French fashion icon Pierre Balmain said, “Good fashion is evolution, not revolution.” And the same holds true for branding an organization.
I’ve found that one of the significant differences between large branding agencies that work with big brands and Fortune 500 companies and smaller agencies that cater to small businesses and startups is that smaller agencies often treat branding as a visual endeavor, whereas large agencies put the emphasis on strategy.
One of the reasons for this is budget. It’s a lot less expensive to design a logo than create a comprehensive brand strategy. It’s also a lot easier to “explain” what a logo is than explain what a landscape analysis, value proposition or customer persona is and why it is important. Unfortunately for small businesses, even a great logo is not a great driver of revenue. This is very important: A great logo is not a great driver of revenue. But a great value proposition can increase sales exponentially.
So what should small businesses and startups do? Good branding is expensive, and you need good branding to make money. It’s the old “it takes money to make money” paradox. Never fear. There is a solution: Evolution, not revolution.
Evolutionary branding is a term our agency uses to describe growing a brand over time as resources permit, starting with the least expensive items that will make the most impact.
The way evolution works in nature is species mutate from time to time, and if a trait is beneficial to survival, it gets passed on to the next generation. This is how species make an impact in environmental niches where competition is less brutal and enables them to flourish. To illustrate this, think about the first fish that evolved legs, enabling it to crawl out of the water and onto land, where a vast ecosystem of plants lived for it to feast upon with virtually no predators.
To speed this process along in your branding, let me offer three tips:
1. Be clear about what you want.
Define your shameless goal. The reason I say “shameless” is that I find the vast majority of businesses (and even marketing professionals) are not clear about what they want to accomplish. They talk about educating the consumer or building relationships with their customers or increasing credibility but often lose sight of what they really want (or need) to accomplish. Usually, the shameless goal is to sell product, generate leads, or get subscriptions or donations. Educating the consumer, building relationships with customers and increasing credibility are all very important, of course, but these are tools used to achieve the shameless goal, not the goal itself.
Once the goal is clear, you should make sure every element of your brand drives customers toward that goal.
2. Craft an amazing value proposition.
This is the foundation of your brand. Here is our “secret” formula for a great value proposition (we are data geeks) and the strategic questions you’ll need to answer first:
1. What do you do?
2. Who is your ideal customer, and why do they need you?
3. Who is your competition?
4. What do you do differently and better than your competition?
5. What is your shameless goal?
The formula for an amazing value proposition goes something like this: 1+2+4(5-3) = your value proposition
What you do plus your ideal customer plus what you do differently and better than your competition multiplied by your shameless goal minus your competition equals your value proposition.
3. It’s not about you.
Stop for a second. Pause. And repeat that.
I am stunned at how many agencies make this one big mistake. I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and just about every agency, marketing consultant, designer, etc., sends out a questionnaire during the discovery process asking their clients what websites, colors and fonts they like. Sometimes they create mood boards to get an idea of the clients’ tastes. Have you spotted the mistake yet?
I’d be willing to bet if you are a designer, brand consultant or any type of marketing professional, you’ve sent one of these out, and if you are a client of one of these folks, you have received one of these questionnaires.
The mistake is that most of the time agencies ask their clients what they like, and this makes perfect sense from a sales perspective. But from a performance perspective, a better question is: What do the client’s customers like?
Here are the questions you should be asking clients:
1. What colors do your customers like?
2. What fonts do your customers like?
3. What kind of imagery do your customers prefer?
4. What do your customers like about your current brand?
5. What do your customers dislike about your current brand?
The formula for defining the look and feel of your brand goes something like this: 1+2+3(4-5) = the look and feel of the brand.
What colors your customers like plus what fonts your customers like plus what kind of imagery your customers prefer multiplied by what your customers like about your current brand minus what your customers dislike about your current brand equals the look and feel of the brand.
Lastly, don’t forget the most important part: Treat your customers well. This is the heart and soul of branding. Branding above all else is the promise you make to your customer. So always keep your promise!