Online marketing is a combat sport, am I right? With each passing year, it becomes increasingly difficult for a small business to build an audience, beat the algorithms, and break through the noise to win the hearts of customers.
Because of this environment, I find myself becoming less focused on fly-by-night marketing tactics and more focused on understanding the branding factors that influence consumer behavior.
Maybe you’ve wondered these things too…
- What causes someone to pay attention to your marketing messages in the first place?
- What factors determine whether people will trust you enough to take the next steps and become a customer?
- How can you create an emotional connection when we’re all just internet strangers sifting through distractions and trying to keep our sanity?
- What motivates someone to choose you when they have an infinite number of alternatives?
- What factors lead to customer affinity and loyalty?
These are all questions that branding aims to answer.
But wait. Isn’t branding something you do at the startup phase? Things like getting your logo designed and deciding on some brand fonts?
Au contraire, my friend… that’s just the beginning.
Branding is everything you do that helps you create the good feelings people will have about your company. And good feelings? They lead to sales.
Oh, marketing? That’s just brand building.
If you’re not clear about the brand you want to build, marketing can feel a whole lot like “I’ll just wing it and hope it works out.”
So let’s dive into the branding factors that influence the way our customers feel about us…
- BRANDING FACTOR #1:Customer Clarity
- BRANDING FACTOR #2:Brand Positioning
- BRANDING FACTOR #3:Brand Personality
- BRANDING FACTOR #4:Brand Purpose
- BRANDING FACTOR #5:Brand Values
- BRANDING FACTOR #6:Brand Essence
- BRANDING FACTOR #7:Brand Promise
- BRANDING FACTOR #8:Brand Identity
- BRANDING FACTOR #9:Brand Messaging
- BRANDING FACTOR #10:Brand Consistency
Everyone is not your customer.Seth Godin
BRANDING FACTOR #1:
Before we dive in to the factors about you that’ll help you create customer affinity and loyalty, we must first get clear about them.
What many people get wrong is thinking their brand story is all about them, when in fact, it’s all about your customer. Where you fit into the story is how you’re going to help them get what they want.
It starts by defining your target customer — deciding on basic demographic and psychographic characteristics and hypothesising what they need and what motivates them so you can create an initial customer persona.
A customer persona (or customer avatar) is a fictional, representative member of your target audience. The reason why this is so helpful is that rather than creating brand messages intended for anyone and everyone, you can create them for just this person.
When you speak directly to one person, it helps you cut the cheesy, spammy crap that happens when trying to sell your products and services to strangers. Rather than feeling awkward and wondering what to say, you just naturally show up and express empathy for someone you understand and want to help.
“Buy my thing, it’s great for X!” becomes something more like “I know how it feels to struggle with X, here’s what I’ve learned about how to get to Z…”
The following questions will help you begin to form a mental picture of your customer. (You can also grab a copy of The Brand Story Blueprint which includes a section on defining your target customer and a template for creating a persona.)
Who are they?
Defining your target customer is foundational. If you try to sell your product or services to “anyone who needs what you sell,” good luck getting anyone in particular to pay attention.
Start with the basics…
|Who are they? (Age, gender split, location, etc.)|
|What is their home life like? (Married, single, children, pets, etc.)|
|What is their work life? (Job role, status, company type, industry)|
|What is their financial status? (Income, assets, homeowner, etc.)|
|What are their professional interests? (books they read, conferences they attend, etc.)|
|How do they spend their leisure time? (sports, social, hobbies, etc.)|
|Where do they go? (stores, clubs, events, groups; online and offline)|
|Who do they hang out with or follow? (Media, brands, thought leaders, personalities)|
What do they need?
Here, you’re climbing inside their minds to figure out what they desire most. Only then can you really figure out how to describe your products and services in a way that’ll feel personal — that you really “get them.”
You’ve undoubtedly seen this before, but as a refresher, this is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Included in this chart is everything your dream clients need. (Handy, right?)
