Before we start it’s very important that you realize one thing: You have to be brutally honest with yourself. Or rather, with your brand.
You will probably read through these 10 points and think: “Yes, I’m actually doing all those things so I should be fine.” In fact, most of our new clients that we speak to think the same. Until we ask them to apply their reasoning honestly and all of a sudden the cracks start to appear.
In order to get the most of these tips we always suggest that you look at your brand or business from an outside perspective. Pretend you are a potential customer and you’re looking for a particular product or service that your company happens to offer. The big question is: Compared to your competitors, would you buy from you or from them?
We’d also suggest that you take on a professional agency to help you with your brand image. You’ll have to spend the money but if the design agency or brand consultancy you choose is only half decent at what they do you’ll have spent your money very wisely. Also keep in mind that if it’s done properly you’ll only have to spend your money once and should be set up for a long time and it will make future rebrands a lot easier and cost-effective.
1. First impressions are paramount
An age-old statement, we know, but it’s so true.
Without trying to bore you, scientific evidence can even back this statement up. For example, in a particular experiment people were shown a number of websites for just a split second and based on what they saw in that very limited amount of time were asked to note down which sites they would like to explore further. The number of ‘good looking’ sites that came out on top was overwhelming.
Next they were given the opportunity to spend a whole 10 minutes looking at each website again and were asked to make a choice as to which company they would most likely end up working with. Interestingly, most of them went with their initial split second choice, even when the information, services or products being offered were not as good as the other ‘less-good-looking’ websites. This is called the Halo effect. Simply speaking, human nature dictates that people don’t like being wrong and will often substantiate their first decision or impression by focusing on the positives and even overriding or blocking out any negative points
Now, this is all a bit technical so the way we tend to explain this point to our clients is that you wouldn’t wear a pair of flowery shorts to an important business meeting would you? So why would you allow your brand to do that? Just because you or your company are extremely good (or even the best) at what you do doesn’t necessarily mean that potential customers can see that by looking at you.
2. What emotions are you selling?
It is however very important to differentiate between a brand that just looks very good or striking and a brand that looks like it can deliver what it promises. And it’s the latter that you should really focus on.
In short, your brand image should be based on what your customer expects or wants to see and not necessarily what you would like to see. Just because you personally really like the colour green doesn’t mean it works for your type of business. Your brand should not convey your own personal feelings or likes but should speak to your market in a way that they like to be spoken to.
It’s also very important that you think beyond the actual services / products you’re offering and think about the emotion your clients are buying in to. For example, if you’re in the construction business your customers aren’t just buying a building from you, they’re buying reliability, solidity and strength. Similarly, if you’re running a medical centre your clients aren’t just looking for a medical professional but are looking for ease of mind, care, trust and cleanliness. This may sound pretty obvious but we come across a surprisingly large number of clients who have not applied this kind of thinking to their company’s image.
Once you have defined your brand’s ‘emotions’ you can look at ways to portray these. Think about fonts (which ones look clean, strong or professional). Or which colours would best correspond with a certain feeling? What kind of logo shape appears to make you feel a certain way? All these little things together will create a highly successful brand image for you.
3. Big yourself up
Always aim to make your company appear bigger than you really are. Customers are generally attracted to companies that look like they’ve been in business for years, have gained extensive knowledge in their particular field and look like they have a solid workforce or infrastructure in place.
You may own a company which only employs 5 people. And these 5 people may be the absolute best at what they do and may even provide a much better service than your competitor who employs 25 staff. But when a customer has to make a choice between your 5-man company or your 25 strong competitor, chances are they won’t come knocking on your door. Why? Because compared to them you don’t look big enough to handle a job.
The idea here is that you don’t actually have to lie but simply create a smoke and mirrors effect in order to make the customer feel that they’re dealing with a larger company and make them trust you before they’ve even spoken to you. Think about using certain types on your website and brochures or add strategic partners to your website.
4. Brand values
Creating a predefined set of values is extremely important in getting your brand to work across the entire business spectrum. It informs both your clients as well as your staff of the way things are done in the business and creates a uniform platform from which everyone in the business can do their job.
