Building a brand is like building a house
You may not know it, but I’m a HUGE Rihanna fan (or stan). I am in love with everything she does.
She’s such a bad ass in every area of life that matters to me: perfecting and loving your craft, expressing yourself however you want as a woman, giving back to your community, and empowering other women to feel confident in themselves.
So when I heard my girl was dropping a makeup line, I set money aside immediately. I’m not joking.
That same day, I dropped an additional 60 dollars into my savings account because I knew that no matter what she was coming out with, I was going to buy it. Hands down. No questions.
And that’s exactly what I did.
That, ladies and gentleman, is my definition of fantastic branding.
Notice: I had no idea how good her products truly were; no one did. It didn't matter the quality of the product.
I loved how Rihanna has made me feel ever since she came out. I’ve watched her grow as a musician and as a woman. I’ve watched her regain control over her life after it fell apart, and I watched her turn her personal and professional brand into something that everyone can admire. I’m in love with her story.
I’ll tell you this right now: her products could have been GARBAGE. I was still going to buy something.
Putting my ode to Rihanna aside: branding is driven by how people feel about your brand. It’s not just pretty visuals or pictures. Those things are components to the whole picture, but both of those things fall flat if people don’t feel like they can connect with you on a personal level.
Before we get into all the mushy-feeling, woo-woo stuff (which I love), let’s hammer down some basics:
What is a brand?
David Ogilvy (an OG in the marketing and advertising world) defined a brand as being an “intangible sum of product’s attributes”. I like that definition, especially the words “sum” and “intangible”. Intangible things are things that can’t be touched. They can nessecarily be seen. It goes back to what we discussed a bit before: how do people feel when they think about your product or service?
It’s about your reputation. It’s about people’s gut feelings when interacting with your brand at every single touchpoint: social media, emails, customer service, your website, in person, word of mouth, etc.
So why is branding important?
Take Apple for example. We all love to gripe about Apple taking away new features (the headphone jack? Really?! Still mad at that) or any other legitimate beef you can come up with for Apple, but they are still such a powerhouse in the technology industry that they’ve become beyond what they’re selling.
They didn’t sell you just a phone. Or a laptop. They sold you reliability. They sold you luxuriousness. They sold you the feeling of being apart of the latest new thing.
You feel secure knowing that if you lose your phone, it can be traced easily. You feel cool and up to date with the newest technology.
Their professionalism, their minimalism, they’re commitment to perfecting their technology, their commitment to keeping you connected so you never miss a beat.
Apple sells you a feeling; not just a phone.
That’s why branding is important: you’re not simply selling a product or providing a service, you’re selling a feeling. An experience.
You’re selling those feelings that your clients have after they work with you. And that feeling could be anything: relief, confidence, stability, motivation, clarity, etc.
Your Branding House
So now that you know what a brand is, let’s switch gears and apply this to your business.
I like to think of building a brand is like building a house: components that make some sense on their own, but when they come together they create a structure that is solid, recognizable, and can help realign you if you lose your way.
Let’s dig into that metaphor a bit deeper (stay with me, It’ll make sense I promise!)
So what’s the first step of building your brand house? Building a foundation. This foundation will support and surround everything you do, and no matter what is going on in the inside, if your foundation isn’t solid then it’s only a matter of time before your house comes crashing down.
So what does that mean? It doesn’t matter how pretty your furniture or kitchen is, if your floors are sinking in - your house can come crumbling down.
The foundation of a house is the “why” behind your brand. Why are you doing this? Why does this get you out of bed in the morning?
I wished I could sit here and tell you step by step how to figure out your why. Like it’s some formula that you can plug in life events and spit out the reason that you’re building this brand and running this business.
But I can’t. What I can say, from my own experience and from talking with other entrepreneurs about their “big why”, is that their why’s come from a personal place. It’s the reasons that even when no money is coming in, or when you feel like no one cares about what you do, you still get up and do it.
For example, my mother was a mechanic in the military and also loved tinkering with computers. Especially the hardware. Growing up she would tell me about her daydreams of opening up her own little computer repair shop. She chose not to follow that dream, and when I truly think about when I received the idea from the universe that running my own business could be a reality it was during my childhood.
Every now and then, I think about that little repair shop. I think about the dream that got pushed aside for various reasons: the recession, two kids in college, bills, etc.
