What is a Brand?

By Laura Wallace |  February 5, 2019

Branding is hands down one of my favorite subjects. Before I was a business owner, I was a graphic designer. And while I still design from time to time, my role has shifted over the last 11 years. I’ve discovered that I’m a visionary, not an executor. Getting me to sit long enough to design a brochure is like pulling teeth. This is one of the many reasons I built a team – their talent is incredible, and I love giving them projects that get them pumped and allow them to do what they do best – conceptualize and create.

Branding can be a really vague term and it often means something different to everyone. So, let’s clear that up first. Off the top, your brand stands for who you are, what you do, and how it makes a difference. The top six categories of a brand are:

  1. It’s your visual identity – Think logo, color scheme, fonts, photography style, overall theme, or aesthetics. What does your brand look like and is it consistent in all of your marketing materials?
  2. It’s your tone – How you sound to the public through your writing and speaking. Think about how your social media posts differ from your office phone away message. Does it all sound the same?
  3. It’s a feeling – While not a tangible thing you can see, your brand relates to how it makes people feel. Does your brand typically make people laugh? Feel excited? Feel relieved? Inspired? Emotional? Think about what people say about your brand when you’re not around.
  4. It’s your products and services – What are you offering to your customers? If you’re a corporate accounting firm, chances are you’re not selling essential oils on your website. Do your products and services align to solve the same problem?
  5. It’s an experience – Think about how you treat your customers. The Tiffany’s experience is very different from purchasing a ring at a mall jewelry shop. Neither are wrong, but both have defined how they want to make people feel. Think about details – like your first meetings to the packaging used to send products. For instance, we use real glass cups in our meetings vs. plastic. It’s small, but it’s a detail of our brand experience.
  6. It’s your follow-through – While it’s not often seen as part of the brand, the follow-through is one of the most important pieces of your brand. This could be in fulfilling orders, meeting deadlines, or reaching out once the sale is done.

Your brand is a multi-faceted machine that is running around the clock. That doesn’t mean that you have to be face down in social media 24 hours a day maintaining it. It just means that creating a cohesive and consistent brand is a way to help your business work for you – not the other way around.

Think about it. How many times have you been up at 3am because your mind likes to kick on at hideous times? What’s one of the first things you do once you realize that sleep is no longer an option? I’d bet its grab your phone and hit your favorite social site. These brands are not sitting up, waiting for you to interact with them, but great brands have systems in place to give you a great experience, regardless of the time of day. If you listen to this week’s podcast on branding, I’ll tell you all about a similar experience with my favorite brand.

So, how in the hell do you build a brand? Well, I can tell you it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like working out. If you go to the gym once, you won’t see results. But with consistent practice working towards the same goal, after a few weeks or months, you start to reap the benefits. You might get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again, but many of your future clients are seeing you for the first time.

When we start to create a branding system, we like to take the five senses into play. Branding is multi-faceted, and you never know how someone might interact with you. Here are a few things you can consider when building or evolving your brand:

  1. Sight – Take a look at all of your marketing (website, printed materials, social media graphics, office, store, vehicle wraps, logo, colors, fonts, etc.). If you spread all of those things onto a table, would they all look the same? Are you using one red on your brochure but a different red on a billboard? Do you have a standard font that you use or are you pulling whatever makes you feel good that day? Branding is all about consistency and that starts with using the same stuff across the board.
  2. Sound – Read your website content out loud. Then read one of your social media posts. Then listen to your away message on your office phone. Do they all sound the same? Creating a tone is essential because it gives your brand a personality. If you’re playful and easy-going in one setting but abrupt and use industry lingo in another, you’ve created a brand disconnect. You want your content to sound like one person wrote it. Also consider things like hold music, event playlists, or lobby tones – all of those sounds are part of your audio brand.
  3. Taste – I’m going to safely assume people aren’t licking your business cards. I mean if they are, that’s on them. But taste can come in many ways. In a meeting, do you always have fruit-infused water? Is there a signature garnish you include on your plate at your restaurant? Do you have a special mint or treat in your packaging? Do you send chocolates after a meeting?
  4. Smell – This one often catches people off guard because they think, “people smell my brand?” Well, they might. But the bigger question is: IS there a smell associated with my brand? One of my favorite restaurants uses the same soap in the bathroom, always. So anytime I smell that scent, I think of them. Do you infuse a scent into your office? Does your lobby have fresh flowers every day so it always smells like floral? The mind works in many ways, and smell is a missed opportunity to create a top-of-mind trigger in people.
  5. Touch – A textile experience is part of your brand. From the core, things like the weight and finish of your business cards set the tone with your brand. You form an opinion pretty quickly when someone hands you a flimsy card that’s printed off-center vs. a card that’s sturdy and is well-designed. Beyond paper, think about things like the comfort of chairs in your conference room and texture of the fabric.

Branding is fascinating because it’s the difference between someone spending $20 vs. $200 on a haircut. The same service is being performed, but the company has been positioned to create an experience that people want to be part of.

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