This is the conclusion of a three part series of articles on effective branding which started here.

In the first article, we learned that advertising and branding had moved away from simply promoting products to promoting ideals.

In part 2 we learned that the reason for this is that people have a seemingly irrational need for things they don’t need which can make appealing to basic requirements a fruitless exercise.

We also left with the question: do the same rules still apply for small businesses that may not have access to the advertising and marketing budgets of multinational corporations?

Ever been to a networking event?

If you’ve ever been to a networking event, then this is testament to the fact that the same rules do apply.

At networking events, you get up early, you dress in a smart and professional way, you talk politely to people and you generally aim to avoid drinking too much, particularly at breakfast events.

This is because unless you have a particularly unique product, then you need to differentiate yourself from other people in the room who may do the same type of work as you, and as such you use your personality to do so. Anyone who were to simply walk around the room like a door to door salesperson giving the same pitch to everyone they meet whether they want to hear it or not is unlikely to make many friends very fast.

However, there is one confusing aspect to this type of behaviour which is how often people don’t use the same techniques when they take promote their brand on a wider stage such as on their websites, via social media or via traditional advertising methods. All too often people will employ a designer and perhaps a larger marketing team to give them a ‘professional’ site complete with vapid, buzzphrase laden headings, tedious copy and uninspiring imagery.

What you can do better than your marketing team

This brings me to what you can do better than your marketing team: be yourself.

In the same way that someone at a networking event attempting to come across as overly professional can actually come across as awkward and possibly even untrustworthy, your brand can do the same unless it represents you.

This is not to say that being aware of the needs of your target market isn’t important, but if your company’s brand doesn’t reflect the people in it, then you can have issues later on.

The value of self awareness

As a designer myself, I have found that there are three types of clients I tend to work with. By far the easiest are the self aware clients. Clients that know who they are, what they want to do and who are excited about their product are always fun to work with. Their enthusiasm is infectious and before the project has started you have a rough idea of what they would like meaning that you can focus on developing great ideas for them.

Slightly more challenging are clients who worry too much about what they think other people want them to be. While not a particularly negative attribute by itself, it can lead to the work they approve being a bit like buying a smart Armani suit that doesn’t fit – while it may look nice by itself, it’s not going to do you any favours and you’re likely to want another suit pretty soon. When it comes to a brand rather than a suit, this can lead to consistency issues meaning that you won’t get the snowball effect of a brand building up in your potential customers’ minds.

As such, it’s usually worth an extensive chat to go over exactly what values the client has, what their story so far is, and what they want to do, meaning that the brand will reflect not just who they are now, but who they intend to be in the future, ultimately giving them a brand that will work for a much longer period of time and which can later on be developed, rather than torn down and replaced at a later date.

Probably the most difficult types of clients to work with are those who don’t even have particular interest in their own products and who only do what they do for the money. Aside from the fact that they spend more of their time trying to argue prices down than producing any work, they’re usually not up for the extensive chat to solve the branding issue in the first place.

Embracing your flaws

Increased self awareness also has the benefit of allowing your marketing team to accentuate the positives in your campaign, as well as covering up any negatives.

In fact, in some instances, it can even allow negatives to be turned into positives.

Take Marmite for example. It takes quite a lot of guts to get up and tell your entire target market that half of them will hate your product, but by laying down a challenge to everyone to find out which category they belong to by trying your product, it can turn out to be a great idea and future proof against complaints further down the line (you don’t like Marmite? Me neither, must just not be one of those people…)

Or here’s another brand: Moonpig. Absolute rubbish. Cheesy, tacky and horrible.

However, I question if Moonpig would have been quite as successful if they had promoted themselves as some kind of haute couture boutique brand. By revelling in the type of product they are, some people have developed an affection for the brand which has converted into sales.

Now this may not necessarily work if you are a bank who lost all your customers’ money (there are different techniques involved in that), but often you can get more results by stopping trying to please everyone and embracing the things that makes your organisation unique, and turning them to your advantage.

Summing up

Over the last three posts we have determined that while your product is essential for you, it can often be secondary to the sense of satisfaction that your customers get from buying it, as this is what will make them buy it again.

As such, companies have worked very hard at building emotive elements into their brands to make this happen. This is not a merely technical process as the brand has to fit the organisation. Therefore effective branding is not just about deciding on what ideals will sell your product, but what ideals you adhere to yourself. Knowing this will allow your brand to make a much stronger connection in the wider world, sell more products and maybe make the world a better place as well.

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