It came to you in an ‘aha moment’; your ‘million-dollar idea’. Then you did what most people only dream of, you turned your idea into a viable product or service. You pitched it to investors, poured your heart and soul into it, sacrificed time with your family, and finally, after months and months of work, you launched. And the world responded with a resounding and disheartening …meh.
What happened? Is the world just not ready for this wonderful new doodad? Or in your haste to build your product, did you forget to build your brand?
Sadly, it doesn’t matter how brilliant your product or service is; if the right people aren’t getting the right message, your sales slump. In between product development and sales, there’s a whole whack of work to be done. You need to define your ideal audience, build a brand identity that will resonate with your audience, craft the right brand voice and identify the right vehicle to deliver your message. Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight, but when a meaningful brand is developed and nurtured, you’ll have the exciting advantage of standing out among your competitors and those in your marketplace.
The art of crafting a brand
To understand what your brand is, sometimes it’s helpful to look at what it’s not. Your brand is not what you’re selling, it’s not your logo or tagline or even your packaging, or website. These are all parts of your brand, but they are not the entire brand. Yes, they all are pieces to your brand, but it’s not the entire brand.
Your brand is a collection of perceptions in the minds of your consumers. It’s how someone feels about your company and it’s a reflection of everything you do. Your logo, tagline, emails, website, even the way you answer your phone, are all tools that help build your brand. They introduce your brand message and invite prospective customers to get to know you more. That’s where your marketing steps in.
Marketing is the vehicle that introduces your brand to your target audience. Your marketing has to connect with your target audience, to tell the story of your brand. It must be consistent and repetitive. From social media and blog posts, print ads, and signage, to the look and feel of your store or office; consistency and frequency are key.
Now here’s where it gets a bit confusing, since your brand is not your product or service, what exactly are you marketing?
Your marketing should be selling an experience. Good marketing creates a feeling that your audience relates to. Terry O’Reilly, the host of CBC’s marketing podcast Under the Influence, once said,
“Molson isn’t in the beer business; they’re in the party business. Michelin (Tires) isn’t in the tire business; they’re in the safety business. You have to know what it is that people are truly buying from you… Until an entrepreneur can truly answer that, their marketing will always be fuzzy.”
Let’s look at this a bit more. In Canada, we have two very popular places, where we flock every morning to get that much needed cup of caffeine; Tim Horton’s and Starbucks. Even though they both sell coffee, we feel very differently about them. Tim Horton’s is quick, inexpensive, uncomplicated and is a Canadian staple. Check out this ad, where you don’t actually see any of their products, but they are unmistakably appealing to our national pride and branding themselves as truly Canadian:
Starbucks, on the other hand, creates a completely different feeling. They are an experience-driven brand that strives to create a relationship between you and the barista behind the bar. Starbucks has an urban-trendy, tech-savvy feel. It’s for the up and coming and for the trendsetters. And in regards to advertising, they have a different philosophy than most other big brands – Starbucks only runs the occasional ad to promote a specific product. Watch one of their rare commercials and see how completely different it is from the Tim Hortons ad, even though their core product is the same.
Both companies have used humour to hold our attention, but the secondary feeling, the true branding, is completely different. Tim Hortons appeals to our Canadian identity, while Starbucks cleverly uses the infamous red cup scandal of 2015 to show how they listen to and connect with their customers. If you don’t remember what all the fuss over the red cup was about, you can find a recap here.
And to dive deeper into their brand identity, here are two articles you can read on your next coffee break:
Tim Hortons: How a brand became part of our national identity
Starbucks takes unique approach to marketing
Tim Horton’s and Starbucks are basically selling the same core product, both very successfully, but very differently. Why do both branding strategies work? Their brands resonate with different audiences. Neither one is trying to be everything to everyone. They have defined their market and their brand, set themselves apart from each other; and their customers literally drink it up.
Now it’s your turn to define your own product’s identity. If you feel stuck, enlist a firm that specializes in branding or put some time into researching what the larger companies are doing. This will be beneficial when trying to determine what business you are really in. Are you selling hamburgers, or are you selling family time? Are you selling business consulting, or are you selling an easy way for your clients to grow?
The best time to start branding your company is at the very beginning. The second best time is right now.