John Jackson offers insight on developing your exceptional brand

John Jackson
John Jackson

Deciding to develop a brand is a big mistake, it’s bad news for your business and needs to be avoided. This is because your brand won’t be living in isolation, it will have to fight to gain attention alongside every brand your potential, and existing customers encounter on a daily, almost constant, basis.

 

Take a moment to consider, what for many people, is a typical day: wake-up, radio on – adverts, check emails – adverts, look at Facebook – adverts, arrive at the train station – billboards, free newspaper – adverts, watch a video on the train – adverts. All these messages and adverts even before they start the working day, and they just keep coming even when you’re relaxing with a bit of internet browsing in the evening.

For all businesses, the challenge is to ensure that your messages stand out for the right reasons because if they don’t stand out, they don’t get noticed and if they don’t get noticed. If they don’t get seen, they won’t deliver results. For this reason, merely developing a brand isn’t good enough, from the outset you need to aim higher to create your exceptional brand. As your brand has the potential to be a fundamental asset for your business, it makes sense to fully embrace the brand development process.

 

 

Whilst this process comprises a series of distinct steps, before you get started, I always suggest adding a very potent magic ingredient; passion. From experience, whenever I recommend the use of passion to a business audience, there’s an immediate, and slightly uncomfortable, shift in body language. I often sense business people out of their comfort zone. This is understandable, after all, they are running businesses, which is serious stuff, and here they are listening to this guy encouraging them to be passionate.

 

 

However, to put this in context, you may find it useful to take a moment to think about the business gurus you admire. Don’t they all exude a limitless passion for what they do and what they’ve achieved? Of course they do; it’s invariably of the critical factors that has driven their success.

 

 

The good news is, they don’t have a monopoly on passion, and when it comes to developing your exceptional brand, there really is no limit to the amount of passion you can inject into the process. Also, there’s more good news; passion is contagious and will prove invaluable in helping to engage your team in the brand development process. Talking to them about how you have actively decided to be “passionate about developing an exceptional brand”, immediately sounds more engaging than, “undertaking a process of brand development to support the effective delivery of the targets as set out in the business plan.”

 

 

Passion helps to give your brand thinking a positive focus and makes you just about ready to start the process. There is however one more fundamental attribute to plant firmly in your mindset, and that’s authenticity. I fully believe that authenticity is central to developing a successful and sustainable brand, it helps ensure your brand aligns with your target audiences.

 

 

Hopefully, you’re allowing yourself to become a little excited at the prospect of passionately developing your authentic brand, which is the perfect starting point for the journey.

 

Make your Brand Development Plan

I always find it beneficial to start the process by putting together a simple initial plan. This usually includes defining the overall objective by asking what you want the brand to achieve for your business. Importantly, it helps you to develop a framework that will be used to accomplish the work. This can include, identifying who will be undertaking the work. For example, you may have the option of using your existing marketing team, but even then use this opportunity to ask further questions. Do they have enough time? Would they benefit from some external support? What could an agency achieve for us instead? At this stage considering how you want to undertake the process within your overall business, and specifically how you’ll engage your staff. There are real benefits to planning this as an inclusive process, and it can be achieved in many ways including brand workshops, establishing working groups and putting in place an internal communications strategy for the brand development. Timeline and budget considerations can also be built into the plan, along with any other factors specific to your operations. With your plan in place, the work of developing your brand can begin in earnest.

Brand Values

As the foundations of your brand, taking time to fully develop your brand values is essential, and unlike your messages – which will change over time – your brand values should remain constant. Brand values help to differentiate you from your competitors, give your customers reasons to connect with and become loyal to you and provide your business with a sense of purpose and direction.

 

 

So this is the opportune moment to identify your brand values; the qualities and principles that underpin who you are and what you do. List all the values you know to be appropriate to your business, and then distill them into a definition of your brand values. I’d love to tell you that this is an easy task, but they need to be: authentic, unique, memorable, clear, applicable and stand the test of time. So it may well take a few attempts to get it right.

 

 

In practice it’s straightforward to put down a list of words that look good but in reality, won’t deliver you an exceptional brand. So begin by asking what is important to your business. Is this a commitment to the environment? Is it a passion for furthering technology? Find the common ground between you and your customers, and identify the values that apply to both of you. While I’m talking about customers, use this as the opportunity to check what you know about your customers, and remember in many cases they can shop elsewhere. So undertake a competitor analysis exercise at this point.

 

 

You have to identify your customers’ needs, and how they are currently being satisfied, which will help to direct the focus of your values. Remember that your brand needs to be suitably different from your competitors.

 

 

Now consider what you are known for, and where possible undertake research to find out the reasons why would someone recommend you and why customers choose you. This will allow you to capitalise on what you are good at and known for, by using these findings to develop your brand further. When combined you will have created the values for your exceptional brand. Brand values is a big area to tackle, so I’m going to suggest you undertake further reading on this topic. You won’t be surprised to find lots of content available online, that you can use to guide your process.

Vision and Mission

With work progressing to develop your brand values, this is also the ideal time to focus on the vision and mission for your business. These are part of your brand. They are valuable both internally to provide clear positive direction for your team, and externally as means to explain your brand story.

 

 

Self-explanatory, vision describes your ambition for the future and shows where the business is going. Whist simple to explain, there is real benefit in taking the time to identify your vision, as, after all, it’s what you want your business to become. It also shows you have focus and ambition to drive the business forward, which in itself is a great way to keep your team motivated.

 

 

A mission is where you get to explain how you’ll be achieving your vision, and in both instances, you want to ensure that

your activity will be entirely consistent with your brand values.

