytelling is NOT:
· A long-winded, 5-paragraph essay about your company
· A blog post
· Something isolated
· A fragmented view into your company
· Something reserved for the marketing team only
· A PR stunt
· A viral video
· A tool to manipulate customers and prospects
· You’ll be amazed at how quickly your customers adopt these stories and spread them for you.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly your customers adopt these stories and spread them for you.
Look to take advantage of data
“Big data” is one of marketing’s latest buzzwords, but just because it’s “big” doesn’t mean it’s unattainable for smaller brands.
Chances are you already have a number of programs producing data for you, from Google Analytics to your customer-relationship management system and more. But are you actually doing anything with this data?
Start by figuring out what metrics matter most for your company’s success. Then, figure out how to extract reports from your data sources that will measure your progress towards these key performance indicators.
Once a month (or more or less frequently, depending on the length of your sales cycle), run your reports, read through them and make at least three changes based on what you find.
Don’t overcomplicate things, and don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of data you have access to. Begin with this simple process, but refine your approaches as you get more comfortable harnessing the power of data.
At its core, branding should draw people in. People who observe your branded elements should feel as if they’re part of a community, that they have a shared bond with others in the same situation.
Some big brands choose to make this relationship more explicit, as in the case of Expedia’s “Find Yours” campaign:
The campaign encourages participants to share their travel stories, creating a powerful sense of community amongst those featured in the videos, as well as those who view them.
No matter how you approach it, find ways to encourage your customers to share their experiences with your brand. It’s a powerful approach to community-building that serves the dual purpose of building brand exposure and awareness as well.
You don’t have to have a big budget to create good brand standards and. The most creative marketing solutions tend to develop out of necessity, not when you have a lot of financial padding. The creative juices really start flowing when the funds are limited.