Building a modern brand in a noisy, fast-changing world

In the good old days, companies spent millions developing brands that stood the test of time. Some still do. Like John Deere. Or IBM. GE. Not that they haven’t had to pivot and reinvent themselves a few times to adapt to change, but there was a time not so long ago that access to capital, markets, media and attention was expensive. Only the biggest could afford it. And that gave them a huge edge. No more. Now, a savvy 18 year old can create a brand and a company that can unseat major players when they least expect it. The good news is you can too. 

This is an example of a WordPress post, you could edit this to put information about Brands also used to have rigid identity guidelines and color palettes to manage and control their image. But in the internet age, things are much more fluid. Things are digital more than print. And exponentially more ephemeral. Not to mention ridiculously crowded. CES alone has over 4000 exhibitors spread across 2.9 million square feet of exhibit space vying for attention of 170,000 attendees. There’s still a place for brand guidelines. In fact they’re essential to keep your brand focused in a fluid brandscape.

Today, you need to nimble and stand for something that matters. Your brand must be agile enough to render on small mobile devices, desktop and in print. But you must think virtual first. Your visual identity, while important and one of the most fun aspects to creating a brand isn’t even the first thing many will encounter. It’s what you say. It’s what you stand for. And people better get that in under 5 seconds. A tall order? You bet. 

There are many volumes written about building brands that work, managing brands, and evolving brands over time. Let’s break it down into the essential components, which if you master these, you’ll be well on your way to building a brand that sticks. Remember, while it’s up to you to define and develop your brand, ultimately it’s what they – your customers – think of your brand that counts.

Start with what you stand for

Your business has a mission. It has a niche. You know what you do. Do you know why it matters? Simon Sinek has the timeless talk on the subject and it is the thing that trips most people up. What you do and how you do it are much easier to talk about. Why it matters takes more soul searching for most. Don’t short cut this. Ask you customers why they think you matter to them. You may uncover some insights you hadn’t considered that will help you create your why. How are you different than anyone else? If you’re in a commodity business where it’s hard to be different with your product, think about some aspect you can be different in. Maybe it’s the customer experience. Or in how your execute. Or your winning personality. This is where you need the power of a strong brand. 

What is your compelling vision?

Tell a story about your vision complete with the details that paint a picture in your customers minds as well as your employees and teams. Write a speech that introduces this vision to give it focus and emotion. Make sure your vision isn’t laden with corporate speak. Use simple words. Words that create pictures in the mind. Hint: If you think your vision is “We make leading solutions that help solve the world’s most pressing problems” try again.   That’s like saying “Our focus is quality.” To which some might say, “that’s awesome; so glad your focus isn’t crap.” Remember way back when Apple introduced the iPod? They weren’t first. Microsoft was. But Microsoft talked about storage capacity. Apple reframed capacity into “1,000 songs in your pocket.” That’s an instant picture that sticks in the mind.

Who’s your customer?

 Who buys your products and services? What do they like? How do they live, work and play? What do they do for work? If your B2B, what do the buyers in these businesses do for work and play? How do they think? Where do they go for information and how do they consume it? How do they talk? What kind of music might they like? Food? All of this give color and texture from which to draw on in creating your brand’s personality. This also informs where you’ll reach your customers and prospects? Are they on LinkedIn? Or Facebook? Tik Tok? Snapchat? Each has different nuances that inform your brand design.

Define what you are not

What don’t you stand for? Who are you not the right brand for? What qualities do these characteristics and people feature? Make a list. This is important to focus you. You can use this list as a benchmark to measure if you are on track or not. It’s also a useful tool for removing extraneous characteristics that muddy your brand. Remember, it’s a jungle out there. You gotta stand out fast. And fast means simple and distinct. When we can’t make decisions or you have a committee where everyone wants a say in the how the pie is sliced, you end up adding stuff. Easier than negotiating what to take out. 

How does your brand talk?

Figuratively unless you’re making the next Siri or talking doll. What is your voice? Tone, pace, inflection? Do you speak fast or slow? Do you use short pithy statements are you more formal? Are you the next door neighbor or professor? Getting clear about how you talk will guide your website copy, content, videos, and any other messaging you do. It will also help you identify and focus those that speak on behalf of your brand. How your brand talks is also influenced by where your brand will reach your customers. 

What does your brand look like?

Now that you know how your brand talks and your customer’s taste, it’s time to give it some visual personality. What textures and surfaces do you use on your products? How do they feel in the hand? Light and airy or strong and powerful? If you’re digital only, think about the depth and texture of your website or app. If you’ve spent much time looking at your competitors visual identities – or brand identities in general – you’ve likely seen some trends. Such as the number of brands who use globes or swooshes or the same colors. As you develop your visual identity, consider any sub brands you have now or think you’ll have in the future. Will you have one brand with different product brands connected to the parent? Or will you have a house of brands each with their own identity? You want to be sure your logo can work effectively in your chosen strategy so you don’t find yourself facing a costly rebrand just a year after launch. 

Like it or not, we’re influenced by what feels familiar and push away from the new. We gravitate to what everyone else is doing because we fear getting ‘it’ wrong. But dare to be different. It’s what makes you memorable. Build the brand on your terms. Not those of your competition or niche. Just be relevant and meaningful. Your brand needs to look great in color as well as black and white.

What does your brand sound like?

Brands today have dimension. What’s your sonic identity? What’s the sound that when people hear it they instantly think of you? Think of the former Nokia ring tone or Intel inside. For your videos or podcast, what kind of music will you featuring on the intros and outros? Pacing also comes into play here in terms of how you speak. What do your products sound like? How does your packaging (if you have it) open. Does it make a satisfying sound? Your buttons or doors?

What does your brand smell like?

For most companies, this is probably the least considered aspect of a brand. But it’s paramount to every coffee shop, restaurant, bakery, perfumery, or candle shop. In other words, more important in retail than b2b, but think about how you can use smell to put your customers and clients at ease. If you’re in a high-stress industry, how can you get people into a calmer state to have more productive conversations? Or if you’re in a quieter, slower paced business, how can you use smell to inject more energy and excitement into the experience?

Invest in your brand wisely

All of the qualities around your brand are what will give your logo meaning. And this is where I make a plug to invest in a good logo designer. Yes, you can crowdsource a decent logo for $99 but you get what you pay for. While maybe functional, it’s not likely to be distinctive nor have the consideration for all of the different uses required of building a modern, agile brand today. That doesn’t mean you need to break the bank, but you need to invest enough. Your designer should also be able to help you with all of the other senses as well to create a cohesive brand identity designed to grow and evolve with your company. 

We’ve just dipped our toe into brand building basics with this framework and know there’s so much more we have to say. Drop us a note with your questions. Or sign up to receive more marketing and business insights in our twice monthly newsletter.Br

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