Brand story: ‘Once upon a time…’

Every brand has a story. A tale of how it came to be, the person behind the logo, its history, how it grew, its ups and downs, etc. A story can be compelling, interesting, some have even had TV series or films made out of them (I’m thinking Mr Selfridge or the story behind Apple).

Many have used their story to great effect, so much so, that it’s become intertwined with the brand itself. But a brand story is more than just the company history. It’s a narrative, yes, but it tells the story of the heart and soul of the brand, its aim is to create an emotional connection with its customers. Not only should it be engaging, captivating, endearing and meaningful, but it should also communicate what you stand for, the values of your company, the customer experience and your brand promises.

At the same time, it’s important to not over think the process itself too much. Storytelling is something that we do naturally in our day-to-day lives without even realising that we are doing it. This shouldn’t be some huge sales pitch in which you are selling the features and benefits of your products, nor should it be a dull corporate account of your company’s vision.

With that in mind, every company should be creating and developing their story to help to create relationships with not just its customers, but also its employees, stakeholders, suppliers and anyone else that comes into contact with them.

Done well, a compelling story will contribute to the creation of a successful, sustainable business with loyal brand fans. So what should a business consider when telling their story, and how should they use it to grow their business?

To start with, a brand story needs to have legs.

There’s no point, in this case, for this story to have an ending. It needs to evolve, and develop as the company grows. There should be twists and turns, offshoots, additions to the story, all to entice customers and keep them entertained and wanting to know what the next instalment holds.

Likewise, it needs to be a story that hasn’t been told before. In the same way that a company’s offering must be sufficiently different from its competitors, so too should its story. And it must be relevant to the people reading it, so the target audience must be high on the consideration list when compiling the narrative.

Be conversational! Don’t get overly hung-up on grammar, for example. And keep it short, sharp and to the point. Your customers want to learn enough about you to buy into your brand, but not be bored to tears with long, drawn out prose.

In this day and age, there’s no benefit to keeping a story within the realms of the company HQ. It’s so important to create relevant and insightful two-way dialogue with customers and, in some respects, this is the most important conversation you should be having. In this way, the brand story develops with its customers as they contribute and feedback with their thoughts, insights and opinions.

There’s nothing more valuable than involving a company’s audience and using them to shape how the brand evolves. It’s taking the existing story, and rather than just telling it, you’re creating it with your customers. Increase the ownership outside of the company by sharing it, and inviting contribution and input. They’ll feel involved and loved, and you’ll be well on the way to building a database of superfans!

Finally, keep going, evaluating, adding to, and taking away all the time.

It’s a never-ending item on the to-do list. Your brand story should be preserved, valued and treated with respect and given the time it deserves, after all, it’s what makes your company what it was, is, and will be in the future.

 

Getting your marketing right – the first time!

In our digital age of engagement and two-way conversation, many small and micro-business owners recognise the need for marketing to create a strong brand presence and promote their business. Maybe you are currently at this stage yourself, where the referrals – which have provided you with the vast majority of your business to date – have started to dry up? Maybe you’ve reached the tough decision to leave your local networking group as you’re not meeting as many new customers as you’d like? Or maybe you are doing a roaring trade but are starting to become aware of how much you could scale your business and reach a wider audience?

So, you know you need to create a marketing strategy to bring in new leads, but how do you start and where do you go for help and support? Should you start with social media or your website? Or should you look at more traditional options such as the printed press or direct mail? More importantly, how do you avoid becoming that annoying spammer selling your wares in every group on every social media platform in existence (yep we all have had our fair share of them, haven’t we!)

For the majority of you, I’m guessing that marketing isn’t where your strengths or passions lie. If it was, you very probably, would have set up your own marketing consultancy rather than a coaching, accountancy, or any other fab business that you have poured your blood, sweat and tears into. So, outside of managing all of your marketing yourself – and running the risk of

  1. Complete overwhelm
  2. Being unable to deliver on your actual business offering and
  3. Throwing good money after bad on the next big marketing tactic – my recommendation would be to outsource to a company that can provide you with the advice and support you need

I appreciate that it can feel like a step into the unknown, and sometimes a case of trial and error. There are many clients that come to me who have given something a go, either themselves, or with a marketing agency that has approached them, and it may not have worked first time. There may be a number of reasons for this, such as the agency not fully understanding the brief, or the business owner not really knowing what they want out of it, just that they feel ‘it should work’.

So what do I advise these clients, and also those who are looking to dip their toe into the marketing waters for the first time?

Prepare a plan

First and foremost, take some time to think about what it is you want to achieve. Any good marketing consultant should go through this with you and help you to devise a marketing strategy, but it helps if you have had a think about this beforehand. Consider what you believe to be a success, and this should form part of the objectives that are set between you and the agency/consultant.

Prepare a brief

It’s important for the person that is helping you with your marketing to become an extension of your team; the more they understand your business, the better the job they can do for you. Who are your target market(s), what do your existing and future customers look like, and what motivates them? The more thinking you can do around this, the better. It’ll help you further down the line, and ensure your marketing strategy is in line with your business objectives.

