Have you ever seen How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days? It used to be one of my absolute favorite movies (hang with me, here). Well there was this gala in the movie that was sponsored by a ritzy jewelry biz, and the winning marketing line of the day was "Frost Yourself," prompting the attendees to essentially borrow these expensive diamonds and jewels, "frosting" themselves for the evening. As cheesy as it was–it was also kind of brilliant.
Every time I think of branding, I think of this line. "Frost Yourself." You're putting on an image, as extravagant, unique, or simple as it might be. It goes so far beyond an adornment of your appearance. It displays who you are and shows off the core, the heart of your business in a single image. The branding process starts way before a logo and never ends. Your brand is YOU, and as long as you and your business are around, it'll represent who you are and everything you stand for.
Your brand is YOU, and as long as you and your business are around, it'll represent who you are and everything you stand for.
This 3-part series will begin with a look at what branding is and why it's so important. We'll dive into the nitty-gritty vital reasons behind branding yourself and answer some FAQ's that I've received from my very own clients (now partners). In parts 2 and 3, we'll cover the details of what branding yourself looks like, explore a few case studies on several successful brands, then walk you through how to start your own incredibly important branding journey.
What is branding?
The term branding is ALL over the internet now-a-days. And people seem to think it's important because they can't stop talking about it. But what IS it exactly?
Did you know that the term branding originally comes from the Germanic word "burning?" And it wasn't until recently that assigning a brand to something came to mean the promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design?* It's incredibly interesting to me how branding went from burning a mark or symbol into something or someone to the promotion of a product through distinctive design. Maybe if we all burned our logos into our sides we'd invest a little more time and energy into the design of them. (Just food for thought.)
Branding is your attempt at developing an entire visual identity around who you are and what you do, and consistently communicating that through a mark (a logo), a vibe (your look-and-feel), and the system in which you work.
Why is branding important?
Appearance matters. Simple as that. I know we all say "don't judge a book by its cover," but truth is, we do judge books by their covers. Good first impressions are what set you apart from your competition. Your potential clients and customers will develop their opinion about your business with their first glance. Your branding IS that first glance, so it's important to have it RIGHT and really make a lasting impact with them.
Also, confidence. In yourself, in your business, in where you're heading. You know when you buy a rockin' new outfit and put it on for the first time? THAT feeling. Amazing. Well branding is basically new clothes for your business (I mean new diamonds—remember, "frost yourself"), and it impacts the way you work. Having a good, solid, unique brand will transform the way you work and the way you feel about your business.
Last year (summer of 2014), I designed a logo for two teachers who developed a writing curriculum. One of the teachers will include in her emails from time to time how much she STILL loves her logo and the feelings associated with her brand. Here's the most recent note: "The logo looks so professional and the colors just pop. I continue to love how it looks!" This to me says "success," both for her business and for her personally in her confidence.
Branding is incredibly important. Therefore, you need it.
The tough stuff. Questions my clients have asked:
My business has been around for years! I haven't needed any "branding" before. Why do I need it now?
If your business doesn't have a logo or a consistent visual identity, but it's thriving–what it means is that you HAVE in fact branded yourself. You just aren't communicating that visually yet. It means that you've nailed this whole "business" thing, have an awesome product/service, and you're great at connecting with potential clients. So what would visual branding do for you? It'll tell everyone who runs across your business all of those awesome things about you. Immediately. You don't know how many potential customers you lose because they take a glance at your site and aren't immediately sold. The right branding will only help your business, not harm it.
My work speaks for itself! Why do I need it branded?
Unfortunately, our work/product doesn't speak for itself. We have to tell our audience ALL about ourselves and our products so that eventually, hopefully, we can captivate them enough to commit to investing and experiencing it for themselves. From that point, we hope that they believe enough in our product to spread the word about it–but what information are they then passing along? Your... website? And is that website properly branded so that the new-comers know your product immediately? Branding, my friend.
I can't really afford it. I'm just starting out. Why can't you cut me a break?
Okay, I get it, branding can be expensive. But first, let's think of it as an investment; think of those potential customers I referred to before. Starting a business is expensive, and starting it off right is even more expensive—but think long-term and think growth. It might cost you more now, but you'll see the return on it in the (near) future.
Also, I can't "cut you a break" because, well, I'll be honest... I'm trying to make a living, too. And my design skills and brand development knowledge are worth me charging businesses for. I haven't worked as hard as I have to not charge what it's worth. (I feel another blog post coming on.) That being said, I get the whole "being on a budget" thing. If you can't invest in it right now, then at least do some simple DIY branding that'll position you correctly. Even corral some professional design opinions to make sure you're hitting the mark (my feedback is free and I love to give it!). Then invest in a bigger, better image when you're financially able.
I've done my own branding myself and I think it works. So why would I need a professional designer?
Branding yourself properly is tricky. Having someone who is a professional and knows how to develop a visual identity is key. When you're in the thick of your business, it's often difficult to look at your company image with a non-biased, neutral eye. And let's face it, Aunt Martha LOVES your logo, but your mom thinks it's terrible. Everyone has an opinion, but a professional opinion is the one you really need to adequately establish yourself as a brand.
The more professional and well-designed your brand is, the more credible your company will become. Let's go back to the basics. Appearance. Would you hire someone who shows up to their interview in jeans? Probably not, because you won't take them seriously. What does a professional brand say about your business? It says that you're serious about it, that you're willing to invest in it, and that you've turned to the professionals to make it happen.
Next time we'll get into the details of branding—what it looks like and what successful branding does for your business. Then to wrap it up, we'll start applying tangible steps and actions for YOUR business to take today. If you want to receive it (plus other blog posts) in your inbox, make sure to subscribe:
Now be honest and comment below with any questions YOU might have about branding. Still don't totally understand what it is? Or why it's necessary? Let me know below!