When I say “brand,” I’m betting the things you use most come to mind, like the Apple iPhone in your pocket. Or the Facebook app on your Apple iPhone. When branding gets done right, we rarely think in generic terms, like smartphone or app. We tend to default to the brand. Some brands become so interwoven in our culture, they become the thing itself, like calling all tissues Kleenexes or all sticky notes Post-Its.
Brands have the power to help us build a community around our product or service. But how does someone actually build a brand?
First, let’s get one myth out of the way. Some strategy gurus may suggest that business strategy should get top billing ahead of building your brand, and we agree – to a point. Business strategy is definitely important, but if your strategy doesn’t focus on the value you have to offer to customers, you’re on shaky ground. Bringing your brand to life helps you define that value and the customer experience you want associated with your product or service.
Obviously, brands are built over time. With the start of any new endeavor, you compete in the beginning based on how people perceive your brand. Your brand becomes your calling card for helping your product or service stand out in a crowd. Then, once a relationship exists based on the exchange of value (e.g. products, services), your brand begins to gain meaning, both intentionally and unintentionally.
Second, brands come with a promise of delivering something that customers value. Branding goes beyond visual identifiers and begins to highlight the values and the experience customers come to expect when the choose your product or service.
Third, companies no longer own their brand; customers own the brand. Technology and the social web transferred ownership to customers and increased visibility of the customer experience. Over time, we see that value equates to what someone experiences compared to the expectations set by the brand.
So how can you bring your brand to life? I suggest you and your team start with these three questions:
- What are we passionate about?
- What motivates us?
- What are we the most proud of?
By answering these questions, you can begin to create an emotional connection for your brand that is meaningful and should be conveyed at all times.
Finally, in the long term, we need to remember that brands can take on a life of their own and become living entities separate from you and your team. Like people, brands have a personality, a soul, belief systems, aspirations, and ambitions. Brands also have the ability to inspire and change lives. This brand essence connects to the underlying idea that it’s important for the business to help the customer understand the value the business creates and how it relates to customer needs and perceptions.
In addition to a brand’s essence, there are brand attributes. These qualities help characterize the brand as it’s expressed through touch points between the business and customers. They should also be applied to the quality of the interaction that anyone has with the brand. By defining your brand’s attributes, you’ll set a standard that supports long-lasting relationships between your brand and customers. As a result, you establish an emotional connection between your company and real people, a connection that creates an experience.
Then, through our limbic brain, we recall those experiences and the feelings associated with them. If you’ve done right by your brand, people will recall your great brand and connect it to great experiences. I promise that taking the time to bring your brand to life will lead to a win for both you and your customers.
The post originally appeared at LinkedIn on April 1, 2016. Steve Fisher and Ja-Nae Duane launched their visual guidebook The Startup Equation in February 2016. They’ve also set a goal to help one million entrepreneurs by 2020. You could be one of those million. Learn more about branding and other must-have knowledge for entrepreneurs at StartupEquation.com.