The idea is what everyone wants and needs the same basic things. The lower-level needs must be satisfied first before you can climb up the chart.
In other words, we must have access to things like food and shelter before we can start worrying about being respected and admired.
Whatever it is that you sell, you want to aim your brand messaging for the top of Maslow’s charts. In other words, think about how you can help people become the best version of themselves.
Here are a few things to consider…
|When they inquire about your services, what do they say they need?|
|Now, what do they really need? Not the services you provide, but what are their biggest challenges or frustrations? What are their biggest problems?|
|What are their likely or most common objections to purchasing your services? (What are the most obvious negative points about your service category?)|
|What specific result, outcome, or transformation are they looking for? What does their “promise land” look like?|
|How would achieving this outcome make them feel? (What are the emotional responses associated with that result?)|
|What does their purchase of your service say about them? (In terms of their personality and character)|
|What are their aspirations and desires? (And how do they see your service contributing to them?)|
|What are their aspirations and desires? (And how do they see your service contributing to them?)|
|Who most needs what you offer? (Who already knows they need it?)|
|How does your service improve their circumstances?|
|In what ways are they fed up or frustrated? Why do they need your service now?|
|Is there a need or a problem they don’t realize they have?|
Where do doubts come from?
Now we need to think about reasons your potential clients may choose not to take the next steps with you. Think about…
|Who or what influences their decisions?|
|Do they have budget sensitivities that aren’t in alignment with your pricing strategy?|
|What do they need to know about you before they feel confident in taking the next step?|
|What do they need to do, learn, or know to be ready to move forward?|
|How much do they spend on the services you offer (or similar/competing expenditures) per year?|
|Who doesn’t buy your service, and why?|
Beyond the demographic considerations — and this goes especially for service-based businesses — I also recommend thinking about what you like in a client. An emotional connection goes both ways, after all. So think about…
|What type of person makes you motivated to do your best work?|
|Who values and appreciates you the most?|
|What are they like as people? What personality characteristics in a client inspire you? What do you like about them?|
|Which industry or niche do they come from and why?|
|Where do their values align with yours?|
|When you’re working with this dream customer, how do you feel?|
|How do they feel?|
|Now describe your nightmare customer—what are those qualities that only make your work fraught with conflict and frustration and cost you more than they benefit you?|
|Which industry or niche do your bad apple clients typically come from?|
Once you have clarity about your target customer, you’re ready to move on to discovering and defining how you want them to feel about you.
(How they feel about you is, ultimately, your brand.)>>Grab a copy of my Client Clarity exercise Google Doc.<<
Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.Steve Forbes
BRANDING FACTOR #2:
Brand positioning answers the question, “What are the reasons a customer will choose you over the alternatives?”
Positioning is the raison d’être of branding — its reason for being — and every other branding factor supports the mission to position you in the mind of your customers as something more special and valuable than your competition.
This gives the activities of branding (otherwise known as marketing) a common purpose: to give your customers reasons to buy.
Things to think about include…
|What are your strengths? What do people say they appreciate/value about the experience of working with you?|
|What are the benefits of your offerings?|
|What are the things that differentiate you from your competition?|
|What makes you unique?|
|What is the one thing you want to become known for?|
|What adjective do you want to “own” in the mind of your customers?|
|Do you have a unique or proprietary process, product, or service?|
Now, if you didn’t easily rattle off all the answers to those questions, that’s perfectly natural.
That’s why branding isn’t something you can buy off a shelf and call it good. It takes serious introspection about who you are, what sets you apart, and how you want people to feel about you.
Take some time to explore these issues and I promise you, your brand and marketing messages will become more and more attractive to your target audience.
- You Don’t Need To Be A Unicorn: Defining Your Unique Value Proposition
- What Makes You Unique? Answering the Branding Question We All Love to Hate
You now have to decide what image you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the marketplace.David Ogilvy
BRANDING FACTOR #3:
Brand personality is what personifies your brand, giving it human characteristics. Now we’re getting into the emotional side of branding because ultimately, people buy from people they know, like, and trust.
