In the physical world, people walk around their immediate neighborhood and get to know the stores. Before they ever make the decision to buy, they can usually tell you what’s great about a store, what’s bad; what makes it unique, what makes it boring; what they would go their for, what they would never buy there; and so forth.
Whether or not these stores are even aware of branding, they have naturally created an identity. And people learn this identity almost by osmosis; by simply wandering around browsing the shops.
Branding is not as clear a topic as some would have you believe. The type we’re talking about here is the deliberate type of branding you have to invest in for your online business (and if yours is a local business, every word applies to you too – if you want to attract and retain new customers).
Branding is nothing more than creating a strong identity – so strong that when people think of the item or service that is your signature offering, they think of you. Not your competitor.
What Does Branding Do?
No, I mean… literally. The word comes to us courtesy of cattle wranglers of the old West. Their herds roamed over thousands of acres, none of which was fenced initially. They had to have some definitive way to tell which cow or bull belonged to which ranch. So they heated irons in the fire and literally seared a distinctive mark – a logo, if you like – onto the animal’s rump.
While you certainly don’t want to be running around with hot irons, you want your brand seared into your ideal customer’s mind just as irrevocably.
But here’s where many people get it wrong: They confuse personal branding with business branding.
Both can be used for business purposes, but it’s important to know which type you’re creating and why that particular type of branding is going to work best for you.
Let’s take a look at the differences…
This is what you need when you are your business: “You” meaning the particular skills or qualities you bring to the table – things your ideal client or customer needs.
Personal branding is not just about what you have to offer people, however: It’s also about your strong, unique voice.
Your “voice” is what makes you different; what makes you stand out from the rest of the professional in your field. And make no mistake – the majority of them are highly proficient at what they do. That’s the base line – the starting gate.
How do you “get” voice? There’s no one answer, and no right answer… but it comes from knowing, clearly and passionately:
- What your core values are
- Why you are doing what you do
- What you can bring to your customers
Still not clear? Just look at the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Even if you were born less than two decades ago, you can probably recognize a “Stones” song or a Beatles song instantly. Not just because of the words, either; but because of the distinctive vocal styling, the combination of instruments and beats – the character that these two bands have developed that vaulted them far above the thousands of brilliantly proficient session musicians rising and falling all around them.
Most of these session musicians are actually many, many times more accomplished as musicians than either the Stones or the Beatles. It’s just that these two bands had a voice – one that connected with their audience and spoke to their needs, dreams, preferences and feelings on a highly empathetic level of connection.
That’s what you need to develop, if you want be the one person with your particular skills or offering your particular services that people instinctively seek out first.
And you won’t get it by being a clone of the Stones or a clone of the Beatles, to continue our music metaphor.
You don’t want to be a top-notch tribute band, either. That’s not how the Beatles became the most revered band of all time.
You want to be original. You want people to either love you or hate you.
That’s what you’re after.
But here’s the scariest part…
- Personal branding is being yourself
You should be so much yourself, you’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching, growing and introspection to get there. (If you don’t know who you are and what you’re all about, your followers won’t either.)
Try to fake it, and you’ll fall flat. People can tell when someone has ulterior motives.
Sure, a lot of people will come up to your gate, get to see you for real and veer away: But that’s good. It means your time won’t be taken up with hordes of people who will never love what you do and always want maximum attention.
Save yourself for those who love everything you do. When you’ve captured an audience like this, you know you’ve achieved personal branding.
You know you’ve achieved a following of repeat customers who trust and believe in you: The sort who will return to buy, again and again… because it’s you.
Just as personal branding is all about personality and voice, business branding is all about perceived value. For example, if you were to have two sneaker companies – let’s say one is Nike and the other is an unknown company called Clompers. Imagine both are for sale. Imagine both have equal numbers of assets, shares, property, customers and so forth.
Now imagine Clompers makes better sneakers – miles better.
Which company is going to sell for more?
That’s right: Nike. Because it’s a brand name. Everyone knows Nike.
When you create a business brand, you create it around what you produce. If you produce physical goods, you base your brand on your goods. The key lies in creating a signature product so powerful, people start to call similar products by your brand name, as if your brand name was the generic name for the product. (Think “Pepsi”, instead of “cola”.)
At the highest level, similar brands will compete ferociously against each other, trying to steal each other’s customers. (Think “Pepsi” versus “Coke”.) Often, there’s just a hairsbreadth of difference between rival products. So what creates brand loyalty, when this is the case?
Creating Brand Loyalty
In personal branding, creating loyalty is based on three key factors:
- Your personality – how much your followers like and identify with you (or want to be you)
- How consistently your are in their field of vision
- How consistently you deliver what you promised
In business branding, customer loyalty is based on slightly more criteria, including:
- Visual elements – Logos, graphics, colors, shapes, symbols
- Textual elements – Name, tagline or slogan
- Personalization – Think “Coca-Cola polar bear” or (if you’re old enough) Tony the Esso Tiger
But why are these three factors important? What all these bells and whistles actually do?
They help customer not only to remember you, but to think of your product first when it’s time for a refill or replacement.
The stronger the identifier, the more recognizable and memorable your brand becomes. (If you changed your logo every week, you’d create confusion and a weakening of recognition.
The one common denominator that both personal and business branding share?
Customers have to believe that your brand is best; or at least suits them, their needs, their budget and their lifestyle better.
When trying to brand a business, it’s advisable to expend all your advertising and promotion efforts mostly on one element alone. For example:
- Branding your company name
(One way to brand colors: Always display them within the same shapes.)
All this would be in aid of branding either your company… or a signature product.
Core Characteristic of Personal and Business Branding
Successful personal and business branding share certain core characteristics. Becoming known and instantly recognizable is just the first step. Next comes building the brand – this is even more important than promotion, and it’s a step too often skipped.
Promote your brand without rock-solid core characteristics in place, and you’ll fail miserably. This is what you need:
- A place in public consciousness
- A promise based on values
- Fulfillment of that promise
Concentrate on delivering in all of these areas, combine it with tangible elements such as logo and colors and your business will be well on its way to becoming a household name.