What actually makes a brand?

My essential guide to building a strong brand.

What is a brand? This may sound like a basic question, however, it’s something most people get wrong.

You might not be aware of this, but a recognised and well-loved brand is one of the most valuable assets a company can own. It’s a common mistake that branding is ‘just a logo’ or your marketing. The reality is that your brand is the overall perception your business has on your existing, new and potential customers – everybody!

Every business has a brand, whether they are aware of it or not. This isn’t something that should form on its own, you should have control over it. Ultimately, it can influence someones decision to either engage with you or to just go elsewhere. So what makes a brand? From years of experience working with small to medium-sized businesses, I have found some key points that if followed give a better chance of success. Creating a great business to be part of and to deal with.

Your Reputation

Your reputation is a big part of your brand, it’s the result of what you do or what you don’t do. Your reputation can either be your best friend or your worst enemy when you’re trying to grow your business.

A good example of a positive reputation would be, if you have a cake shop that has stood the test of time and you have orders coming in constantly. People love your cakes and trust that every time they order them they get the same great quality and service. Word travels fast and even people who have never had your cakes are saying to their friends ‘we should go there at some point, I’ve heard the cakes are delicious’. This is a company having a great reputation and is the best foundation to build upon, your customers are marketing your business for you! A bad reputation is when your cake shop is known for being closed most of the time, or if people say ‘the staff always look unhappy’. It’s difficult to shake off a bad reputation but it can be done!

The Employees

The people are a huge part of your business. They all add their own character to it. If your company has an outgoing adventurous feel, you’re less likely to have people who don’t follow the same ideas and attitudes working with you.

Likewise, employees can make or break your business. Having an employee working with you that has a poor work ethic (especially in a small team) can create tension in the business. Making it a difficult place to work. Clients can sense this! If you’re stuck in this scenario, talk to the member of staff and politely see if there anything you can do to make their job any better for them. The dream scenario is to have a work environment where everyone is working together in a job that they enjoy.

Knowledge of the brand is key with employees, they should be aware of the business’s goals and plans. It’s great having an amazing ad campaign, however, if your employees aren’t aware of what it’s about, how are they going to sell it or feel motivated for it? 

Products

Your product/service is the core of your business. It’s how your business gets its income. If you have a well-designed product, that you have tried and tested to prove it works, then your branding will only make it better. However again I must point out the importance of consistency. Your client must be confident that they will always get the same quality product/service. Selling an amazing product is only part of your business if your brochure is poorly designed will devalue the product.

Customer Service

This is key to creating a trustworthy brand. Customer service represents the way that you interact with your clients. This isn’t just on the phone, it also includes how you word your emails, the copy text on your website or even the way you greet your client when they come into your office – every little detail matters.

This isn’t generic for every business, it all depends on the character & ethos of the business. Being an e-commerce business will make people think differently to a brick & mortar business. A casual environment will put off a certain client as a formal environment will put off another client.

Expectations

We have all at some point stretched the truth, but you will be quickly found out when you don’t deliver on what you promised. People prefer it when you’re honest and describe it as it is. If your product really is great it should sell itself! If anything, you should slightly undersell it, this doesn’t mean to make your product sound bad, but it’s always great when you purchase something and it ends up being better than you expected. For example, if your business is service based, give your client an extended deadline by adding an extra day compared to your internal deadline. Providing deliverables early than expected will instantly make the business look more efficient, even though you have planned it to be done early all along.

The Actions You Make

Think of your business beyond the core service/product it provides. It can have an impact on the local community. Whether this is with charity work or whether you have a local intern program. Raising funds for a local charity will humanise your business, showing it in a good light. People buy off people and having positive actions will always reflect positively on your business.

Your Logo

As mentioned previously, a logo doesn’t make up the entire brand but it is a key element to it. It’s the visual representation of what you do, so it really is a vital element to your business. This doesn’t mean that you should list out everything that you do in your logo as it should be refined and clean. There are a set of rules that should be followed when developing a logo, these are as follows:

1) Good Logos identify, they should not describe what you do.

2) A logo can’t solve all your problems

3) Your logo should be visually engaging

4) The logo must be able to exist in a variety of different media.

5) A logo should not be an illustration

6) Your logo is the foundation of your identity.

I must emphasis point 2, in some cases business owners think that giving their business a new logo will instantly change it, making people think differently of it. This isn’t the case, if there is a tribunal or legal issues that have gone public, a new logo will not make this go away. As obvious as this sounds, some people do think this.

I like to think of your logo as the smiling face of your business. If your company is a family friendly activity organiser and your logo is dark with an abstract concept that would be better suited in a Tim Burton film, this might not be doing you any favours. It’s worth occasionally taking a step back and reviewing whether your logo and identity reflect the values and ethos of the business.

Your Visuals

All of the visual elements of your business stem from your logo and the guidelines that go with it. The visuals for the business are items such as the website, brochures, advertisements, business stationery, email signatures – anything that has to be designed. If you’re lucky enough to have brand guidelines it is essential that everyone follows these when working on any visuals for the business. This goes back to the consistency of the brand, having posters printed where the logo is stretched and none of the fonts match will instantly devalue the visual brand, which in term damages the business.

Having all the visuals matching with a seamlessly consistent look and voice will help your clients trust your business. In this scenario the fact they don’t notice anything is different or out of place is of the incredibly important. The visuals should be recognised as being undoubtedly from your business. You’d notice straight aware if McDonald’s started using Comic Sans and wonder, ‘what’s happened there?!’. It’s the same with your business.

So there we have it, these are the fundamental elements that make a brand. If you follow and always considering each of these elements when making crucial decisions with your business you will be on the path to creating an effective brand people will trust and always remember consistency is key. 

Thank you for taking your time to read this post, I hope it was useful for you and that it gave you some clarity on what a brand actually is. If you have any points that I might have missed, let us know in the comments below!

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