In the previous article (“Does Your Brand Have Personality?”), we looked at the UPS brand. Let’s consider it briefly again as we think about bringing your brand to life. What comes to your mind when you think of UPS? Probably your answers include the following:
- The colors brown and gold
- Brown delivery trucks zipping around your town
- Your friendly local delivery driver in his brown uniform
Those are all things we can visualize. We’ve seen brown delivery trucks and friendly uniformed drivers all our lives (UPS has been around over 100 years). Those are parts of the UPS brand that you can see, but did you know that parts of the UPS brand cannot be seen?
An invisible brand?
That’s right, a strong company brand goes well behind the visual into the invisible. How is that possible? Here’s how: your brand is not just your logo, fonts, and colors. Those are only visual elements of your brand.
The Dictionary of Brand by Marty Neumeier defines “brand” this way: “A brand is a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organization.” That definition leads us to two conclusions: 1) a brand resides in people’s minds and hearts, and 2) their attitude toward a brand is based on their experiences with the brand.
“Your brand is your reputation.”
At Rosewood Marketing, we think about brands with this simple definition: your brand is your reputation. Businesses have reputations just like people do. This explains why a brand consists of more than just the brand elements you can see. UPS has a reputation for fast, dependable package delivery to every address in the nation. You can’t see their reputation, but it’s as much part of their brand as the color brown.
Let’s keep following this line of thought by answering the question, “Why are people loyal to a particular brand?” Do certain farmers operate only John Deere tractors because they like things that are green? Because they like leaping bucks? Of course not. Here are some reasons we stick with certain brands:
- The brand has treated us well.
- We had a memorable (enjoyable, surprising, meaningful, pleasant) experience with the brand.
- We grew up using or seeing the brand.
- Someone we admire uses or recommends the brand.
- The brand makes us feel special in some way (or gives us status or freedom or some other feeling that we like).
- Inertia: we’ve used the brand for a long time out of habit.
You can likely think of other reasons people are loyal to brands. Notice that these ideas relate to the “invisible” aspects of the brand. A brand gains a place in our minds and hearts through experiences, memories, and feelings. Working to brand your business is the work of defining and building your reputation. It’s an exercise in building trust.
Bringing a brand to life means making your brand into something that your customers and employees can not only see but also experience and remember. And that involves all aspects of your business.
Bringing your brand to life
When most people think of applying their brand, they think of making sure their website uses their logo and brand colors. But that doesn’t account for our deeper understanding of a brand as a reputation based on memories, experiences, and feelings. You can see that this way of looking at our brands calls for a deeper understanding of implementing or applying a brand in real life.
In the remainder of the article, we will look at implementing your brand across the whole scope of your company, as well as a quick overview of ways to apply the visual aspects of your brand.
We usually think of brand application as being the marketing department’s responsibility. That is correct, but branding is not just a marketing function. Your brand reaches into every area of your business because there is no function in your business that does not affect your brand.
From your choice of vendors to your salesman to your invoicing to after-the-sale service and everything in between, it all influences your brand. Why? Because it influences people’s perception of you and thus shapes your reputation.
Finance. What is your pricing model? How does it compare to your competitors? What do you pay your employees? Financial decisions are influenced by your vision, mission, and core values, which are underpinnings of your brand. Thus, the area of finance is one place where your brand comes to life.
Human resources. I think all of us understand the importance of people in our businesses. The author of Traction, Gino Wickman, says that 90% of your problems as a business owner are people problems. In Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses the concept of “first who, then what.” His point is that if you get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seat, you can go much farther and much faster with less effort.
Customer experience—an important part of creating memories and feelings, and thus an important part of your brand—is in many cases highly dependent on customers’ interactions with your people. The people you hire and the policies you implement to manage and incentivize them are important ways to bring your brand to life.
Your people need to be aligned with your company’s vision, mission, and core values. Their skills need to be applicable to creating or delivering products or services that your brand exists to provide.
Operations. Do your people have processes to follow for consistency? Do they have the tools they need to be efficient and productive? Do you have a quality control system in place? Are you able to deliver orders on time?
UPS needs incredible operational prowess to maintain its reputation of fast, dependable service. In a much smaller way than UPS, each of our businesses needs to invest in operational capacity that enables us to meet our promises to our customers. Trying to maintain a quality brand without good operations to back it up is fighting a losing battle; thus, operations is important for bringing your brand to life.
Marketing. To be a marketer is to be a communicator. Your marketing works to communicate your brand through visuals like colors and photos, and through written messaging.
The way marketing communicates must be consistent with your brand. This gives prospective customers a foretaste of what it is like to do business with you. Your marketing should support your reputation by presenting an appealing and accurate promise to ideal customers in your niche market. If your marketing promises something other than what you deliver, it undermines your brand.
“Your brand reaches into every area of your business because there is no function in your business that does not affect your brand.”
Traditional brand application
At Rosewood Marketing, brand design is one of the services we offer. We help businesses develop not just the underlying fundamentals of their brand but also the visual elements that help form a business’s identity and personality. These are like clothes—we all try to wear clothes fitting for the occasion. Our businesses need suitable “clothes” too.
Once you have a logo and brand colors, how and where do you use them?
Website. When someone drives past your location or sees your ad and then looks up your business online, the logo and colors should be the same as they had seen previously. This helps them know they are in the right place.
Signage. Use your logo and colors on your signage, whether it is temporary or permanent.
Social media. Your social media pages should feature your logo, and depending on the type of posts, the images should use your brand colors.
Business cards. Business cards should feature your logo and colors along with your name and contact information.
Ads and brochures. While the message of your ads can change, the format and feel of them should be consistent. Always use your logo and brand colors.
Envelopes, letterhead, and address labels. These items should look professional and be identified with your brand.
Invoices, quotes, proposals. To leave a positive impression on your customers, put your logo and contact information on important business paperwork. This is important whether paperwork is delivered electronically or on paper.
Packaging and boxes. Yes, you can ship your products in a plain cardboard box, but shipping them in boxes that carry your name and logo is better. This not only identifies the package with your brand but also makes your brand visible to more people.
Uniforms, vehicles, and trailers. Uniforms make your people look professional as they interact with the public, and vehicles carry your name and logo wherever they go.
Email signature. Use your logo in your email signature for a professional image and to reinforce it in people’s minds.
Swag. Pens, calendars, hats, mugs, and much, much more. You can put your logo on all kinds of swag—almost every product imaginable. Then you can give the items to employees or customers as gifts. Do consider the implications of swag before you place your next order. For example, do you really want your brand associated with cheap pens that don’t write well?
Your small business brand may never be as famous as UPS or McDonald’s or John Deere. But this doesn’t mean your brand is unimportant. Using the different parts of your business to bring your brand to life will impact your employees, your customers, and your bottom line.