February 5, 2019

How to build a strong brand

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This article is aimed at independent business owners and their leadership teams. It is focused upon the optimisation of your marketing efforts and expediting the returns on your investment.

Now, this topic could turn into a full book, so as not to take so much of your time or to put you off with an overwhelming list of ‘to do’s’ I will keep it short. 

I will prioritise areas of focus that are often overlooked in favour of visually biased and strategically vacuous exercises that lack any business focus, produce little if no return and give branding a bad name.

I believe that a branding exercise that is focused upon the ambitions and vision of a business and its owners, can truly transform the performance of that organisation or give it the best start if it is a start-up. 

To achieve this level of success the participants and partners in this exercise must be totally attuned to the business context and approach the project deploying inherent business acumen. Without this, an ‘agency’ will produce not a plan, but purely a PDF document that is more aligned to their portfolio that the opportunities that exist in your market.


Phase 1: Identify the business opportunities

Even though the branding process is inherently creative, it starts with identifying the opportunities that face your business. Surprisingly these opportunities exist and don’t necessarily have to be created. They reside in your market, amongst the competition and in the actual, not perceived needs, of your audience.

Use the powers of observation and skills of conversation. I would strongly recommend running two activities in tandem:

Analysing your market and the competition

Stepping back from your business and reflecting on the market as a whole will help you to see and understand the gaps and opportunities that it offers. Reflect on how your competition communicate, their messaging, visual tactics and how they position themselves. Armed with this understanding you will be able to identify gaps and where the opportunities for your business lie.

Engage your internal audience and external audience

One of the fundamental starting points of a branding exercise is to understand the needs of your customers and current perceptions of the business. Once you have this understanding and a vision of where you see the business moving to, you can plan for what needs to be done to leverage or shift these perceptions and best meet the actual needs of your customers. This exercise doesn’t have to be exhaustive, by asking the right questions to the right people and being able to interpret what they say, you will be presented with the answers you’re looking for. 


From these exercises you will build a picture of the opportunities that exist for your business. With this understanding you will need to be discerning and prioritise what efforts are likeliest to realise your vision and ambitions.

You will also have a greater understanding of what aspects of your existing business and its brand are effective and importantly understand those that are either superfluous and distracting from your true value to your audience. 

This a very exciting project phase for your business, it is where you have the eureka moments, the moments of clarity where previous frustrations of wasted efforts are dispelled, the moments where you are energised and find a renewed passion and enthusiasm for your business. This is where you form your plan and can focus your efforts and investments to create a brand strategy that will deliver your business strategy.

Without this phase you will just be ‘colouring in’ your logo a bit differently and hoping that it transforms your businesses’ performance – this is high risk and not very likely.


Phase 2: Shape your brand and its engagement to fit theopportunities

Now you can begin to create, hone, optimise, design solutions and devise tactics that are purposeful and business focused. Enabling your reshaped and repurposed brand to perform effectively as a key factor in the realisation of the opportunities you identified in the previous project phase.

There could be many activities that form this project phase, but I would like to priorities your considerations and advise around two key areas of an effective brand;

Verbal identity

This is your messaging, how you write and verbalise what you do, how and why you do it and what value you bring to your customers. This is key to the success of reshaping your brand and your plans to take it to market and needs to be defined before you begin any considerations around the visual identity. It is often overlooked or deprioritised against the visual and aesthetic solutions. Big mistake! It is the ‘voice and personality’ of your business, how do you expect your audience to hear you or even listen above the noise of your competitors without it?!

Visual identity

Now here we go, the bit that everyone enjoys, but the bit that often lacks business focus. The visual aspects of you brand can add so much value to your business. Here is how. 

The majority of visual identity projects of a branding exercise are undertaken by agencies that are primarily design focused and not branding focused. There is an important distinction to be made here. Of course, both types of professional services supplier have their place. Ask yourself or your supplier how is visual identity being approached and informed more than just it being boiled down to ‘how do we make our business look better than how the competition present themselves.’

Design has so much more power in this part of the project than just merely a change of aesthetic. It should provide visual solutions to expedite engagement and utilisation of your business’ products/services, bring to life key business strategies such as positioning and provide a unique personality and voice to your marketing and communication.


Phase 3: Balance and prioritise your activities

From the conclusion of Phase 1 you will naturally be stimulated with ideas of how you bring your opportunities to life. The key to the success of those ideas is to plan and prioritise them. It is not so much about what has been effective in the past, although some successes may be applicable moving forward, but moreover it is about thinking afresh and in complete service of bringing those opportunities you have identified to fruition.

Don’t just do stuff because you did them last year (tick box marketers I call them, those who like the comfort of habit and are afraid of the exciting challenges of creating value).

Don’t just rely upon one channel or activity, for example an overreliance upon PPC or paid ads can bring quick wins but are risky if not balanced and supplemented with wider activities. Google can change its rules or a competitor can outspend and this can have drastic effects upon your business. Balance your activities and the number of channels/routes to markets that you nurture.

Make distinctions between the types of communications and activities. You should always strive to create a balance between tactical and brand communications:

Tactical communications are more frequent communications around products, services and offers

Brand communications are the context of your products and services; your story and why you do what you do

Learn and relearn, small improvements over a sustained period will be compounded and produce transformative results.