What is a brand? (Hint: it's more than you think!)

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When people think of their “brand,” their mind often goes to fonts, color, and logo. I’ve even heard people still talk about needing a motto!

Whenever I hear people talk about their brand in this way, I internally shudder. Why? Because if this is how you view your brand, you’re buying into increasingly outdated notions of what a business actually NEEDS to find success. Read below to see what I mean by that.

What is a brand?

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Your brand is your customers overall experience of your product and business. It’s the sum of all parts of what you do, as perceived by the customer. Your brand is so much more than fonts and colors. It’s what you stand for. It’s who you are.

Think about when you interact with a business, like say Target. Target’s Brand Identity (which is only part of their brand) is their name, the firetruck red color that is everywhere in-store and online, the bullseye logo. But (in the States anyway) Target’s brand is also family friendly, fun, adventurous, and accessible. Target has turned consumerism and shopping into an adventure destination that memes are made about.

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They’ve nailed their branding. People have even entirely acquiesced to the fact that entering a Target means you WILL spend more money than you thought you were going to, and THEY’RE ENTIRELY OK WITH THAT.

Are you starting to see how a brand is so much more than the basics, how it’s the entire experience that your customer has with your business?

BUT WAIT - let’s clarify something. Your “brand” is your “branding” plus your customers experience with your brand. So “brand” is the face, “branding” is the behind the scenes work. Think about it like a Play - all of the months of writing the script, casting actors, blocking scenes, and practices that no one sees are “branding.” The opening night of the performance, the thing that everyone sees and writes raving reviews about, is the brand. Good “branding” (all the behind-the-scenes work to develop your “brand”) should last your business for 10-20 years. Think about how a good play can run for decades without needing to change the script. That’s good branding - that led to a good brand that was able to adapt to new generations and audience demands. Whew, glad we got that sorted.

Your Brand and Business are NOT the Same

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Let’s take one moment to segway here. Your brand and your business are NOT the same thing. Looking at the example of Target, Target as a business is a physical location that sells a range of items to suit the average American’s material needs. Target as a brand is a fun-filled, joyous occasion, a “field-trip” for adults amidst an overwhelming adult life of responsibility. Inherent to its brand is permission to be a kid again, but this time with the financial capacity to purchase whatever the hell you feel like and no mom there to pull you away from the toy aisle (except now the toy aisle looks a lot more like the house decor aisle).

Your business is part of your brand, and your brand is part of your business. They are two sides of the same coin, and are both equally important. You can create a killer brand but have nothing to sell (hence the many influencers who end up selling Daniel Wellington watches - they’ve got the brand, but they don’t have a business). You can also create an amazing business with no brand - except you likely won’t sell anything because there’s no EXPERIENCE associated with it, so why would a customer shop with you over the other business doing something similar to you but that also makes them feel good?

Elements of a Brand

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Now, there’s a LOT here. So much that I couldn’t fit it all into this article! Instead I created a simple guide that explains each of these elements: what they are and how to use them. And don’t worry, just because there’s a lot of information doesn’t mean that it’s going to be confusing and overwhelming. I’ve broken it all down in such a way that even the most novice business person can successfully create a brand that will help you reach your goals. You can download it by clicking here!

Why We Brand & The Ethics of Branding

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Like we talked about before, a business is not complete (and definitely not profitable) without a brand. So why can’t you just create a business and watch it flourish? Because of the sheer numbers of businesses like yours vying for YOUR target customers attention.

We brand so that we can capture your target customers attention and help them get what they need (our products or services). Your brand is the mechanism through which you create an emotional connection with a buyer, provide justification for the price of your offering, and display the inherent value that you, your business, and your product/service bring.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m hugely uncomfortable with sales pitches and “selling.” Why? Because I never want to sell something to someone that doesn’t actually want or need it, but that buys it because I manipulated them into purchasing it through my marketing and branding tactics. Thinking about “sales” brings to mind an image of the greasy car salesperson that sells you a lemon of a car while promising you one made of gold.

If that sounds like you too, rest easy in the fact that you’re not alone. But what brings me even more relief is the realization that if I’m thinking about that, there’s no way I’ll ever be that person. It’s the people who don’t consider that that have more to worry about.

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Enter my philosophy of Sustainable Selling.

In short, it’s selling to a distinct target customer whose life will certifiably be made better by purchasing your product or service. If we’re going to get Mari Kondo-esque, it’s asking, “Will my product bring this person joy?” Now obviously you won’t be putting customers through a screening process before allowing them to make a purchase, but what you are going to be doing is ensuring that from your end you are selling to an audience that would benefit from being sold to. Sure, you’ll get some stragglers who don’t “need” your offering, but at that point, that’s their responsibility. This requires in-depth work on your part to find out who your ideal customer is (and I’ve created a worksheet to help you do just that!), and continuous self-check ins to ensure that your selling practices are still in line with this philosophy.

p.s. you can get access to my Sustainable Selling checklist by getting my Solopreneur Resource Library card! It’s entirely free and offers you unlimited access to resources, exclusive deals on services, and the opportunity to be the first to know about everything WHOLEco!

Finding Your Brand

Has this been information overload? Don’t worry, we’re almost done.

Now that we understand what a brand is and why we need it, let’s look at some practical steps that you can do to actually find your brand (aka: do the “branding” for your business).

  1. Download the Elements of a Brand Guide, and get to know what each aspect is and get a foundation for what we’re talking about.

  2. Discover your Mission Statement and Core Values with this worksheet.

  3. Name your Ideal Customer with this worksheet.

  4. Look at all content you are creating and ensure that it is all in alignment with your Mission Statement and Core Values, and that it is all aimed explicitly at your Ideal Customer. To get into the practice of talking to your ideal customer, write them a letter. Talk about why you connect with them, what you appreciate about them, or what encouragement you can offer to them. It doesn’t have to even mention your business, just get comfortable talking to them as a human being. If something you are doing is not in alignment with your Mission Statement, Core Values, and Ideal Customer, reconsider its implementation or get rid of it entirely.

  5. Determine your Brand Personality. How do you speak, what topics do you cover regularly, what are some keywords that align with who your brand is? If your brand was a person, what would they look like?

  6. Establish the Value that your brand brings (Value Proposition). What’s different about your brand, and why should your Ideal Customer choose to work with you?

  7. And finally, settle on some core components of your Brand Identity (logo, colors, fonts, etc). Don’t stress about doing everything the “right” way or even having all components of this settled. For example, I don’t have a logo. Instead, I consider my face to be my “logo.” Thus the same photo of me is on my business cards, my instagram profile, the front page of my website, and all other social media channels. Do what feels most comfortable to you.

At the end of the day, your brand is YOURS. You don’t need all of the explicit design elements, you simply need to know who you are and what you stand for. Everything else will fall into place afterward.