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Build a Brand, Build a Business

January 24, 2017

If you’re starting a new business you’ll, no doubt, want to establish and build a strong brand. Doing so will bring huge benefits over the long-term, helping you to stand out from the crowd, generate more customers and ultimately build a more valuable business.

But how do you build a brand, and where do you start? We asked branding expert, and author of ‘Winning in Your Own Way; the Nine and a Half Golden Rules of Branding‘, Robert Bean to explain;

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told by start-ups that they’re ‘trying to build a brand.’

But in my rush to congratulate them for their far-sightedness and ambition I can’t help but hold a secret tinge of concern.build a brand

Do they really know what they’re wishing for?

And how to get there?

So, on the basis that if you want to understand anything in Life you need to look to the origin, it might be worth exploring the question of ‘what is a brand?’

What is a brand?

The term ‘brand’ originates from an old Norse word: ‘brandr.’

It means ‘burnt’.

Aha, I thought. There’s a clue.

The act of burning the side of cattle to mark it out as ‘mine’ could be argued as an early form of ‘branding’ as we’ve come to know it.

And certainly name, identity and visual style are all part of it. But only a part.

An early definition came from the US accounting fraternity in the ‘50s, riding on their post-industrial consumerist boom: ‘A brand is the worth of a business beyond the value of its tangible assets.’

So the bit left over after you’ve totted up the value of the factories, lorries and other tangibles. I can’t help wonder where that would’ve left Google or Amazon today; in a modern-day service-based economy this definition is beginning to show its age…

Inevitably ad-land has had a go at defining it too. Someone there came up with ‘Product + Personality = Brand.’

I’ve got into trouble in the past for describing that as not just shallow, but deeply shallow…

There is one descriptor that makes a lot of sense in my opinion, and that’s ‘Promises Delivered’.

Delivering against promises – consistently – engenders Trust, a cornerstone of a strong brand. But none of these descriptions directly help businesses in their quest to grow their own brands, not least start-ups.

Think of a brand as your ‘Single Organising Principle’

Perhaps unsurprisingly I take a different view about what a brand is; I think of it as your ‘Single Organising Principle.’

In other words, the single-minded principle you hold most dearly, around which you’ll organise your whole business.

It’s a scary prospect isn’t it, to commit yourself to one thing and one thing only?

Made worse if you accept the saying that a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.

So here’s a 6-step guide to help deciding what that one thing is, and how to get there.

STEP 1. Work out your sweet-spot target audience

Of course you’ll have several audiences but which one group is the one where you’ll light your fire? It can spread from there but it has to start with them.

Demographics are useful to describe them (age, sex, income, geography etc etc) but psychographics are much more telling so ask yourself;

  • What TYPE of people are they?
  • What are their beliefs?
  • Where might they (typically) go on holiday?
  • What kind of food or music might they be into?
  • Which other brands do they admire & why?

Once you think you’re close, it’s best to give them a name so that you can refer to them more quickly and easily in future.

For example, a friend of mine launched a new kind of low-sugar, low-calorie natural soft drink. Having worked out that his prime market was the professional, female, 24 – 32, cosmopolitan, premium ‘on-the-go’ lunch brigade, he ended up referring to them as the ‘Healthy Wealthies.’

At a stroke he and everyone in his team knew who to focus on.

It’s the same for business people too, by the way. They’re still ‘types’.

For example, an environmental consultancy start-up created a series of products & services for a customer-base that needed to adhere to environmental standards, but were not particularly motivated to do so.

So, after debating it, they termed them ‘The Grapplers’; individuals within specific organisations whose function was to deal with such issues but who, for various reasons, found it difficult.

This gave them someone to focus on as they developed their business.

Once they’re identified and named, these people will become the bedrock of your business’ growth.

STEP 2. What insights do you have about their motivations?

Having identified your primary audience, do you know how they think?

When IBM first started selling main-frame computers they quickly understood who their primary audience really was; he/she was a middle-ranking manager who would have to report back to their Boards with a ‘pitch’ that explained that a main-frame computer was a large box that nobody was quite sure how to work, but would cost them $1m.

They realised they needed to sell ‘reassurance’ as much as they needed to sell computers.

So ‘Nobody got fired for buying IBM’ was born.

The rest is history.

What could your insight be?

Use the ‘5-whys’ technique

The best way of tackling this is to borrow (and bend) a technique pioneered by Toyota; it’s known as the ‘5-whys’ but can be more or less than 5.

It’s designed to get to the root cause of something by continually asking the question ‘why’ to each answer.

More specifically, as we’re after Motivations, the real question is ‘why does that matter?’

Take my own business, for example;

The first ‘why’ is;

Why does my target audience want a brand consultancy? (Note: not MY brand consultancy, any brand consultancy.)

Answer: Because they want help clarifying their proposition.

Why does that matter?

Because it’ll help provide them more focus.

Why does that matter?

Because it’ll help them use their resources more efficiently.

Why does that matter?

Because they can do more with less.

Why does that matter?

So they can compete with the bigger boys.

Why does that matter?

So they can build a successful and sustainable business in their own way.

Why does that matter?

The answers to this could be infinite, like ‘leave a legacy,’ ‘become rich & famous,’ or, more humbly, ‘so they can feed their families.’

In any event, I’m suddenly not selling just brand consultancy, I’m selling ‘enhanced business performance’, or ‘competitiveness’ or ‘legacy’ depending on who I choose my primary audience to be.

Once you’ve asked several questions around your area, and followed different avenues of thought as mind-maps, you’ll need to decide which fundamental motivations you believe you could tap into for the future.

Generally, specific motivations at either extreme are not particularly helpful. For instance, it’s not insightful to decide that the reason my customers want a brand consultancy (remember, ANY brand consultancy, not just mine) is to ‘make their brand stronger.’

No shit, Sherlock!

Equally it’s not helpful to end up choosing one that’s too psychedelic, like ‘want to a successful business so they can be a good provider and feed their families.’

Sherlock still won’t have impressed, as that’s not going to help you much in formulating your proposition. You need to isolate the two or three that you think are the most powerful, put them to one side and return to them later.

These findings will come into their own a little further down the line.

STEP 3. How are you better/different from your competitors?

The next step is to work out how you a better than the competition. A competitor is defined by anyone who could be after the same £, $ or Euro from your customers.

Pick 4 of your main competitors, then ask members of your team to study one each and get prepared to deliver a 10 bullet-point pitch to you and your colleagues about why the company they’re representing is so great.

They should think of themselves as the CEO or Sales Director of said business, and pitch to an imaginary panel for business that you and your other competitors are after. Once you’ve listened to them politely, and noted down what they say, your collective job is to argue back.

It’s important to remember that it’s the easiest thing in the world to just sit there and slag them off. It’ll definitely make you feel better, but who’s kidding who?

The point of the exercise is to push yourselves up against a wall to see how you come out fighting. So it’s all-important that you land positive blows of your own.

Once you’ve done this for all 4 competitors you’ll see a pattern emerging about what it is you continually rely on to beat off each and all of them. So don’t be frightened of repetition; celebrate it instead, BUT ONLY IF IT’S TRUE.

If you’ve done it properly you won’t end up with more than a few points of real difference. But don’t worry, you’re only after one real belter.

For STEPS 4, 5 & 6 go to; Build a Brand, Build a Business – Part 2