 

Your story

Telling your brand story connects you to your customers in an engaging way. It helps answer their curiosity about you, what you do, and why you do it. It’s your opportunity to share your passion and help to differentiate you from your competitors, and it works for big businesses and sole traders alike. I’m deliberately not going to give you an example, because there is a real virtue in just sitting down and writing your own story first. This will help you document your genuinely unique story, and then feel free to browse the internet to read the stories of other brands, especially ones you like. You can then revisit your story, in particular, to check that it is saying everything you want it to say.

Sense check

By this stage, you’ll be gaining a clear understanding of your brand, who your target customers are and what will be at the core of the messages you develop. This has involved much thinking culminating in the development of your brand values, vision, mission and brand story. So it makes sense to check what you’ve achieved, gain feedback, invite comments, suggestions and ideas about your brand. I find it useful to start this process small by asking one or two contacts to take a look. I know their feedback will be unbiased and constructive, and this allows me to take on board their comments ahead of seeking more extensive feedback. Where possible gaining feedback from existing customers is highly beneficial, particularly if you have the opportunity to do this as part of a structured conversation. When you are happy, excited even, by your brand, it’s time to start bringing it to life through the creation of the brand identity.

Brand Identity

On a functional level this is a list of components that include, your business name, logo, strapline, colours, visual style, written tone, typeface, sounds and even smell. Thankfully, as you’ve invested time in understanding your brand, it becomes much easier for creative people to bring your brand to life.

 

 

From experience, choosing a name can be challenging, and renaming a business even more so. With that in mind if you do need to look at your name, make that a priority, undertake research specifically into business naming and be sure you are totally confident of your decision. It is a big deal.

 

 

It’s likely that your logo will be developed at the same time as the other aspects of your brand identity, especially if you’ve outsourced the work to an agency. There is however an important consideration to bear in mind. You don’t want to your logo to become dated, yet at the same time you want your look and feel to be engaging, and that often means it needs to look current. This is the challenge for the creatives, who need to devise a logo that works on all platforms from business cards, the side of a bus, and every aspect of digital. It also has to be unique, clear, timeless and embody your brand. Whilst your strapline can change, ideally you don’t want to be changing your logo because its style has suddenly gone out of fashion.

 

 

The details need to be agonised over; the colour choice will impact on how you are perceived, the typeface can strengthen identity but weaken readability, exceptional imagery has the power to define a brand but comes at a cost. I know that creating a brand identity can be the most exciting part of the process, but it can also be the most frustrating. If you are using an agency to undertake this work, it helps to stay as hands on as possible. You will always know your brand better than anyone else, and be receptive to being asked lots of questions. The creatives will need to get an in-depth understanding of your business to help ensure they can bring your exceptional brand to life.

 

Agency Choice

As you’ve developed your understanding of your brand, almost without realising it you’ve created your brand development brief. Turn this into a formal document that can be given to agencies and then see what they propose. If you don’t have any agencies in mind, start having conversations within your network and ask for for recommendations, and undertake research to look for agencies whose work and mindset appear to be a good fit with your business.

 

 

Be systematic in your approach to selecting an agency. Ensure you scrutinise their latest work, check references and have a full understanding of the work that will be undertaken by them. It’s also important to remember that during the process your business will need to supply various pieces of information, and so it makes sense to have a singular point of contact with the agency to keep the project on track. Agreeing on clear timelines is essential, and of course don’t forget to agree the fee.

 Bringing your brand to life

All the work is done, and your exceptional brand is ready to go live. In your initial Brand Development Plan make provision for how you will communicate your new brand to your target customers. This will ensure that from the very outset you are thinking about ways to use your brand. After all, the brand itself can’t achieve anything; it needs to be sent out into the world to get noticed.

 

 

Depending on the nature of your business, you may have existing customers nearby whom you can invite to an event where you can tell your brand story, explain why and how you developed the brand. Having this event filmed, edited and quickly put online helps to create interest in your new brand and gives people an opportunity to engage with you. If they like your story, and your messaging prompts them, they’ll be heading to your website to find out more, request an appointment, or make a purchase. You can build on this first buzz of interest with a planned digital campaign, email communications to your database and further activity across all the relative platforms. Yes, the budget does become a consideration, and that’s why it’s worth planning how you’ll launch your brand from the outset. It gives you more time to devise a cost- effective campaign worthy of your exceptional brand.

 

 

Grow your brand

All brands need to be nurtured with an ongoing feed of new content. The type of content, its frequency and the platforms you use will vary depending on the nature of your business. This plays a significant role in ensuring that your brand image is consistent with your brand. It helps you create alignment with your customers, and it’s how they view your brand that ultimately defines your brand image. This needs to be reinforced as part of your ongoing communications strategy, and also in your paid-for advertising, and can be achieved by ensuring that these outputs are always consistent with your brand.
As your brand grows, you’ll want to know which content is driving the growth. This helps to direct future marketing spend towards the type of activity that is proving to resonate most effectively with your customers.

Your exceptional brand

Consider this a brief introduction to brand development. Some of the elements of the process are complex and would benefit from further research. Creating any exceptional brand demands attention to detail, close examination of your business, and a passion for creating an authentic brand that will resonate with your customers. I always encourage businesses to remain focused when developing their own exceptional brands and to be methodical in their approach, while enjoying the process. Even, if you haven’t started to develop your brand, it’s worth asking asking yourself: What are the brand values of my business?

 

 

 

John Jackson

About the author
Founder of Jackson Concepts, John Jackson is a marketing professional who specialises in providing businesses and organisations with intelligently creative ways to transform their marketing. His work includes developing brand concepts, campaign and innovation strategies, creating blueprints for change, delivering talks and workshops. Pragmatically challenging convention John helps clients to develop and strengthen their brand and team performance by drawing on over 25 years of industry experience.
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