Decide which values apply first and foremost to your business. i.e. professionalism, integrity, easy going, friendly, high standards, pride, etc. and then work them into three or four separate sentences.
These should instantly be able to convey to your clients how you operate and what they can expect from a working relationship.
5. A strapline
Encapsulating your entire business offering into a single, short line can be quite a difficult process and may take some time but once you’ve cracked it it’ll do absolute wonders for the brand. Cheesy as some of them may are, we could rattle off 10 different strap lines of big brands and guaranteed you’ll know who they are instantly. So not only is it one of the quickest ways to inform customers about what you do or what you stand for but more importantly it will make them remember the brand.
When devising a strap line you’ll have to try and think creatively and again try to focus not on the actual service you’re offering but more on the result of this service as that’s what your customer is really buying off you. I.e. If you sell top of the range lawn-mowers, you actual sell beautifully cut lawns. If you’re an accountant you’re providing financial freedom. If you own a gym you’re offering physical wellbeing, if you sell stationery you sell ‘the little things that keep a business running’. Etc etc.
6. The message
What are you actually trying to say to potential customers? This is the first, but probably the most important, of many sales hurdles you have to overcome in order to get a client to buy into your business or services. If you don’t reel them in at this point you’re very unlikely to get any further so you must get this right.
Keep your main sales messaging as short and concise as possible and try to avoid any technical terms or specific industry terminology that ordinary people won’t understand. Remember, once they’re interested they can always find out more about the intricate details of your service offering. Also think again about the emotions you’re selling (point 2) and your brand values and try to work these into your message.
Always aim to highlight the benefits that your products/services can offer clients and put them on the forefront of any marketing materials. Ultimately this is what they’re most interested in. How will spending money with you benefit my business. THIS IS ALL THEY ARE INTERESTED IN. What do you do, who have you done it for before and what was the impact. If you do anything DO THIS. It is vital to attracting new business.
If you get it right it will also dis-empower your competition, create the buying criteria and show potential clients why they should use YOU above all others. This will mean that getting involved in a cost war shouldn’t occur as you have set out why they should use you and therefore why they should pay your prices. This part of the process should take time and make you work hard but when you come out the other end you should have more reasons than ‘We are nice people’.
It’s vital that customers have the same brand experience regardless of at what point they deal with your company, especially in a business to business environment. This ensures a consistent and reliable business experience meaning customers will always know what to expect from your business. You are creating an important trust between you and your clients and will ultimately make them feel comfortable enough to recommend you to other businesses without the potential fear of putting themselves in a bad light by referring them to an unreliable supplier. Lose this trust and you have a problem.
Keep in mind though that brand continuity goes far beyond the look of your website or other sales materials. Think about the way your staff dress or answer the phone, the manner in which your business sends out or chases up on invoices, the place in which you receive clients or have your meetings or the way in which you keep your clients updated with new developments in your industry.
9. Grow with the business
The time will (hopefully) come where your business grows to a size where your brand image no longer accurately reflects how much your business has grown or expanded. At this point it’s worth looking at re-branding.
Don’t misunderstand us, we don’t mean starting from scratch again (it’s taken you long enough to create a recognisable brand that people can trust) but look for example at updating your logo, website, stationery and sales materials to make them more contemporary and fit in line with your current developments. Sometimes this simply means changing the images on your website or updating your company fonts a touch. Or it could be that your company colours just need to be brightened up a bit.
10. Don’t stray!
One of the most frustrating and biggest problems we come across is when clients have spent a large amount of time, effort and money on branding or rebranding their business and five or six months down the line have started using different fonts here and there, putting their logo in a different place or have introduced new imagery or colours that do not remotely comply with their own brand guidelines. In effect, they’ve wasted a huge amount of effort and more importantly money on creating a specific brand image only to then change it when they see fit. This defeats the whole exercise.
It may appear that setting up corporate/brand guidelines is a rigid structure but in all honesty it needs to be if you want to get the most out of it. Having worked in the advertising industry for a number of years we have worked to such specific guidelines for some of the bigger companies. We can’t name any of these companies as such information is kept confidential but one of the larger software companies have a 400 page document in place for this!