This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I'll receive a commission. Disclosure Policy.
Build a brand? What does that even mean?
The problem with the word “brand” is that it means many different things to different people. Industry pros are always defining “branding” in esoteric ways and business owners mostly think of it as the process of getting a logo, a fancy website, pro photography and cool fonts.
And that’s exactly why lots of business owners don’t think they need branding. Lots of businesses succeed without having those things.
But let me ask you this: do you need people to buy things from you? Well, guess what…
Branding is just a way to sell things.
One thing I want to clear up is that branding isn’t a thing you buy from a designer. (Note: I’m saying that as a brand designer.)
Design is a piece of the puzzle called brand identity, and in an increasingly competitive environment, it’s a crucial requirement for small businesses who want to stand out and get noticed. But the most important work you’ll do to brand your business is to get clear about:
- The reasons why people will choose to hire you instead of your competition.
- What you stand for.
- What you want to be known for.
- What the experience is like to work with you.
If somebody has come to you to purchase something from you, you’ve already “done branding.” The question is whether you’re doing it intentionally.
The difference between branding and selling
“Selling” is defined as an activity that leads to a transaction: cold hard cash in exchange for the product or service you’re offering. We usually think of it as being convinced to purchase. Right?
But think about the last time you were “sold” something.
For me, it has to be the time I went to Hawaii and was seduced into buying a timeshare I didn’t need and couldn’t afford but oh my gosh, Hawaiian vacations for life!
But most of the time it works like this: We aren’t sold a pair of shoes, we buy Converse All Stars.
The salesperson is there to get the box from the back room, answer your questions, and ring you up at the cash register…not to convince you to buy.
The brand does all the selling.
Now I know you’re thinking, “I know that people buy brands, but I’m not a global brand, I’m a consultant. What does this have to do with me?”
Branding works the same way for any business, even yours
No matter what industry you’re in, I bet you can name someone with nary a salesperson in sight who has clients flocking to them to buy. It’s not about selling, it’s about the customer’s perception that there’s no other person quite like them.
Getting to the heart of why there’s nobody else quite like you and then communicating that consistently (through words and visuals and actions) is branding.
Think about the last time you hired someone — whether to help you in your business or to mow your lawn. Did those service providers “sell” you their service? I’ll bet you did some research, visited their website, looked around at some other options and compared them, checked review sites or comments left on their Facebook page… and because after all that, you felt good about them, you reached out. Yes?
You can call this a “sales cycle” or a “buyer’s journey”… it doesn’t really matter how you label it. What matters is that you understand that there’s a psychological process people go through before they decide to buy something from you.
Most people who buy your service aren’t going to be “sold” your offering, even if you try to sell it. It’s branding that facilitates the sales process. Branding is what creates the good feeling that leads to sales.
Please note that I’m using verbs. Branding is a verb, a thing you do. Everything a company does contributes to the brand building process.
How Exactly Does Branding Sell?
When your customer is making the final decision to purchase from you, they may reach out to you and schedule a sales call. But that’s mostly just so they can get some reassurance, and your main job is not to blow it (meaning that you live up to the promises and expectations you’ve established up until that point). More than likely, they’re already ‘pre-sold’.
By the time they get to this stage, they’ve gone through a psychological process that went like this:
- They became aware of you. They were struggling with something and you offered them a solution to that problem. You spoke their language, you understood. They formed an opinion and felt a certain way about you right from the get-go. Maybe it was how you dressed or wore your hair, or how you spoke, or how helpful your website was and how easy it was for them to find useful things there.
- You appeared on their radar again and they began to recognize and remember you; their opinions and feelings about you grew stronger; they started to trust you.
- When they were out looking around at all their other options, it seemed like nobody else was offering quite the same thing you were. Those other guys didn’t “get them” the same way you got them. They didn’t feel the same way about the other options.
Everything that happens in the mind of your customer that leads them to a purchasing decision is influenced by the way they feel. And the way they feel about you is your brand. Branding is the “stuff you do” to influence those feelings.
[At this point, you might be wondering, “Well then what’s ‘marketing’?” Branding and marketing are interlinked, but you can think of it this way: marketing is brand building.]If you believe that buying something is in any way influenced by emotion, then you believe in branding.Click To Tweet
No matter what kind of business you’re in, no matter how tiny, branding is what influences people to notice, choose, and purchase from you.
How To Build Your Brand With Intention
The first thing you need to brand your business intentionally is clarity, and that’s hard to get on your own. If you’ve pushed the notion of branding to the side — “I’ll get to that later” — I’ll bet it’s either because you weren’t clear about the purpose branding serves (or that you were already doing it), or you weren’t clear about some aspect of your business, like:
- Who your customer really is.
- What they really need.
- How they perceive you.
- What factors would make them choose you.
- The reasons why they will recommend you and remain loyal.
These are things I help my clients understand before we get to the fun part (picking out colors and fonts and creating pretty websites). The end goal, make no mistake about it, is sales. Generating client leads. Building trust. Communicating the right message so people’s perceptions align with their experience of working with you.
The four essential components of building a brand that sells
- WHAT: What is it that you do? Can you describe that in clear, specific, memorable language that people can understand within a few seconds? If your message is muddy, nobody else is going to be clear about it either. And when people aren’t clear, they forget about it. Instantly.
- HOW: You do that amazing thing, but there are other people out there doing it too– why will your client choose you? Communicate the benefits of your offer, the ways the experience is different, and the transformation they can expect when they work with you that’s unlike their other options.
- WHY: Simon Sinek famously said, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Why should people care about your business? Why does it exist? What is the change you’re trying to make for your clients, your community, and the world? When you have a strong purpose, people who are aligned with those values will want to be a part of that.
- WHO: Who is this for? If it’s “anyone who needs WHAT I sell” you’re positioning yourself to compete with literally everyone. Be specific about your target customer and then get to know them–their pains, their struggles, their problems–better than anyone else.
Sales is an uncomfortable topic for a lot of service providers but if you have a strong brand, the right people will naturally be attracted to you. Are you clear about your WHAT, HOW, WHY and WHO? Once you are, get out there and communicate it with consistency and you’ll be well on your way to building a brand that pre-sells your services for you.
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.