If you’re a small business owner and you’re building your brand, you may bump into mindset challenges. How to keep moving forward without feeling stuck? How to stay motivated in the process? What to focus on throughout the branding process? And how to feel confident you’re moving in the right direction?
All the above are questions I get from solopreneurs I work with. When you’re working on something that is as close to your heart as your business is, making branding decisions may feel daunting if you’re afraid of making a mistake or taking a step in the wrong direction.
Your brand is an experience
Many entrepreneurs feel that stakes are high when it comes to their branding. And you can’t blame them. We often associate branding as the face of our business, the visible frontend that represents who you are and what you do.
In a way, that is true. A big part of the branding is visual and visible, and defines the look and feel of your business. But I’d like to challenge you to think about your brand differently. What if, instead of thinking about your brand as the face of your business, you’d start thinking about it as the heart of your business?
The visual identity is only one aspect of your brand. At the end of the day, your brand is so much more than just the visual part. Your brand is an experience your customers get when they interact with your business — and you. This means each and every interaction they have with you and your business forms a part of the brand.
It’s the way you answer customer questions, the way you send their invoices, the way they interact with your products, the way your website looks and functions, the way your digital services work (or don’t work), how quickly you answer customer emails, how you handle customer feedback, what people say about your and your business behind your back, and yes, how your visual identity looks and feels like. All these are parts of the experience that is your brand.
This info should be reassuring. While it’s many more touch points you need to manage, it also takes the pressure off of any individual element to form your branding alone. A classic example of this is your logo. Many business owners are very nervous about their logo, and want it to be just right. But your logo is not your brand. Yes, you want it to look professional and represent your brand personality, and all that good stuff. But you shouldn’t put the burden of shaping your entire brand on any one individual element, like your logo. It’s not realistic and it won’t be successful.
Focus on your customers
Another significant mindset shift when it comes to your brand should happen early on: you need to focus on your customers throughout the branding process. To me, this is maybe the single most important aspect of your branding — well, of your entire business really, if you ask me.
This is maybe the most common misunderstanding that I’ve witnessed in the branding process. And it goes for big corporations and small one person shops. People want the branding to be attractive to themselves. They want to pick something that’s pleasing to them, not to their customers. But at the end of the day, who are you trying to appeal to with your branding: your ideal customer or yourself? Who needs to click on your Facebook ad? Who should opt in to your email list? Who needs to buy your products and services? Let me give you a hint: it’s not you.
Our businesses are so dear to us that it’s near impossible task to stay objective and remember who the look and feel are for. But let me ask you this: if you knew for certain that there was a specific look and feel that attracts paying customers to you, would you use it? Or would you use something else that you like, but doesn’t bring you more business?
Anyone that I’ve ever asked this question answered that they’d of course choose the look and feel that brings them more business. And that makes sense 100%: you didn’t start a business to sell things to yourself.
But what if you don’t know what the specific look and feel is? To me, that is a symptom of you not knowing who your customers are. Quite often this is the case in the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. If you’ve just started your business, and you’re building what I call a “starter brand,” you might not know your customer by experience yet. That’s ok, you can still build a brand and keep moving forward. But you’re going to have to do some research and make some assumptions. Typically within a year or two, you’ll have a pretty clear idea of who your customers are. And you can refine your branding then.
So, how do you focus on your customers during your branding process? For one, you have to have a good definition of your ideal customer, who they are and what they think, feel, and struggle with. It can be based on assumption that you then validate later on. But you need to draft one.
Secondly, you need to build a link between your ideal customer and your brand personality. In the branding process I teach, we do an exercise where you imagine your brand as a person. And the best friend of that person is your ideal customer. What kind of person would be best friends with your ideal customer?
Thirdly, you need to ask yourself “What would my ideal customer think about this?” when you’re making decisions on your brand strategy and visual identity. When you’re having a hard time choosing between options or elements for your branding, think about your ideal customer. Which one would they choose? Which one would they feel more drawn to?
Keeping the momentum
As discussed above, your brand is a sum of many elements. Any individual element shouldn’t get such a heavy weighting that it’s keeping you stuck if you can’t figure it out. Especially, if you’re in the very early stages of your business, it really is better to keep moving forward than try to perfect something.
Branding process — when you do it right — has many steps that build on top of each other. When you start from the beginning and move forward one step at a time, the process won’t feel overwhelming. And you’ll gain more and more clarity as you keep moving forward. The biggest problem with being stuck is that, well… you’re stuck. When you feel extra stuck and no inspiration will get you moving, I recommend you just make a hypothesis and keep moving forward. With momentum, you’ll gain clarity and new ideas, and you’ll find the solution eventually. If you follow my branding process, the likelihood that your hypothesis is at least 80% in the right is high.
If you’re further along with your business journey, you probably know your customers well. And you have a good idea what resonates with them. You might be thinking that it’s time to rebrand now that you know your business and customers better. It’s likely that you won’t get stuck as easily, since you have more clarity. But in case you do, you want to have a good roadmap to your ideal rebranded state. Breaking things into bite-sized steps will help make a project that feels overwhelming more doable.
Another benefit of being a bit further along with your business journey is having access to your real customers, actual customers who paid money for your products and services. Now, you can survey them, interview them, to find out what they think and feel, what their biggest pain points and needs are, and what kinds of things appeal to them. You have access to a wealth of information that will help you make decisions and keep moving in the right direction.
Adopt the branding mindset
Branding mindset is about understanding the connections between brand strategy and the elements that build your brand. It’s about putting your customer in the center of the process, and understanding that you’re not really building your brand for yourself but for someone else.
Understanding that brand strategy is business strategy will help you get motivated to finally get your branding in order. Many of the steps in the brand strategy process are also critical steps with a successful business strategy. It’s important to stop thinking about branding as “a necessary evil” that you just have to get out of the way. And start seeing how integral it is for running your business successfully.
Branding mindset is also about keeping your mind and eyes open. Learn from serving your customers and course correct when the need be. Your branding will require management and smaller (or bigger) updates and upgrades over the years to stay fresh. Accepting early on that your brand will require both quick sprints and an on-going marathon to stay consistent and with-it will help you prepare for the bigger and smaller projects that come along the way.
And let’s face it, your brand doesn’t wait for you to start building it. It’s already forming as we speak. With the words of Jezz Bezos of Amazon: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” And branding and brand management is your attempt at influencing that conversation.
P.S. If you haven’t already done so, come check out our free Facebook group DIY Brand Design & Strategy for Soulpreneurs where I teach soulpreneurs like you to build their own branding and create their own designs.