A new customer called me this morning in a panic. Her business has depended primarily on word-of-mouth advertising for a number of years, but she decided it was time to run an ad in a major trade magazine, and made a commitment for an ad that would be due in two weeks. Before she bought her business, she was a graphic designer. She knows how to put together an ad. That wasn't her problem. What she didn't know was what to put in the ad.
That happens to be the problem most businesses face. They can hire great graphic designers to put their ads together, but they don't know how to direct the process. That's because they have the cart pulling the horse.
Does this scenario sound familiar? You start out with three weeks of lead time, struggle and procrastinate and struggle for a week trying to figure out what to say, eventually say to your designer, "Just put something together and we'll see how it looks," hate the result but aren't sure how to tell them because you know you didn't give them good direction in the first place, redesign the ad three more times, and one day before deadline settle on something you don't even feel good about, but it has to go or you miss your deadline.
If you have a clear vision of your brand message, creating ads is relatively easy. But without a clear idea of your brand message, the struggle to figure out what to say in an ad dominates the process. Most people don't know where to start with branding. They're not even sure what it is.
Your brand should create a positive expectation in the customer's mind. It's the shorthand for your identity. You can never completely control your company's identity, because you can't control all the customers' perceptions. But you can guide them through effective use of messages and images, and effectiveness is synonymous with consistency. Add to consistent messaging a resonant and powerful imagery and your advertising will be highly successful.
Here are the things you must define if you want to have a recognizable brand:
Core Values: These are the principles, standards and qualities you value, and which you want to be apparent to your customers.
Brand Message: Based on your core values, your brand message conveys the qualities of behavior, thought and character implicit in the value(s) chosen, and it will be the source of every other message you deliver.
Mission Statement: This is not the pithy little statement that business missions have been reduced to as a popularity measure. The mission statement should be where your strategy and your brand intersect. If you don't have a clear vision of your strategy, you won't be able to develop the mission statement (sorry). But when you are clear on both your strategy and your core values, the mission statement ties the two together in one concise message that provides you with both focus and motivation.
Brand Personality: This is the fun part, and I recommend you really get into it. Try to imagine a character - a person, a cartoon, an animal personality - any character that personifies your brand. Describe them as if you were describing an individual in a novel you were writing. This may sound crazy to you, but it's the point at which your brand comes to life. When I lead branding sessions, this is the point at which the entire experience becomes a lot more play than work.
Brand Icons: What colors, smells, tastes, and sounds evoke the personality of this brand? What types of words does this character use, and what type of voice do they have?
Sound silly? Sure - until you approach your graphic designer the following week and say, "I need an ad. Here is the message we need to convey, and please make sure these core values come through loud and clear. When you are designing graphics and writing copy, please make sure the images and words evoke this personality. As an additional aid, you can refer to this description of the way the brand would affect you if you could experience it with all five senses."
I helped my customer get through her ad block this morning. Then we scheduled some time to define what she wants her customers to think of every time they see or hear her business name. An ad without a brand behind it is like a child dressing up in her parents' clothes. It can't be taken seriously, and it doesn't hold anyone's attention for very long either.
(c) 2007, Andrea M. Hill