A lot of entrepreneurs struggle to understand what exactly a brand is.
I get it—it’s a vague concept. It’s often a word that’s just thrown around in business or design circles but the average person can’t always define exactly what it means.
The goal of this post is to unpack the question what is a brand? and include some tips on starting to pivot your business into a brand!
DO YOU HAVE A BUSINESS, OR A BRAND?
The best way I know how to describe what a brand is is by describing what it’s not.
A brand is not the same thing as a business.
You may be thinking, "Tomato, tomahto. Isn't my business my brand?"
Your business is what you do. Your brand is who you do it FOR, WHY you do it, and HOW your audience FEELS about you.
You can run a successful business selling an incredible product, but if you are not telling your audience what to think and feel about you; if you are not presenting consistent visuals that point back to those things; if you are not speaking to your audience but rather just putting your products out and hoping someone buys; you are not a brand.
DISNEY VS. THE NEIGHBORHOOD PARK
As you may already know, I started my career at Walt Disney World in graphic design and project management—and had a blast working for the Mouse.
I had always been drawn to the immersive experience of being at Disney as a tourist (we called them guests)—how as soon as you step foot into the Magic Kingdom, you forget you’re in Florida (well, except for the blazing heat year-round).
If you’ve ever been to any of the Disney theme parks, you know what I’m talking about. So let’s use them as a lesson in branding.
Why do people save up their hard-earned money for months, hop on a plane, eat dessert in the middle of the day (*guilty* *you made me do it, France pavilion*), take a zillion photos, then come home and talk about this trip for the next 2 years all while planning the next one? When they could just go to the neighborhood playground and have a great time there, too?
Because you don't go to Disney just for the roller coasters, the food, or the live shows, though they have world-class quality of all three.
No, you go to Disney for the experience.
Disney has spent decades and countless (clearly well-spent) dollars building a brand that tells you, your dreams can come true in "the happiest place on earth." Let me fill you in on a little secret: It hasn't happened by accident.
THE SIMPLE SHIFT THAT LAUNCHED HER BUSINESS INTO SUCCESS
A few months ago, I had the honor of working with a client who was in the pre-launch stage of her boutique. She excitedly told me about the unique European pottery she was selling and how the idea was inspired by her weekly family dinners.
Together, we quickly discovered she wasn't selling plates or bowls. She was selling the chance to turn a meal into a memory.
For her, a beautifully-set table is a way of showing love to family, and dinner with "the nice plates" is an opportunity to gather together with loved ones. And she wants nothing more than to bring those same moments to her customers through the stunning pieces she offers.
She's launched a brand—not just a business—that communicates powerful, emotive messaging to the right people, telling them what makes her business unique, why it matters, and how it can make a difference in their lives.
Now, she could run a business just selling beautiful pieces of pottery and I’m sure she would do just fine. I’m sure that her business would still turn a profit if her marketing simply said, “Check out these beautiful pieces that I sell! Come buy something!” (Metaphorically, of course...nobody actually markets that bluntly).
But the impact she can and is already having by branding herself as a means for her audience to achieve a deeper need—a need for quality connections and timeless memories with loved ones—is having a phenomenal effect on her business.
Every detail of her brand—her color palette, her fonts, her messaging, her tone of voice in copywriting—is all driving home the one point: my products allow you to turn a meal into a memory with those you love.
Now that’s the power of a brand.
3 SIMPLE TIPS TO SHIFT YOUR BUSINESS INTO A BRAND
So where does this leave you?
If you’re realizing you’ve been focusing on running a business and have been neglecting your brand, don’t worry—I’ve got a few easy tips for you to begin shifting your business into a brand instantly.
1) WHAT KIND OF BRAND IMAGE DO YOU WANT TO HAVE?
Just putting your products and services out into the world isn’t enough, especially if you are competing in a crowded market.
Just as the clothes we choose to wear say something about us to the world around us, so too we need to decide with our brand what we are trying to say about our business to our audience.
When people think of my brand, what adjectives should come to mind?
What emotions should they feel?
Who is my target audience?
What do they need that I can provide?
What do they care about?
The answers to all these questions sum up to your brand image.
2) CONSISTENCY IS KEY.
They key to a solid brand identity is a consistent look and feel every time someone interacts with
your brand. It takes around 6 interactions with your brand before people finally start to become aware of it. 6!! If you’re not making an impact with consistent colors, clear visuals, and professional-looking design, you’re probably getting drowned out in a crowded market.
What is the main color I use in my designs?
How frequently does this color appear on my website, my social media, or my printed materials?
Am I using the same logo in my branding or still using old versions of my logo in various places?
How does it look compared to the logos my competitors are using?
If I were my own customer/client, would I think my business is professional, trustworthy, and worth the value I ask for my products/services?
By answering these questions, you can start making your visual branding more consistent, which equals faster recognition in a crowded market.
3) TALK ABOUT THEM, NOT YOU.
My dad used to always tell me, “The most interesting thing people want to talk about is themselves.” Not only is that true in relationships, it’s true in business, too.
If you’re not bridging the gap between what you do and how it makes a difference to your audience, you’re missing out on rich engagement with your dream customers or clients. They don’t know how you can help them until you tell them how they can benefit from what you have to offer.
How many times do I say “I” or “we” on my website homepage? (Or my Facebook page’s About section? Or an average Instagram post?) Literally the number of times “I” or “we” appears.
Now, how many times do I say “you” in those same places? (Count this, too.)
How can I rewrite that same block of text, changing the perspective from talking about myself to talking about my audience?
Example: “We offer quality photography for weddings, capturing the most important moments in our client’s big day” becomes “Never forget those priceless moments of your big day. We’re here to capture every detail of your wedding with quality photography that you will treasure for a lifetime.”
Making these simple tweaks to your messaging says to your audience that you’re a brand whose mission is to serve their needs.
I hope these simple changes can make a big difference to shift your business into a brand. Let me know in the comments if you gave them a try!