Brand personality is communicated through tone of voice, your visual identity, and really, anything you do and and anything they see — from the way you respond to emails to the visual choices you make in your Instagram posts.
Defining your brand personality is easily done by using a brand personality framework which you can read all about here. Or, you can take my brand personality quiz (which is just jumping off place, but it is fun) or download the following exercise…
Once you have a good sense of your brand personality dimension, you can really make it yours. Think about…
|What is the tone of voice you should be using in your sales copy, social media posts and website content? Quirky? Serious? Edgy?|
|How can you align your brand visuals with your personality dimension? Are you using the right colours, fonts, and imagery? Does your logo convey your personality?|
Brand Personality: Helpful Frameworks for Discovering Yours
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.Simon Sinek
BRANDING FACTOR #4:
Now we’re getting even closer to the emotional reasons why your customers will choose and stay loyal to you.
So far we’ve talked about things like the benefits of your offerings and what makes you unique — and those are important things to focus on when describing your work.
But brand purpose taps into something deeper. It’s the expression of why you’re in business, the impact you wish to make on the lives of your customers and community.
When your brand stands for something, when there’s a bigger reason why, the people who align with that purpose will feel good about choosing you.
Their identity (the top of good old Maslow’s chart) can be fulfilled by their association with your brand.
Think about TOM’s shoes, for example. They make espadrilles for goodness sake… there’s nothing particularly special about them.
But because they give one pair of shoes to a child in need every time you make a purchase, they win customer affinity and even affection. If you are in alignment with those values, if you care, if it makes you feel good – you’re just not going to buy a knockoff version down at the Walmart.
How to Write a Purpose Statement and Strengthen Your Brand
If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to a brand.Howard Shultz
BRANDING FACTOR #5:
When people share the values you hold, they’re more likely to choose you and remain loyal. This is most evident when brands get involved in matters of politics — one side boycott and the other side forms lines around the door.
Your purpose statement isn’t always something your customers are even aware of, it serves as your compass and can be understood by your customers without spelling it out.
Your brand values, on the other hand, are values you want to explicitly state in your brand copy.
Here are are some questions to help you get to the bottom of your brand values…
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?
Most businesses mostly say the same things about their values. We all “care about our customers,” are “committed to quality,” and focused on “providing value.” These things aren’t going to differentiate you, so they’re not that useful in marketing messages.
Think about the values you’re TRULY living up to in your business each and every day. The things you don’t even need to say because they’re infused in all that you do.
WHAT DO YOU STAND AGAINST?
One way to figure out what you stand for is to think about what you stand against. This question is more useful for describing the values that differentiate you.
Think about things people in your industry commonly say that you don’t agree with. For example, as a brand designer, I often hear my colleagues argue that you need to spend a lot of money on design. I stand against that. I believe there are many ways to successfully bootstrap your brand.
It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s about showing up authentically so you attract the right people to you.
Products are made in the factory, but brands are made in the mind.Walter Landor
BRANDING FACTOR #6:
Now we’re ready to climb right up to the tippy top of your branding factors to sum up the emotional reasons why people should choose you… this is your brand essence.
Brand essence is a one to three-word statement that expresses what your brand stands for in a nutshell. It’s an attribute that’s both understood and felt by your customers.
It’s best understood by looking at a few famous examples:
Harley Davidson: Freedom
What’s one word you want to “own” in the minds of your customers?
I’m sure you can see how this could be incredibly useful, providing you with a guiding principle for how to “be your brand” in everything you say, write, and do.
Brand Essence: The Emotional Reason for Customers to Care
Because branding is about creating and sustaining trust it means delivering on promises. The best and most successful brands are completely coherent. Every aspect of what they do and who they are reinforces everything else.Walter Olins
BRANDING FACTOR #7:
Your brand promise is what connects your brand strategy with your marketing messages.
It’s any claim you make that describes the experience your customers can expect when they work with you.
It can be expressed explicitly, in benefit statements, value propositions, or your purpose statement.
