By Amber Pechin and Reid Markel, Amplitude Media
I visited an old friend a couple of days ago. When I walked into their house and it was just like I remembered. Well lit, an open floor plan and all of the season’s latest colors and trends were beautifully displayed and organized, and it smelled like popcorn… okay, I was at Target. It’d been a while. But it was just as I’d left it, hip, trendy and with $100 worth of cool stuff that I hadn’t known I’d needed until I got there, but now could not live without.
I love my friend’s place, I know where things are, I feel at home and I know the prices are reasonable. I can count on pleasant surprises on end caps to mindlessly look at and consider how this $25 fake oil lamp (it comes in orange, teal or buttercup yellow) will improve my life, and I know if they’re out of teal in store I can order it online.
Alternatively, I don’t feel the same sense of belonging at Walmart, we’re not friends. I feel uneasy and anxious. The aisles are too crowded and it always feels dark. It’s like an apocalyptic scene out of a movie where the meteor is about to strike and you’ve got to hurry and buy whatever supplies happen to be left and it’s all you’ll have to live on until Bruce Willis saves the day… let’s all cross our fingers that happens this time.
But thinking objectively about both Target and Walmart, many of the products are the same. The price-points aren’t that much different. They’re usually within a mile of each other. So why do I feel so differently about one vs. the other?
As humans we don’t think objectively, we think emotionally about the descriptions and how that description makes us feel, and when choosing between companies, a brand is vital. It all boils down to decision theory research and behavioral economics which have shown, people don’t choose between things, they choose between descriptions of things. A good brand is a description of the thing that you’re building, which drives the emotion behind choice.
So, why is a brand important?
Whether an interaction on your website, in social media, a physical location or using a product or service, your brand is how you create an emotional response. Think of it as the personality of your business or the soul of your brand. Your soul is a lot more than one image, it’s the feelings and emotions that drive how people feel about themselves when they stop by to visit, wander through your house, and pick up random decor.
Where do you start to build a brand?
Start by asking some tough questions:
Where are we going?
How are we going to get there?
What’s a way to sum up our promise?
What do we value?
Who are we like?
What do we say?
How do we sound?
How do we feel?
The value of building a brand is that you’re building something bigger than yourself. You’re building something you want to attract people to and believe in as much as you do.
Start with a Vision
Ask yourself (and your team), what impact you want to leave on the world. If it feels aspirational or a bit scary then you’re on the right track. At its essence, your vision is why you’re doing what you’re doing. What drives you? What will motivate your team? What is the big idea that will make you all jump out of bed in the morning?
Take a minute and think about what product or service is at the core of your business. How is that product going to change the world? (Yes, go big or go home). Or even, how is this product going to change yourworld and the world of the people who work for your company? Your clients? How will it impact your community in a positive way?
Then decide where you want your company to be in six months. What about a year? Three years? Ten years?
Building a long-term plan for your business is important. It’s the inspirational framework for where the company is headed in the future, directs long-term strategic planning and is the ultimate goal you’re trying to reach. How you plan to get there is your mission.
Define your Mission
Your mission is a clear, concise statement of what your company does and how you do it. It should align with the company vision and shapes the strategy needed to move towards the vision. Think of it this way, if your vision is the why and the mission is and the what and how.
Mission statements often include mentions of the core values (more about that in a minute) as part of the how of the brand plans to achieve its goals.
Example: Our mission is to make Target your preferred shopping destination in all channels by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and exceptional guest experiences by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less. brand promise.
A business partnership we recently interviewed understood the purpose of the mission statement better than most start ups. They told us, “whenever we have a disagreement about a business choice we turn to the mission statement. It’s never led us astray.”
You’re building a roadmap to your future. What are the directions to get there?
It’s important to note, not all companies have a distinct vision and mission, many have one statement that serves both purposes- for this reason it’s important to outline what your vision is, even if you later merge it with the vision.
The value of a Tagline
It’s more difficult to say a lot in a few words than it is to say little with many. Meaning, communicating the value a business provides in a concise, powerful and memorable way, isn’t easy. But the value a great tagline adds is great and propels your brand story forward.
Nike: Just Do It
Target: Expect More. Pay Less.
Walmart: Save money. Live Happy.
These taglines are what you can anticipate or expect from the product or service you’re going to receive. Nike is communicating that they help you take action, Target is communicating what you can expect, and Walmart is communicating where you are going to be. Effective taglines communicate a promise, they invoke an emotional response, and build a story.
A consumer may not read the mission statement, but it’s hard to miss a tagline.
The values of a company are the fundamental beliefs of the organization as a whole, and act as guiding principles that dictate the choices an organization makes, as if the company were a person. Values shape the decisions made for how the mission and vision of the company will be executed on a day-to-day basis.
• Deliver WOW Through Service
• Embrace and Drive Change
• Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
If the above sounds familiar it’s because these are three of Zappo’s company values. Values that clearly communicate who they are, and what they are providing.
Steve Jobs once wrote: “To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
We couldn’t agree more, perception is reality.
Additionally, core brand values communicate to internal stakeholders what to expect from the company, shape corporate culture and guide decisions about product development. Brand values also serve to educate external stakeholders further about the identity of the company and the commitments people building are making with their customers, employees and community.
Personality traits align messaging and marketing to an audience and anthropomorphize the brand. Research has shown that customers are more likely to associate with a brand they emotionally connect with, so having behaviors and traits of a human being helps consumers build a real connection.
So ask yourself, who is your company? If the company were a person how would you describe them? How would those interacting with the brand describe them? Is your brand spunky, creative and energetic? Or is your brand educated, nerdy and sophisticated?
Furthermore, the ability to easily think about a brand, and identify the characteristics they would identify in themselves, helps both consumers identify with the brand.
If the brand were a person, what would they say? How do the words, visuals, and overall messaging convey the personality traits described above? Do they use words that communicate confidence or authority? Fun or playful? The brand voice helps internal and external teams identify what the brand would and wouldn’t say.
In the context of your brand’s communication, how do we sound? Is your brand a coach or a cheerleader? Do you communicate like a college professor or a negotiator? A coach and a cheerleader may deliver the same message (voice), but in completely different tones and paint an entirely different picture of the brand and leave the reader with a completely different brand experience.
Brand voice and tone can feel confusing at times, but it’s the combination of the two that is so valuable. Read the sentence, “Have you filed your taxes yet?”
Now read it in Matthew McConaughey’s voice.
Try it in the voice of Michelle Obama.
Now Count Dracula from Sesame Street, as he counts your fine.
It’s the same words (the voice) but when the message is delivered in a different tone, it creates a completely different message.
Setting the Mood
How should someone feel while interacting with your brand? Adding all of the above together, how do you want people to walk away from an experience with your brand? Encouraged? Energized? Educated? (You can use words other than E words, but I was on a roll.)
The persona as a whole drives the mood of the brand. Nike makes you feel like you can do it, Walmart makes you feel like you can afford to do it and Tesla makes you feel like you aren’t going to impact the environment while you do it.
Your brand. Not just a logo.
Sure, you’re logo is a great visual, but without the supporting elements outlined above then it’s just meh. It feels empty. I mentioned earlier that a soul is a lot more than one image, it’s the feelings and emotions that drive how people feel about themselveswhen they see you, and a logo by itself a brand it does not make.
P.S. If you hand a comprehensive brand book to your graphic designer then they’ll love you forever.
P.S.S. If you provide tax services and get the count to do your commercials then please send us a link.