The term “brand” is a bit like the term “synergy” – a powerful term that is not often used in the way it was intended.  The air-quotes version of “brand” is a mystical figure, associated with space-age marketing, large multinational companies and very large budgets.  Air-quotes “brand” involves focus groups and TV advertisements and celebrity endorsements. Air-quotes “brand” will yield powerful benefits, but requires a six-figure budget.

Well, that’s only part of the story.  Let’s get the air-quotes out of here and break it down.  Just because you can’t implement branding on a large scale doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it at all. There is no reason why every small business or organization can’t benefit from a strong brand. All it takes is a plan, and consistent implementation of the plan. Discipline doesn’t require a huge financial expenditure, we promise.

First of all, let’s define what a brand is.

Everyone knows an effective brand when they see it, but few people can tell you what exactly it is. A strong brand is a recognizable representation of a person, product or company.  It uses visual and verbal consistency – along with a dash of psychology – to help consumers quickly identify the entity and associate it with (if done correctly) positive attributes.

Second, let’s talk about why it’s worth the time to build a brand for your organization.

It’s a simple correlation:  once an organization repeatedly communicates what they are about, then people get to know them.  That recognition becomes familiarity, which turns into trust, which translates into increased interactions.  Whether it’s a company wanting increased sales or a non-profit needing increased donations, the speed at which a brand connotes trust is the pay-off we seek.

This is where you roll up your sleeves and get to work. 

First of all, you need a marketing strategy plan. A solid strategy doesn’t have to be overly complicated.  We can help you with it if you get stuck (here’s a trick on how to get started), but in general it outlines:

With every message to the public and your employees, you want to be consistent in how you tell your story.  Every single time. Keep adding detail to fill out your story, adding a layer with each social media post, advertisement, and public speaking event.  With each telling, use a consistent tone that fits your mission and your audience.  This is your brand voice: we dive deeper into how to develop it in this previous post if you need it.

And finally, the big kahuna. Be consistent in your visuals through consistent graphic design.  For small business owners, this can be the trickiest to become disciplined about.  We get it. When you are wearing so many hats, straying a bit on which font you use in the latest newsletter seems trivial.  But it really does matter.  Our brains are wired to recognize patterns, and it’s amazing how much meaning can get associated with a consistent pattern.

It’s not as hard as you think. It just takes a bit planning. (I know, we’re trying to make a point, aren’t we?) Your visual consistency becomes documented in a style guide that everyone on your team can reference when they are turning out projects.

Here’s a simple example.

Logo options
Logo development options

We recently received a call from a non-profit foundation that was about to launch a crowd-funding initiative.  They had a long established logo, and needed something that would build on that framework.  They asked us for a new program logo that would coordinate with their existing materials and quickly communicate the crowd-funding program’s mission.

We set to work using their existing logo, font and color scheme. In no time, we put together several options for them to chew on.  After reviewing what they preferred and what they didn’t, we refined further until we had the final product.  The entire process took just a few hours, including the back-and-forth feedback.  The new program logo integrates seamlessly into their existing website and existing materials. 

In the end, adding the program logo simplified their communications. The visual clues of the heart interwoven with the established font and color communicates to the user without the need for extraneous text. The consistency in their graphic design adds another layer to their branding story in a few split seconds.

Use of final program logo on website

So, slow down a bit to get into the habit of being consistent with how you present your organization to the world. 

If you haven’t gotten a plan in writing (a list of bullets on your monitor does count, if that’s all you have time for), take a stab.  You’ll get the habit going, we promise. 

About this post’s photo: the Pike Place Market Foundation has cleverly combined the famous market sign into a sculpture of Rachel, the market piggy bank. They have interspersed various Rachel sculptures throughout the market, reinforcing their brand while creating a fun scavenger hunt.

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