The problem with the word “brand” is that it means many different things to different people. Industry pros are always defining it in esoteric (and often unhelpful) ways and business owners mostly think to build a brand means they just need to get themselves a logo, a fancy website, pro photography, some cool fonts and call it good.
And that’s exactly why lots of business owners don’t think they need to build a brand. Lots of businesses succeed without having any of those things.
But let me ask you this:
Do you need people to buy things from your business?
Well then guess what…
Branding is just a way to sell things.
What is Branding?
The first misconception 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.)
Brand design is a piece of the brand strategy puzzle that we call brand identity–but it’s not the same as building a brand in and of itself.
In an increasingly competitive environment, design has the power to help small businesses stand out, build awareness, and establish credibility … but the most important work you’ll do to brand your business is to get crystal clear about:
- The problem you’re going to solve for your clients
- Who you’re going to solve it for specifically
- The reasons why people should choose 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.
If you can’t answer the above questions easily, any marketing initiatives you undertake will lack a solid foundation. (Otherwise known as “just winging it.” ) A book like The Brand Story Blueprint has exercises that will help you get clear about your brand positioning and the brand messages your clients need to hear from you.
Now for the part you’ve been waiting for — how exactly does a brand “sell”?
To answer that question, we must first clarify…
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 did 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.
Branding takes your potential clients by the hand through that process and guides them to the sale.
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.
Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…
How Exactly Does A Brand 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 brand 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 Intentionally
The first thing you need in order 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.
The end goal of the branding process–make no mistake about it–is sales. It’s about building trust, creating an emotional connection with your customers, and showing up authentically and purposefully so their perceptions align with their experience of working with you.
The Building Blocks of a Brand That Sells
- WHAT YOU DO: This is the product or service you sell. Your goal here is to make sure you’re describing it in crystal clear language that people can understand within a few seconds. If your message is muddy, nobody’s going to take the time figure it out.
- HOW: Whatever you offer, I’m sure it’s amazing. But there are other people out there doing it too– why will your client choose you? Communicating the benefits of your offer is important, but these are the “givens” — customer service, professionalism, dependability — these won’t do much to distinguish you. What you want to get to the bottom of is your “special sauciness” — the specific 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.
Looking at the diagram above, it’s the tippy-top of the pyramid that most business owners overlook, and yet, that’s where branding magic really kicks into gear. There’s a famous saying…
“People buy on emotion and justify with logic”
I’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs in the early stages of building their brand and they all want to dive headfirst into designing a cool logo or a fancy website, or discuss the tactical aspects of branding (a.k.a. marketing).
I get it. I make this mistake myself.
It’s easier to design a cool logo than to really think about who you want to be for people, what you want to represent, and what you want people to feel about you.
Writing a purpose statement is something I always ask people to do when they’re feeling unclear about which direction to take things. It makes you zoom out and think about what you’re doing from a higher vantage point.
Creating a Brand Essence statement is another powerful exercise where you gather all of that up — your what, how, and why — and you boil it down into 1-3 words.
But that’s what the biggest, most powerful brands in the world do…
Harley Davidson: Freedom
Since branding works the same way for any business no matter how big or small, why not take this great idea and apply it to yours?
Check out The Brand Story Blueprint if you want some help with the foundational aspects of building your brand. The exercises are designed to help you get to the bottom of all this and by the last section, you’ll have the clarity you need to create your key brand positioning and messaging statements.
Sales is an uncomfortable topic for a lot of service providers but if you build a strong brand, the right people will naturally be attracted to you.
Get clear about your WHAT, HOW, and WHY, then get out there and communicate it clearly and with consistency and you’ll be well on your way to building a brand that pre-sells your services for you.
If you have any 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.