Branding Happens With or Without You

Got Milk? OK, maybe not so relevant. But…

Got a website? A social presence? Do you publish content? Speak at events, or on webinars or podcasts? Do you give interviews? Publish infographics or photos? Do you Blog?

personalbrandIf you answered yes to even one of those questions, then you have an digital presence. If you have a digital presence, then you have a Brand Identity.

So the question is, did you craft and cultivate that identity? Did you nurture it and ensure that it accurately represents all that you stand for? Or did it evolve without your knowledge or guidance? More on that in just a minute. Let’s take a minute to acknowledge how everyone that does business online develops a personal brand.

Consumers care about who they do business with. They want to know what the company stands for, what they can expect and who they are dealing with.

It’s a new transparency that consumers seem to crave, on a mostly subconscious level.

behindcurtainsThat transparency is achieved by letting the audience see behind the curtains, into Oz, if you will.

And who is behind those curtains?

You!

So while you develop a corporate brand, you are also developing a personal brand – intentionally or not!

In fact, in most cases you probably didn’t set out to create a personal brand, but you have one – and that’s not a bad thing. As long as you control both brand images and don’t leave it to consumers to perceive who they think you are and what they think you stand for.

Before we go any further, let me clarify a brand is NOT just a logo, a font and some colors. It’s not just visual elements.

Your brand represents ALL that you stand for and believe in. A brand creates an experience that consumers rely on.  It allows consumers to connect with and relate to you and your company. Your brand follows you around and pops up in all marketing campaigns and collateral.

With content marketing being so prevalent, individuals and companies are sharing information but they are also providing insight and cues into who they are.  Readers will discover what you care about, how you write, the words you choose, what images you select, what analogies you use. It all says something.

The tone, the style, it all sends a message.  In fact, in most cases the content that you choose to share with your audience says more than any specific branding element (logo, headshot, business card, tagline etc.)

With information overload and an extraordinary amount of noise out there, consumers are looking for high quality content that offers real value. They are looking for something meaty, that helps them, that educates them. They are looking for material that is personalized to them and authentic.  When you share all of that, packaged within your brand elements and voice, they build trust in the information you share and you gain credibility.

Whether you realize it or not, your brand is being built with each piece of content you put out there. Consumers use what they perceive as your brand to figure out if they want to do business with you. You sink or swim amid the noise and clutter in the digital world, based on what they perceive your brand to be.

Notice that I said what consumers “perceive” your brand to be. This is where intentionality comes in. If you don’t intentionally craft the message, the tone, the style, the expectation and experience for consumers, they will come up with what they perceive to be true. And you may not like that.

That makes focusing on your personal brand, as entrepreneur crucial but it is equally as important within the context of a corporation as well.

googlesearchWith over 3 billion queries on Google daily and over 2.75 million video views on YouTube per minute, and 347,000 tweets every minute, there is a lot vying for the attention of your audience.

To define and establish a brand that garners attention and increases your value, attention must be paid to your messaging, the visuals you put out there and your tone and style.

How do you achieve an established brand that does you proud and communicates all that you intend it to?

Here are some tips to help you maximize acceptance of your brand and broaden your reach:

Ensure there is consistency and most importantly, authenticity in all the collateral, content and visuals you create. Don’t be afraid to introduce new elements to keep content fresh and exciting, but always rely on your tone, style and values as your consistent brand elements. The bottom line? Be you.

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” -Dr. Suess.

Take me for example, my readers know I am a little on the rambly side, I try to make jokes, but am not always funny and above all I value data, educating people and building relationships and digging deep, so I can really make a difference in your business. My tone and style and images and bad attempts at jokes are always there. People know what they are going to get from me.

Always offer value. Producing the massive quantities of content that is required for Blogs and social posts makes it easy to become tempted to skimp on the material and bang it out quickly. Don’t.

Your goal should be quality first and then quantity. Will you benefit more from 7 mediocre Blog posts or 2 that drive real engagement?

Every day of the week, I’d go with the 2 quality posts. We’ve all heard it’s a numbers game – the more eyeballs, the more leads, the more leads, the more sales.

The flaw in that thinking is it doesn’t factor in quality. I’d rather have 10 leads and convert 4 of them, then have 200 hundred and find I only convert 2.

Quality depends on the audience and how targeted they are to what you are offering, but it also stems from the information shared. When we knock their socks off, they are more invested in you as a solution, so they are a higher quality lead and the conversion rate will be higher.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” – Don Corleone

While Don Corleone may just pull that off – we are better coming up with an offer that matches a targeted leads needs! 🙂

Design doesn’t make a brand, but it can break it. It’s the content and messaging you offer that matters. That is what your audience connects with. However if the look and feel detracts from the messaging, it has the power to hurt the brand.

Your design shouldn’t overpower your message. Think simple, attractive and again, consistent. Let people get to know your aesthetics. There is comfort in seeing similar style elements wrapped around your content. Don’t forget to have your design viewed by fresh eyes to see what the design tells them about you. Remember, every asset you put out there speaks volumes about you.

“Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future.” – Robert L Peters

Innovate. Share. Build followers. Connect with Influencers. Create a community that listens and participates and engages. Create an Idea Incubator. Invite your followers to participate. If you want to be viewed as helpful, resourceful, innovative, fresh and exciting, you need a strong follower base that thrives on incubating ideas, learning and discovering.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” – Steve Jobs

Have you ever heard “What others think of you is none of your business”?

While the sentiment was founded for the purposes of healthy self-esteem, it does not apply to your business and brand.  Staying on top of your brand reputation is so important.

Use Google Alerts and reputation monitoring tools to discover praise and to find and conquer negative comments. Remember, what people think of your brand matters more than what you think. What they think, they will share with their friends, family and followers – especially if it is negative.

In the absence of a clear Value Proposition, your audience is left to decide for themselves what value you offer.  While listening to consumer feedback may help offer insight into how they think and feel, you don’t want your audience to define the value you offer.

Your brand needs to confidently convey your value proposition. Consumers need to understand without pause, when they land on your site or landing page, what value you offer them. Bolster your value by offering something of meaning at no cost to introduce your audience to the quality you offer.

“It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most” – James Cash Penney

This list isn’t exhaustive of all the tangible and intangible components of a strong brand. It does cover some key areas that you can get started with.

It is important to note that if you haven’t considered branding at all, you probably want to start at the beginning and understand how to define your brand story and voice. Stay tuned for a special, comprehensive resource on branding.

Whether you are working on your brand from scratch or refreshing a brand that has some mileage, it is important to remember …

Values that have stood the test of time are the values that make brands trustworthy and add to their longevity. Mix it up a little, throw in some levity in what form is most authentic to you – jokes, sports analogies, photography – there are no limits – just keep it real and tie it into your image and marketing seamlessly and your audience will accept it.