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  • Writer's pictureBrian Fleming

What the hell is a brand?

Updated: Jun 18, 2018

Telling your brand's story in a compelling way – and making its unique voice immediately recognizable and welcome – is what separates successful brands from those nobody knows or remembers. By creating a singular, identifiable image that’s wholly authentic and true, a powerful brand breathes life into your business and turns it from an anonymous stranger into a trusted friend people long to engage with.

“Blah, blah, blah. That’s nice,” you say. “But really, what the hell is a brand?

Well, simply put, your brand is the reason people choose you. It’s your heart and soul. Your personality. Who you are as a company – even if your company is just you. Like your own voice, your brand identifies you. And like your reputation, it both follows and precedes you.

It starts with an irresistible idea that communicates your message and at the same time engages people. Graphic design, copywriting, photography, film, even in-person events – these are the language of branding, your way of communicating your brand to your market and leaving a powerful, indelible mark.

But a brand is more than just creative execution. It includes your vision and values, what you stand for and against, what differentiates you from your competition, your positioning on the market and in the eyes of your audience, your offer and who your target is. These are as much a part of your brand as elegant design, engaging copy and powerful imagery.

For one to succeed, you need the other. Execution without strategy will give you something nice to look it, but what's it doing for you? On the other hand, strategy without execution – well, that's just a plan without action.

The problem with small businesses

One of the fatal flaws that almost all small businesses suffer from is that they’re, well… small.

With large corporations, where hundreds if not thousands of employees and stakeholders need to be brought onto the same page, it’s obvious that you’ll need a fully developed strategy, that it needs to be properly researched, analyzed, though-out and, most importantly, written down.

But in the case of small businesses, owners often don’t feel the need to put anything down on paper about the heart and soul of their business because, let’s face it, there’s often no one but the owner and a few others to read it.

On top of that, research takes too much time. Analysis is vague and superficial. Positioning is based on intuition. Messaging is all over the place, and execution is inconsistent, sloppy or both. And hiring professionals to handle these things can seem expensive if you’re thinking short-term.

The result then is that the brand – such as it is – exists solely in the owner’s head. That’s fine if your business is a local brick-and-mortal shop that runs on your personality. In that case, you and your brand are one and the same.

But if your business has you stuck at a desk or operates online, or if your brick-and-mortar shop is looking to open additional branches or wants to open an e-shop, it’s unlikely your potential customers will ever come into contact with your personality.

This is where your brand enters in. Your brand is your company’s personality, the face potential buyers see, the voice they hear, the reason they return to you. And if you have that only in your head, there’s a good chance you don’t have a brand at all. Or, if you do, that it’s vague and fuzzy, not fully developed, without any strategy behind it and prone to digression and whim.

That’s why it’s so important to build a brand strategy for your small business and put it on paper.

Digression and whim are fine, but each digression and each whim needs to be on-brand. This is even more true if you want to grow your business and you bring on more and more employees who need to represent your brand both internally and externally. They need to know what’s on-brand for your business and what’s not.

What does it mean to be on-brand

So, what does it mean to be “on brand”?

To be “on-brand” means that a brand is consistent and true to itself. Like you being true to who you are as a person. Any action that deviates from this authentic truth creates a cognitive dissonance.

In a person, as you can imagine, this cognitive dissonance often leads to self-loathing. Because there’s a chasm between you and your actions, you end up feeling hollow and empty. At the same time, people don’t respect you. They feel that you’re a fake or a poseur.

For a business, it’s the same. If your company’s actions don’t match its mission, vision and values, it’s an empty shell without meaning. Customers won’t feel a connection with it and won’t gravitate towards it. And they definitely won’t tell other people about it.

By not creating a brand strategy and not putting it on paper, you not only miss out on a major component of business success – i.e. the advantage of having a well-thought-out plan that doesn’t rely exclusively on serendipity – but also risk creating a cognitive dissonance that will leave potential customers indifferent and uninterested.

And remember, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Indifference, i.e. a lack of emotional attachment, on the part of employees or customers is the death of any company.

Branding, on the other hand, is all about emotion. About getting customers to love your company organically because it feels true to them and represents their values. This is as true for B2C and B2B.

That’s because, whether buying for themselves or for their company, all customers buy from emotion, not logic. Logic is simply the justification for a decision they’ve already made because they feel they’re talking eye-to-eye with your brand.

You might be saying to yourself right now, “Yeah, sure, ok I understand what brand building can do for my business, but I just don’t have the time and money to commit right now.”

We'll look at that in the next post.

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