People often ask us, "what's the best advice you can give us when developing our brand image?”
The answer is more complex than the question, unfortunately. But the number one piece of advice I would give to small to mid-sized businesses when developing their brand image is: look at what other similar organizations are doing, and ask yourself, "what do they look like and what are they saying about themselves, and how can I do it differently?"
At Aloft Group, we always advise clients to identify two to three PODs (points of distinction). This means identifying things that set your brand apart from others in your space — what can you do to make your brand look and sound different from your competitors? All too often, brands look at their competition for inspiration in what to say. The reality is that you should look at your competition and try to find ways to say it differently and in a more meaningful way. The key is to differentiate yourself within a crowded market, and typically you will find that brands within a specific category are saying all the same things in the same ways.
This holds true when it comes to your brand image as well. If you are in a market where the trend is to develop logos, icons and websites that are in an industry standard color — break the mold.
Within the health care industry, you traditionally see a lot of greens and blues. (Traditionally seen to convey “trust.”) Yet, the brands that are really setting themselves apart now are the ones using oranges, reds, purples and other “pop” colors typically considered to be less conservative. These colors will make brands more memorable, especially in an industry that is saturated with sameness.
With regards to finding a partner to help you execute against this, the first question to ask yourself is, "do I need a partner?" 99.9% of the time, the answer should be "yes."
If you are attempting to identify what makes you different, an objective, third party will always make this an easier task. The perspective of an outsider is invaluable. Look for a partner who will conduct both qualitative and quantitative research with internal stakeholders, clients and prospects, while also conducting a comprehensive audit of other brands in your space.
If you don't have a seasoned graphic designer on your team, then it would make sense to find a design partner as well.
To make your job and that of the designer easier, start by looking at the logos, business cards, and websites of brands that you admire — what do you like about them? Try to figure out if it's the colors, the fonts or the images that resonate with you. Draft a short creative brief that details what you are looking to accomplish and what you want your "look" to say about your brand.
Remember: no successful design project was ever completed with a client who said, "I will know it when I see it."
When selecting a design partner, you will want to follow several steps. First, review the designers' portfolios of work. Look for a variety of styles and find one that fits your taste-level. Don't go with a designer who is a "one-trick-pony." If everything in a designer's portfolio is modern with a lot of white space, you may be looking at a designer who can't do much more than that.
Once you have narrowed down designers based on their work, speak to them in person or by telephone. You want a designer who asks a lot of questions, not one who says, "I read your creative brief and I'm ready to start working on the project."
Good brand designers get to you know you, what inspires you, what you hope to inspire in others, and will try to establish an understanding of your vision for your brand. In addition to that, when working with a design partner, chemistry is important. You are hiring someone to develop the look and feel of your brand. If you don't like them, there's less of a chance that they will understand you.
Lastly, the ability to meet your design partner, face-to-face, occasionally can be important, especially for small business owners who may not regularly work with graphic design partners. Things can often get lost in translation when presenting via GoToMeeting or simply sharing files by email.
A good designer should present concepts to you — not toss them over the fence for you to look at in your spare time.
Development of your brand is a highly personal and interactive exercise. Take it seriously, communicate openly, and always budget (the time and resources) for between three and five rounds to get to a place where you are 100% satisfied with the work.
A final, often overlooked, piece of developing your brand is all about walking the walk after you talk the talk. Brand gets to the heart of what your organization and its people represent — not only what you say but how your colleagues follow up and interact with customers, prospects and among themselves. Culture is an instrumental part of your brand image.
An old Harvard Business Review study showed that fewer than 5% of employees within organizations are typically familiar with, or understand, their companies' brand strategies. It's difficult, if not nearly impossible, to deliver on your brand's promise if you team is not immersed in what your brand stands for. Socialize your strategy, along with your outward-facing image, to create exceptional experiences for customers, prospects and colleagues.
All of this together, will help you create a high-performing brand.
Want to learn more? Check out our latest case study on how we helped to create an award winning brand!