Brands happen. And let me tell you what I mean by that. Your brand is the sum total impression a customer has of your company and it is influenced by every interaction they have with you and your company.
I was at a networking event the other night, and had an interesting conversation with an accountant (of all people) about branding. He shared with me that he had developed his brand more or less by accident. He named his company, created a logo that he liked, put up his website, and has been in business for himself for over 10 years. As we talked about marketing and branding, he came to the realization that he had, by default, created a brand for himself but had no idea whether or not it was correctly suited for his target audience or more specifically, if he created a brand that helped him get and keep the kinds of customers he wanted.
Branding yourself is one of the most important things you can do as an Entrepreneur, and shouldn't be approached haphazardly. The easiest way to think about why take the time to brand yourself carefully is right in front of you every day at the supermarket. Why do you pay more for Tide, for example, versus the store brand laundry detergent? The brand. A brand gives you many things, but most importantly, a strong brand gives you a certain degree of pricing protection. That's because the brand means more to the consumer than just the sum of the parts.
The brand represents the essence of your customer's experience with your product or company - the delivery of the good or service itself, the emotional connection, the customer service - every single touchpoint with your product/company.
Branding is a discipline. It is the vehicle through which a customer relates emotionally to your business. Logos, advertising, your website - those are all tactics you can use to communicate your brand message. But for an Entrepreneur, establishing a consistent, clear brand is as vital as the product itself.
Building a brand is an active process. It is rooted in the understanding that if a customer is forming a relationship with your brand with every interaction, than you must actively design each customer interaction to clearly reflect the brand image you want to create. That is where CONSISTENCY is so critical.
Think about it, if in each interaction with your product or service, your customer gets a different impression of how they will benefit, or how they will be treated, or how they will feel, will they be able to form the impression of your company that you want them to? Actively managing each interaction is crucial to make sure that you don't have brand confusion.
What that means is that whether you are spending money on advertising, websites, logos or any other marketing tactic or just interacting with people at a local networking meeting - your brand message and image must be consistent. Here are some areas that are commonly overlooked that can create "accidental branding":
1) Social Media - if you are driving potential customers to your Facebook, Twitter, etc. pages remember that the impressions they are getting are part of their brand experience (especially if you are a solo-preneur and a big part of the product or service delivery). If you are using these channels to talk about your Saturday night exploits and are then trying to convince customers that you are a conservative financial advisor, for example - you may be harming your branding efforts.
2) Blogging and Discussion Groups - You may think you are just joining the conversation. But viewed through the lens that every interaction with you forms an impression of your brand - make sure you watch not only your language and comments, but ensure that your writing style and tone reflect your desired brand personality (laid back casual, for example versus stuffy and uptight).
3) Business Cards - Many people underestimate the branding power of a business card. It is the piece of your business and brand that you are leaving with people. Your business card communicates more than just information. The style, weight and feel of the card also communicates to people how you feel about your brand. Don't skimp on this low budget, but important communication tool.
The bottom line here is that people don't "buy" a product or service, they buy what the product or service can do for them and the way to capture that succinctly is through your brand.
By proactively asking yourself the question "does this support the brand image I want to have?" you will begin creating a solid brand for yourself without a single dollar of advertising money or flashy graphics. If you do not keep that in the forefront of your mind, you are likely to create a brand by accident.
So wake up and smell the Maxwell House Good to the Last Drop coffee (see how powerful?) and remember that each and everything you do builds (or damages) your brand.