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Branding is NOT optional – Part 1: A cautionary tale

Imagine you’re hanging at the local café and end up sharing a table with a stranger. Between sips of your steaming drinks, you pass the time with friendly small talk.

“They make the best lattes here, don’t they? I’m totally addicted.”

“I know,” she replies, “I’ve got a two-a-day habit that’s going to send me to the poor house. Thank god I’m so busy.”

“Good to be busy. What do you do?”

“Um, I work for myself. I’m a kind of project manager, writer, social media and account person … and I blog,” she says, picking distractedly at the sleeve of her sweater. “I’ll basically do anything anyone will pay me for … as long as it’s legal.”

She laughs. You chuckle. It’s funny, but you’re not sure where to go from there, so the conversation peters out and goes nowhere.

That was me five years ago. The “anything legal” bit was my standard “cocktail party line.”

It always got a laugh. It never got me any business. click to tweet

 

Accidentally in business

In 2007 I was newly divorced and hustling my butt off to make sure my three year-old daughter and I made as smooth a transition as possible into our new life. I was more than a little scared. I was pretty darn close to desperate. It was my first time working for myself and I didn’t have the luxury of time to stop and think about anything as esoteric as “branding.” I had deadlines to meet, conference calls to take, and piles of paperwork to wrangle.

My story is not unlike the stories of many other first-time business owners and entrepreneurs – people who are thrown into the deep end and need to learn how to swim. Fast. For most of these people, the priorities are all about hustling to land customers and then hustling some more to keep those customers deliriously happy. Tragically, they don’t have time to stop and think about their “brand.”

This will bite them in the ass later. Stay with me and I’ll explain why.

 

Branding: the magic you can’t see  click to tweet

Show me a successful business and I’ll show you a strategically crafted and well-articulated brand. Show me a floundering business and I’ll show you a half-formed, not-quite-there brand, or – worse – no brand at all. Branding is the foundation and the glue that hold your business ideas and messages together. It is the throughline in your business’ story – the consistent themes and philosophies that are at the heart of what you do and how you do it.

Branding gets a lot of lip service, but too few business owners (new or experienced) are actually willing to invest the time, money, and brain cells it takes to nail their branding. I understand their reluctance. “Branding” is intangible. After hours and hours of hard work you have nothing more than a simple document that defines “airy-fairy” things like brand values, messages, USPs and value propositions. It’s a challenge to write a check for something that – on the surface – doesn’t seem to do anything.

On the other hand, a business owner can easily assign a value to things like website copy, a custom app, a video campaign, an ebook, or a guest spot on a high profile blog. The success of these things can be measured in clicks, conversions, views, downloads, likes, comments, shares, leads generated, and so forth. Branding, not so much.

 

The price of Band-aid branding

Are you tempted to gloss over branding in favor of moving on to more tangible deliverables? Don’t be. Thinking about branding as a nice-to-have severely handicaps your marketing and the growth and stability of your business.

Whether you’re not thinking about branding at all, engaged in aimless spaghetti branding (in which you throw random branding at the proverbial wall and hope that something sticks), or slipping into mimicry branding (in which – either intentionally or unintentionally – you emulate one or more of your competitors), the risks of inadequate branding are many:

  • Wasted time and money – Although there’s always an element of iteration, trial and error is not the most efficient method of brand development.
  • Confused prospects and customers – If you can’t clearly communicate what you stand for and what value you deliver (aka: your brand), you won’t be able to connect the dots for prospects and customers.
  • Me-too syndrome – If you don’t take the time to differentiate yourself with strong, strategic branding, you will look and sound like dozens or hundreds of your competitors. Not good.
  • Lack of confidence – If you’re not sure about who you are as a brand, how can you confidently talk about or sell your products and services? (Hint: you can’t.)
  • Lost opportunities – If you can’t communicate your unique value clearly and confidently, but your competitor can, guess who has a better chance at landing more business?

 

Have I got your attention? Are you starting to understand the inherent risks of ignoring or short-changing your branding? I hope so, because I’m serious about this.

Next week, we’ll talk about the glorious benefits of building a strong brand. It really is pretty close to magic. 

 

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Image Credit: SnorgTees

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Branding is NOT optional – Part 2: Let them eat your dust

6 Comments

  1. I like magic:) Cheers! Kaarina

    • Jamie Lee

      Me, too, Kaarina. There’s more of it out there than people usually realize. :)

  2. Can I take this blog post back in time and share it with someone? I could have used this back then!

  3. Hi Jamie, if by brand you mean the people behind the venture then I totally get where you are going. If you know WHY you are doing what you do then I would say you have a strong brand. The other stuff to me is window dressing.

    Sure, we have to communicate our intent to others well. That takes some skill but if you don’t know why then all the skill in the world is for naught.

    I feel you. Great thoughts.

    BTW, what is a USP?

  4. Jamie Lee

    Hello. Ralph! :)

    Yes – the “why” (as Simon Sinek so eloquently puts it) is critical to both internal and external branding. Without it, your venture lacks purpose and without purpose it’s hard to get traction in any market, but especially in a competitive one.

    A USP is a “unique selling proposition.” It’s a term sometimes used interchangeably with “value proposition.” It’s a statement that helps define the value of your brand by setting you apart and explaining, in a succinct and persuasive manner, why someone should buy from you and not The Other Guy. They take some work to unearth and articulate, but they are a powerful marketing weapon. (More on that in my next post.)

    Tks for coming by! Always love seeing your smiling (laughing) face. :)

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