The Importance of Brand Identity

No matter how big or small your brand is, your brand identity matters — probably more than you know.  I was approached by a potential client this week and she said something that really stuck with me — she told me she chose me out of a list of copywriters because I had something no one else had.  I had personality.  My writing stood out, my personal branding created a three dimensional image of who I was as a person — and that’s awesome because that’s what branding is all about.

Developing Your Brand Image: Dos and Don’ts

Every business has to learn how to develop their brand in order to succeed.  Whether you borrow your idea of branding from somewhere else or make it up as you go, there are a few keys to really nailing a brand identity.  Let me walk you through them.

Figure Out What Your Company Represents.  There are a lot of ways to do this, from looking at your company leaders’ values to strictly sticking to the playbook designed by your marketing company.  Whatever you do, think of your company like you would a person — and figure out how it fits into the niche you’re carving.  Are you a content generation service run by a bunch of burned-out journalists or is your company united by something else, like a love of ducks?  Whether you’re fuckers or duckers, determine who your company is and what it represents early in your branding process.

Learn Your Demographic.  Even though you need to be yourself, you’ve got to also be something to your demographic.  If you’re trying to sell your products to young mothers and insist on representing your company as a hardcore badass producer of diapers, you may be off target.  Be yourself, but choose your demographic wisely.  There’s probably room for badass black studded diapers, but you’ll have to find the bikers, rockers and other non-conventional (and probably older) parents who want to dress their kids in leather.

Understand You Can’t Be All Things.  Long ago, being in business meant being all things to all people — you were a stuffed suit with nothing in it.  You can’t be that suit in today’s market — it’s a world of niches and generic has no place to fit.  This is what brand identity is all about: giving your brand some personality that helps people to connect to it emotionally.  Your market wants you to be like them, or in other words, they want to be attracted to a company who represents the values and images they hold dearest.

Don’t Stir Shit.  There’s brand personality, then there’s way over the top brand personality.  A lot of people make this mistake early on in their branding efforts — so let me warn you right now about stirring shit.  Don’t do it.  It’s fine to discuss your preferred guitar if you’re a music shop, or your favorite kind of icing if you’re a cake shop, but for fuck’s sake, leave the bigotry, hatred and heated political issues at the door.  You want to stimulate conversation, not alienate half your market.

Yes, There’s a Niche for That.  Whatever it is, there’s a niche for it, I promise.  Whether or not that niche is large enough to be profitable is a question you have to ask yourself as a business.  You don’t want to make the mistake of painting yourself into a too-tight corner.  If you’ve decided to completely ignore my advice and represent your brand as a completely racist producer of organic produce, the chances are really good that your company is going to suffer.  After all, people with liberal ideals (like equal rights) tend to seek out organic apples just like yours.

Even though there aren’t any really concrete rules to developing the right brand image for your company, I can tell you from experience that there are things that work and things that don’t.  Consistency is key, above all else.  Make sure your brand identity and your company’s policies align, that your employees are trained to the corporate culture that will eventually be spun out of your brand’s identity and that all your marketing speaks to your business’s image.

Know Thine Audience

It’s a much-spouted theory that start-ups are doomed and any business that’s been around more than a couple of years is probably going to start feeding itself to a dark pit of extravagance and hedonism as it expands.  Let’s assume that’s a given, why not?

The actually truth lies somewhere less dramatic, but only just: 29 percent of businesses that start today will be around in 10 years.  The number one reason those companies fail is incompetence — and I wouldn’t argue against that stat.  What I would argue, though, is that the true root of most business failures that aren’t related to too little start-up funding or freak accidents is specifically not giving a second thought to who makes up their customer base.

The First Commandment of Business: Know Thine Audience

Businesses everywhere make this same mistake, and they make it every day.  They have no idea who their customers are, so when they call me because they want to go online in the hopes of getting more attention, they can’t really identify their audience.

“Who is your audience?”

“I don’t know: the Internet?!”

Before you set out your shingle, stock your online shop or even dream of your future business, you’ve got to figure out who your customer base is — and that’s exactly who your audience should be.  You’ve got to get this right, because the Internet isn’t a little fish bowl on your desk — it’s the motherfucking ocean.  If you have no idea who your audience is, you’re never going to pick the right lures and fishing spots to reel them in.

Not all audiences or demographics are going to respond to the same type of marketing, and many will be receptive to specific styles of writing on your blog.  Although the casual voice dominates web marketing, there are some folks out there who still prefer to be addressed in formal English.  You have to know that right away — otherwise you can kiss your online customers goodbye.

Survey Says….

There are two main ways to identify your target audience and therefore, your target market.  First, you can decide who you want to target — that’s the easiest for a lot of products and services that aren’t really made for one group or another.  You can decide to market your free-range organic eggs to middle aged grandmothers.  Decide who you like, if you can, but cast that net carefully — after all, every demographic group has a few people that will undoubtedly want your product, but you need more than a few sales to stay afloat.

What I mean is that if you’re selling adventure vacations on the Colorado River to octogenarians, you might want to reconsider what you’re doing with your life.

The other way people identify their target markets is to look around them.  Who is already buying the product or service you’re selling?  Check out the competition when you’re just breaking into the market.  If you’ve managed to build a thriving business by pure dumb luck, survey your buyers — ask them who they are.  Are they males between the ages of 20 to 50?  Do they make above $25,000 a year?  Are they of a specific nationality or belong to a cultural or ethnic group?

These things do matter.  Your vegan followers are going to be repulsed by your brand new lambskin purses in the same way that your middle-aged Jewish male is going to go berserk over your new Nazi-themed hams.

So What?  Screw ‘Em!

If I’ve ever seen a single statement that marks the day a person has decided to drive their business into the ground, it’s these four words when uttered in relation to their target market: “So what?  Screw ‘em!”

Perhaps you’ve forgotten that your business doesn’t exist in a bubble of endless cash flow, where the only opinion that matters is yours.  You absolutely don’t have to be all things to all people (and eventually we’ll get around to why that’s not a great idea anyway), but you must strive to be the ultimate resource for your target audience.  In short, if you piss them off, they’re going to leave you high and dry.

Knowing your audience means understanding their needs and wants.  Knowing them means you can find them in the endless sea of the Internet.  Knowing them also means growing your business.  So, the next time I ask you who your target audience or demographic is, I want you to tell me something like this: nurses at major hospitals, aged 40 to 60; new fathers aged 20 to 45; or families who make more than $50,000 a year.

Weekly Web Gems #11: Top Shelf Copy’s Online Marketing News (Sunday Special Edition)

The poop on guest blog spam, Yahoo's newly secured search, and much moreThis week’s Sunday Special edition of our online marketing news features the big Google psyche out! over its kibosh on (spammy backlink-driven) guest blogging, which fairly blew up the web with analyses and reactions.

In other news:

  • Content ideation and strategy that supports long-term business objectives
  • Yahoo rolls out its own secured search
  • Facebook’s declining search reach and its new algo change
  • Twitter introduces its card analytics

Many more web gems await you, so enjoy! And thanks for tuning in… Continue reading “Weekly Web Gems #11: Top Shelf Copy’s Online Marketing News (Sunday Special Edition)”