I started college in 2005, and almost immediately they began teaching us about “branding.” At the time, they were encouraging us to build our personal brand and leverage that brand to get the jobs we wanted. The problem was, they never taught us how to do this.
They told us the essence of a brand, for example specializing in a specific discipline, advertising our specialized skills, and focusing on our best qualities. They probably also said something about “branding” our resumes with clever and unique design, colors, and other aesthetic devices. All this advice was topical, and they never explained the real way to develop your brand (unless I missed that class).
Your Brand is More than Colors and Fonts
A brand is not about looks. Business owners and marketers acquainted with the idea of building a brand assume branding is about writing a document that lists your logos, color schemes, font choices, and other aesthetic details. You build this document, then hand it out to all your employees, freelancers, and anyone else who might care to look.
I hate to tell you this, but that branding document is mostly garbage. It only develops the outer shell of a brand, when you should be concerned with building your brand’s base.
Just like our mothers taught us, beauty is only skin deep. The effort you put into building your brand document is only 10% of the work you need to do. Real brand building is hard, and aesthetics are just one phase of the process.
The More You Define Your Brand, the Less Flexible You Become
I love working with clients who have a clear vision. When you know what you want, you know what to ask for. When a client sends me their color schemes and logos and says, “build me something that is on brand,” I want to cry. I want to create an ad, landing page, website, or graphic that is unique and creative. I want to build something that will help my client sell their services. My eye is on the bottom line, and when a client only cares about brand, it limits my options.
When you are concerned with brand more than sales, it is like trying to fit a rock in a jar full of sand. Instead, you should start with the rock (sales), and then add the sand (your brand). Start with a focus on return on investment, then you can worry about adding a dash of your brand.
You should give yourself some wiggle room when it comes to design. Creating an ad that is a slave to brand is not going to help you or your customers. Instead, create an ad that serves the customers first.
What Matters Far More Than Brand
The process of branding begins with your core values, and not with aesthetics. For years, core values were something businesses put on their websites, but never really cared about. Now, having core values and living by them is the best way to show your most authentic self.
To truly stay on brand, you need to put your best foot forward. That means staying true to your core values. When you show your clients who you are (or at least who you want to be), you are showing them that you care.
If you already have core values, dust them off and review them. Are you living up to your core values?
If your core values say “we care,” do you show your customers that? Do you send them handwritten holiday cards or a mass email broadcast with a template holiday message? Which option really shows that you care?
Live up to your core values with everything you do, including marketing. This typically means spending a little more money or a little more time, but you will be truly staying “on brand” if you live up to these values.