Branding isn't a logo. It isn't colors. It isn't marketing or advertising. It isn't a business card.
If you're designing your visual identity on your own, you're doing it wrong. Some things need to be left to the professionals.
If you get your marketing materials from Vistaprint, you're doing it wrong. Congratulations! Your visual identity is now the same as thousands of other businesses.
If you have dozens of bad reviews online or if you make the news for the wrong reason, you're doing it wrong. This means the promise you're making to customers (we'll get to this later) isn't being kept.
What is branding?
Branding and marketing are terms that are often used interchangeably. Both of them require a good strategy but it's in the tactics where they differ. Where marketing uses more "push" tactics, branding uses "pull" tactics and focuses on building loyalty in customers.
For example, marketing tactics take the product/service and push it in the face of customers. Things like, "Buy our product because it's cool or because it will solve your problems."
Branding supports and is underlying any marketing or advertising strategy. It's creating a perception and a promise to the customer and then consistency following through on that promise. It's saying, "This is who we are. This is why we exist. This is what we believe. If you agree, you can buy from us and support our product."
How do you brand, then?
First things first, don't try to handle your initial branding or rebranding in-house. Hire an agency or a consultant with good experience. You need the unbiased outside perspective.
1. Set your goals. Yes, you've heard this before or at least you should have. Clearly explain what you want to accomplish with your brand. And describe the perception you WANT your customers to have of you. Write a brand promise. This is different from a positioning statement or mission statement. Make an actual promise to your customers.
Actually write down your goals and your promise and what you want the perception of your brand to be. Trust me, you'll refer back to it often when making decisions.
2. Make a plan. Develop a strategy to follow through on your promises and the tactics you'll use to build that trust and loyalty in your customers.
Include the plan into a brand standards guide. This guide is a road map to building your brand. It has your logo, colors, fonts, how to use brand materials and more importantly, how not to use them. This one piece will be used any time you create new products, processes and marketing pieces. Ask yourself, "Does this align with our brand standards? Does this follow through on the promise we make to our customers?"
3. Regularly revisit your branding materials and your brand promise. A brand is not a campaign. It does not have checkpoints and a timeframe. It's always ongoing.
This is where having an external partner is helpful. Your brand is always evolving and sometimes it could be in a way you don't want it to. Having an external partner will give you the unbiased viewpoint and can spot inconsistencies in your brand that you could easily overlook in day to day operations.
Branding is easy to overlook and to underestimate its value. But, it's things like good branding that can take your business to the next level. Set aside time to give it your undivided attention to start. Then regularly check on it to keep things in order and you'll be just fine.