It can also be implied… as in the case of your brand personality, which at it’s core is just a promise of what the experience of working with you is like.
The important thing to know about brand promises is that you keep them. They must be truthful, credible, relevant, and clear.
Happy customers happen when their experience is in alignment with the promises you made.
Identities are the beginning of everything. They are how something is recognised and understood.Paula Sher
BRANDING FACTOR #8:
Brand identity is what most people think of think of when they hear the word “branding.” Branding professionals use these terms interchangeably too… which is annoying, and makes the subject of branding more complicated than it really is.
Your brand is not your logo. It isn’t your pretty website or your carefully-chosen color palette or the way you lay out your Instagram feed.
But that is your brand identity.
Your brand is communicated not only through words and expressed values, but through visuals too. In fact, it’s visual cues that are recognised fastest by the human brain.
Your logo is a symbolic representation of your brand, so it’s important that it’s an appropriate reflection of your values and personality.
Other visual identity considerations include selecting brand fonts (and sticking to them), choosing an appropriate color palette, and creating visual harmony in the image styles you use to express your unique identity in the market.
Branding guidelines are extremely helpful in creating a cohesive, recognisable brand identity — this is where you will create rules for how you’ll use your logo (and how you won’t), the types of image styles to use (and what to avoid) and so on.
I create branding guidelines using Adobe Illustrator or InDesign but you can easily use a tool like Canva or Google Slides to set yours up too. It doesn’t need to be a complicated thing if you’re bootstrapping it or doing it on your own.
Feel free to swipe my template…
If the budget allows, branding guidelines can be quite extensive — more like a branding book or manual.
But for my bootstrapping clients something as simple as a brand board can really help them understand how to create consistency with their visual brand.
If you don’t give the market a story to talk about, they’ll define your brand’s story for you.David Brier
BRANDING FACTOR #9:
Brand messaging is where you take all of the above… your customer’s story, your story (your purpose, personality, essence and so on) and communicate those things to your customer.
There are several key branding statements I address in The Brand Story Blueprint that I think are imperative to have in your arsenal…
BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT
Your brand position is how you want your customers to perceive you in the context of competitive alternatives.
BRAND PURPOSE STATEMENT
Your brand’s reason for being, the impact you wish to make.
A concise statement of the experience you want for your clients.
UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION
A concise statement of the benefits of working with you and qualities that distinguish you from the competition.
We’re on an elevator together and I’ll be getting off on the next floor. When I ask you, “What do you do?” what will you say?
This is your brand essence.
Having brand positioning, benefit, and value statements means you can create consistency and that leads to trust which leads to customer affinity and loyalty. Voila.
Clarify Your Brand Message With These 5 Simple Questionsi
Define what your brand stands for, its core values and tone of voice, and then communicate consistently in those terms.Simon Mainwaring
BRANDING FACTOR #10:
Brand consistency, this is by far my favourite. It’s the glue that pulls everything together to shorten the time it takes for people to become aware of you, recognise you, remember you, and count on you.
Now that you have a good idea of the branding factors that go into creating a clear brand strategy to inform your marketing efforts… it’s important to show up consistently…
In personality, tone of voice, identity, and commitment to your values and purpose.
Using a branding guide and having key brand messaging statements prepared will make consistency so much easier, so it’s worth your time and trouble to do your homework. These are the tools of branding: words and visuals.
The hard part is getting brand clarity (who it’s for, what you offer, how it’s different, and why anybody should care) but once you have your strategy in place… being consistent is a piece of cake.
The Psychological Reason Why Brand Consistency Is So Important
I hope this has been helpful for you to really understand how the puzzle pieces of branding come together… these branding factors are merely tools to attract the right people to you, make it seem like a ‘no brainer’ to them that you’re the right choice, and to create experiences that are in alignment with their expectations.
That? Keeps them coming back for more and sharing the story with others — otherwise known as brand loyalty… which is just another way to say the successful result of your branding efforts.
If you have questions, hit me up in comments!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.