I’m sure in your industry there’s that over-simplification that you hate. In branding it’s when someone says “oh you mean your logo?” They then talk about images, company names, colours and fonts. Of course these are important but they’re not your brand. They’re just a visual representation of it. A short cut.
Likewise in service businesses. Your brand is not one person (you) and it’s not your product. It might have started out as you being the product or brand – if you were selling your own expertise or time as a consultant – but it’s now more than that.
So why do you need a strong brand to scale your business?
Your brand is other people’s perception of everything you do. The whole performance. If we return to the example of an orchestra on stage – from the minute someone sees the concert advertised, their interaction to buy the tickets, the tickets being received, their arrival at the concert hall, their seat, their programme, their interval drink, how you walk on stage, what you’re all wearing, how the orchestra relates to their conductor, what you play, how well you play, how together you are, how you take the applause, the chatter as people leave the auditorium, the thank you or follow up email. All of these things are the brand. It’s an experience. Even with a tangible product the packaging, ordering, delivery, returns process are part of the brand experience. Have you ever thought about it like that?
Here’s the other thing to remember; your brand exists in the mind of your potential and existing customers. You can’t control it. You can only influence it – steer that perception – by what you do. You are the guardian of the brand. You are not the brand.
In both the London Orchestra and Directory companies I worked for, I was lucky enough to sit behind the one-way glass in focus groups and hear what people said about our brands. One way of getting them to articulate it unconsciously (and brutally) is to ask for an analogy. If this business were a person/building/car/book/handbag – what would they be? I’ve heard a concert hall described as Quasi Modo and a sales business described as an ageing rusting brown rover. Not what those businesses wanted to hear, but it was valuable feedback about how the whole performance was perceived. Of course you can then ask people why they say that – what is it that brand does, says, or looks like that makes them think or feel that. This allows you to get at the tangible stuff you can actually change.
A brand can really differentiate you. It can attract your tribe because people who like the same car that you want to be, are the people who will be easiest to influence to buy from you. Seth Godin, marketing author and teacher phrases this as “people like us do things like these”.
One of the biggest challenges for scaling businesses is to focus where they fish. To be brave enough to turn business away. I referenced Seth’s example before about the vet who doesn’t do rabbits, trying to do so and taking five times longer (and therefore five times the cost) than a small animal specialist. When you start a business, especially if you’re entrepreneurial by nature, it’s all about taking different opportunities. Starting with Yes. Saying “no, I don’t do that” feels like turning away a big opportunity.
As you scale it, it’s about focusing on the biggest bets and getting everyone organised behind them. Think about your brand like a symphony that’s orchestrated across your business with a good marketing strategy. And you’ll make sure you scale the right song.
Symphony. Not Cacophony.