Anybody who has started a company has heard this well-intended advice: “You need to build a brand!” The natural response is to question what that means – and the next step for most people is to find a graphic designer who can create a logo, letterhead and business cards. Then, presto, you’ve got your brand.
Not so fast!
While your visual identity is important, there are a number of intermediate steps that are necessary to ensure that the visuals align with your company’s essence. It’s a process that requires thinking, questioning and insight. The best definition I’ve seen is from CoreBrand: “Branding establishes the direction, leadership and clarity of purpose for a company.” That’s pretty much it.
We’re talking about a fundamental business process that not only results in a professional appearance, but in real alignment between the various moving parts of your company. Your brand is your North Star that you need to locate before you can pull the anchor. So now that you’ve called your designer and put that project on hold (for now), you need to ask yourself some important questions that will help crystalize your brand:
Who are our competitors? Who are our customers?
What makes us unique? What specific problems do we solve?
When do customers call us? When do they pull the trigger?
Where will we take our customers? Where is our own business going?
Why would a potential customer want to rearrange his schedule to meet with us? Why would a buyer risk his or her own reputation to work with us?
How will we be measured? How can we define success?
This process of discovery requires honesty, and when done correctly it will inform your key messages to media, investors, customers, partners, employees and just about anyone else you will encounter. By answering these questions with candor – remember, this is an internal process, not a public-facing one – you’ll avoid what could be a fatal disconnect between the visual elements and your fundamental value proposition. For your story to be relevant and to break away from the pack, you need message precision that you can only develop through a painstaking communications exercise. In short, a well-conceived, sharply-defined brand is the difference between “me too” status and true market leadership. Your brand keeps your company and your product top of mind.
VerbFactory is an Oakland-based marketing company that primarily works with technology and Internet companies.