Know your budget

You may not know what the going rate for a marketing agency or consultant may be, but it’s important to try to do some research beforehand. Then set your budget based on what can you realistically afford to spend, and what you might expect to achieve with that amount. You may find that it helps to ask other business owners who have used a marketing consultant in the past or drop a request in an active Facebook or LinkedIn group that you may be a member of. You’ll find that a lot of people are more than happy to advise and recommend. This may also save you a lot of time (and money!) in research.

Rely on your gut instinct

This can count for a lot. This person/team will be working on your behalf, so you have to be comfortable with how they represent you. Are they including you in the creative process, getting your input on how you want to be represented as a brand? What similar clients have they worked on in the past? What outcomes or benefits did they achieve?

Regular reviews

Sitting down regularly with your consultant will not only increase the close working relationship, but also help to tweak/amend the marketing strategy where necessary, and allow you to check progress against the objectives set out at the beginning.

It may seem like a daunting move, but if you follow the steps above it will help you on the way to getting it right the first time rather than having to invest time and money down the line on correcting potential costly errors.

So, let me know what you think in the comments and feel free to get in touch if I can be of further assistance…

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

Is branding really essential for a business as small as mine?

In my business, I always get asked…What is branding and is it really essential for a business as small as mine?

When small business owners approach me after hearing that I’m a Branding Consultant, they will often ask me to design a logo for them or re-design their website. ‘But they are just visual representations of your brand you understand?’ I say ‘What’s your strategy, what’s your brand all about?’ To which I’m often met with blank faces.

Coming from a corporate background myself, having worked for some of London’s biggest advertising agencies and with some of the world’s most renowned brands (from Coca-Cola and BMW to Nike and VISA), it’s always frustrated me how many ‘experts’ within my industry can overly complicate branding (and marketing for that matter), mystifying the very clients that they are trying to win. If we can’t express clarity at the very highest level, what hope is there for small business owners with no previous experience in the field?

So let’s get back to basics.

Firstly, what is branding?

Your brand IS your business.

It’s the persona you portray to the world. It’s what your customers buy into.

It’s also important to add here what your brand is not: a company name, a logo or the way your company communicates these to the world. It’s all of these and much, much more. It’s what you can ‘stand up and be counted for’ as a company, and how you want to be perceived in the hearts and minds of your customers.

I always feel that my clients come on a journey with me. They often approach me to get their logo created or clarity on their social media strategy. But they leave with so much more – a real understanding of who they are, who they want to target and how best to communicate with potential clients on their level. In essence, the CLARITY that they have been searching for (for so long); having previously spent a considerable amount of time, money and energy jumping from one tactic to the next, whether that be social media, SEO, networking or printed flyers.

Brand strategy…

So brand strategy then – in its simplest of terms, is a set of principles that guide you as an organisation. These should act as a guideline for communicating your company’s reason for being. Without this, how can you expect your customers to buy into you or your business? You’ll always be following the next bright shiny object or cutting prices as a way to lure customers in.

But how do you create a strategy? Personally, I’d advise that you start with your goals and vision, because if you don’t know where you want to be, then how can you possibly know how to get there? This visualisation process is invaluable; not only will you and any others in your organisation be clearer on what you want to achieve, but it helps to work out how you can get there.

The power of your brand comes from the ability to adapt it to reflect your audience’s point of view, rather than your own. This is why defining your target market is so essential in ensuring your brand’s effectiveness.

It’s important to drill down beyond the demographic and geographic characteristics of your target market(s) and look at what really drives them, and what motivates them to do business with you. How do they typically feel about competitors in your industry? What problems do they have that you could resolve?

You should also analyse what your competitors are up to, so that you have a clear understanding of the whole marketplace and how you slot into that, together with the key points of differentiation between your company and others.

There’s no point just being a ‘little bit different’; think about how you can set your brand apart from the rest, now you know where you sit.

Productising and packaging

Productising and packaging-up your offerings, enables you to become more accessible to your target market(s). This in turn, allows you to reach a wider customer base, so you should consider how this option could work for you. It also makes it easier for your customer to opt-in, as you have created the tangible from the (very often) intangible – so they’ll know right from the outset what they’re getting for their money.

At this stage, I would highly recommend you get an expert on board to help you with your brand essence (the emotional heart of your brand), and how that should be communicated to customers (visual identity, tone of voice, channels etc). This is where the magic happens and you really start to create your own ‘tribe’ (as our very own Julie Hall would refer to those loyal customers).

From a business perspective, a cherished brand adored by its customers, not only helps you stand out against your competitors, but also win more loyal customers much more easily.

It also helps you grow without losing consumer trust, as once you have your community of raving fans, they will follow you whichever direction you decide to take next (you only need to look at the Apple brand to see this in practice). Even if you experience a one-off problem or decide to increase prices, your customers are more likely to understand and continue buying your products.

To sum up, establishing your brand and getting your strategy in place, is one of the most important elements of running a business. Without a proper strategy in place the likelihood is that your business will fail.

Fact.

So what are you waiting for? Get cracking on creating that brand strategy today!

What do you think… do you have a brand strategy in place? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com