With the start of the new year comes countless "new you" slogans, followed by workout plans, freshly imagined goals, and lifestyle makeover. You may get annoyed by the newcomers at the gym, but everyone's trying to remake themselves for the better, even if they're hogging your favorite machine.
The same can be said for your small business or startup company. Companies are always evolving--growing and changing--just like us. And branding should grow and evolve to match the business it epitomizes. After listening to the “Unemployeable” podcast with Brian Clarke, I wanted to take a moment and explain what branding is, and what branding is not.
To quote the podcast, "branding is the culmination of everything you say and do as perceived by [people]."
Branding comes from the days when ranchers would burn numbers or family symbols on their cattle to represent the cattle rancher and his reputation. Today, we brand images, websites, and products to represent our companies in order to represent and convey our reputation.
First off, your brand is not your logo. Your brand is what other people think of you. It's more than your color themes, logo, and typeface that you put on pamphlets and business cards. When someone thinks about your company, there are real feelings and assumptions in their mind that represents your reputation and the heart behind your company.
Good branding is conveyed through an authentic intersection with your audience. Everything you say and do embodies your brand. Every service, product, email, phone call conversation, coworker interaction, and client thank-you gift makes up your brand and is proof that your brand is lived out authentically by your company. It's a two-way relationship: your company must function and "live out" the brand established, but the brand is created by how the company functions.
Taking a note to touch on the "authentic intersection" note from above: branding has a lot to do with empathy. It's about asking really good questions and answering them honestly. It's about addressing real issues and responding with a solution. This is empathy. "Empathy" being that genuine way of presenting yourself to customers and to the marketplace; understanding how your customers feel, the struggles they face, and presenting yourself as a solution to those problems.
Branding means you are keeping promises. Your brand reassures customers when you deliver and follow through with the feelings and experience that your brand conveys. Customers have expectations, and you can't afford to underdeliver because your branding wrongly conveys who you actually are, what you actually deliver.
Your branding is a tool to help build a vision for the future. Use a rebranding opportunity to learn who you are as a company. What truly drives your business? What is the real service you're selling your customers? Once you fully understand the nature of your brand, you can use this knowledge to shape and create content, products, and services that truly embody your company and the company you seek to become.
A new year means a clean slate. You can get a gym membership or change your lifestyle to discover your true self, as some do with New Year's Resolutions. You can rebrand to discover your true business, and unleash the potential of your brand.