My why comes from wanting to help women see their dreams as a reality. I truly want to be a helpful part in making it happen. I want to share my gift with women that want to create their own income and find a work-life balance that they love.
That get me out of bed when money isn’t rolling in. That gets me to fire up my computer and write even when I feel like no one gives a shit.
So take some time and think about what motivates you. Yeah you can say money, but money doesn’t bring happiness; it brings the space and opportunity to create more happiness.
Walls, Floors, & Ceiling
The next foundational piece in your brand house is your target audience and/or your ideal client. They make up the internal structure of your brand house: they’re the columns, flooring, drywall, etc.
Having a strong sense of who your ideal client is and what they need is very important in keeping the overall structure of your brand afloat. These are the people that you want to nurture, be aligned with, grow with, and spend time getting to know.
Just like how your brand shouldn’t be for everyone, your target audience shouldn’t include everyone that comes in contact with your business.
If you’re having trouble discovering or defining your target audience/ideal client, I wrote another post about that that can hopefully help. The short of it is: if there was one type of person that you would want to work with, over and over again, what type of person would they be?
Your mission statement is like painting the walls in your brand house. It’s also about taking your why, putting it into words, and making it solid.
Just like painting a room in your house black definitely sets a tone, your mission statement sets the tone for the decisions that you make when growing your business.
Meaning, your mission statement should guide the decisions that you make in regards to how your brand navigates your industry and your future endeavors. Staying aligned with your mission (which has correlation with your why) will help distinguish you from the crowd and keep your head on straight.
I recently decided to put my mission statement on my website, and I also printed it out and put it near my desk. So anytime I’m down, drowning in comparison mode, or deciding on whether or not to expand on this bright and shiny idea that came to me, I read my mission aloud to myself and remind myself why the hell I’m doing all of this in the first place. I remind myself of my why and how I’m going to accomplish that why.
When I’m thinking of a new service or product for my business, I always ask myself: since my mission is________, will this help my target audience create a work and life balance that they love, and to help them find happiness by sharing their gifts with the world?
If the answer is yes, then I’ll keep going. If I’m not sure, I’ll hold onto the idea but store it away for later.
These last two components of your house are going to be the ones that help differentiate your brand the most, and can be some of the main culprits of disconnect within a lot of brands (we’ll get into that later).
Your identity and your voice are the furniture in your brand house.
This is where your visuals, perception/reputation, and your communication styles come into play. The biggest idea to keep in mind here is making sure that all three of these things align with each other.
If your visuals are professional, but the way that you communicate on your social media and at networking events are not aligned, this can cause some confusion.
On the other hand, if your graphics aren’t very professional, it can be hard for your audience to take notice of your work because your visuals are lacking.
This doesn’t mean that you have to go back to school and get a degree in graphic design. The number one way to keep things looking professional is to use high quality components, and using minimalism and white space whenever possible.
One of the major ways to separate your brand from everyone else, is to have an organized and transparent process. That means being open and honest with your clients from the very beginning, and being prepared for every step in the process and for any bumps that come along the way.
You don’t have to be perfect every single time; the point is focus on the type of experience that you want your clients to have when they work with you.
Because that’s what they’ll really stress to their friends and followers when they talk about your time together: not only did she do great work, she was fantastic to work with.
Remember, your brand is about how people feel.
This is something that even I struggle with. I’m naturally a swearer and someone that’s goofy in regular conversation, and I try my best to let some of that come out in how I communicate through my brand. I want to strike that balance between being professional, funny, personable, and down to earth. It’s something that I think about every time I write something, even an instagram caption, for my business.
How you choose to communicate, and even the words and phrases that you use, will be very helpful in finding people that will connect to your brand. The best help I can give for wanting to develop your communication style more so you can connect more with your target audience is to see how they communicate and what words that they use when they talk about their own struggles with your area of expertise.
Taking note of how your target audience describes their own issues they have are great ways to speak directly to them. They’ll feel like you were speaking directly to them, or you were in their head the last time they were freaking out about that thing.
Everyone has their own definition of a brand, what it is, and what it isn’t. If you take anything from this article, take this: think of your absolute favorite brands and why you love them so much. Sure the goods or services they produce are high quality, but what do you feel when you interact with them. That’s what keeps you coming back.
Just like houses in the real world, everyone’s house is completely different and that’s perfectly fine. I hope my little metaphor can help you see your brand as a living and breathing thing that is layered and complex. Each layer codependent on the other to keep the whole thing going.