Building a brand that people respect and remember is a tough job, but the reward for doing so is a following of loyal customers who are eager to see what you’ll create next.
Bench’s Head of Product Adam Saint is an experienced brand builder. In this blog post he’ll show you how to remove the mystery from the branding process, as well as offer advice on how you can build a brand that people are excited to support.
Hi Adam. Building a brand takes time and effort. Could you start off by sharing why a strong brand is a worthwhile investment for a small business?
Adam: We can all relate to the snap decisions and gut feelings consumers experience while making a purchasing decision. There’s this passive process of evaluation going on in their heads. “Are they trustworthy? Are they competent? Does this feel like what I’m looking for?” It’s the way we navigate the world as human beings, and your brand is how you answer these questions.
Building a brand goes beyond first impressions too. A crucial reason to communicate your values to your customers is to establish common ground with them. When you align your values with theirs, buying your product or service becomes more than a cost-benefit analysis. The decision becomes a statement of identity and a tribal association (if you’d like to know more about what I mean by that, check out this TED Talk from Seth Godin). This is the most powerful tool you have to position yourself as the right choice for your customers out of all possible options in the marketplace.
Branding can often appear to be a mystical process. Can you break down exactly what a brand means to you and how entrepreneurs can tackle building a brand from scratch?
Adam: I think the most effective way to understand a brand is to consider it as a set of values and promises from which a visual identity grows. Most people come at it from the opposite direction, trying to pick a slick logo or agonizing over their favorite colors first.
The trick to building a brand is to first dig deeply into why you started your business and define what you believe in as a company. Then decide who your customers are and what you’re promising them. As you go about discovering (or reiterating) the fundamentals of your business, you can start to figure out how to attach those ideas to a visual system.
Interesting. So how, exactly, does the message of a brand interact with the physical elements of a brand? For example, how do the specific ingredients (such as color or typography) contribute to the brand as a whole? How are they distinct?
Adam: The various pieces of a brand should be tangible reinforcements of the values we talked about previously. Assets such as logos, type, and color palettes are given context and power by your company’s beliefs (this may sound abstract, but your business’ beliefs could be as straightforward as wanting to deliver the best possible garden hoses to home gardening enthusiasts at a fair price).
For example, here at Bench we believe in humanizing and clarifying business finances for entrepreneurs. We bring our incredible accounting teams to the forefront with beautiful photography. We untangle financial concepts with minimalist layouts and typography. While creating our logo we asked ourselves “what would an accounting firm or bank look like if it were also a technology company?”. The solution was to symbolize our expertise in a traditional field by referencing the vocabulary of respected financial institutions.
Your visual assets should work together as a coherent system to reaffirm your values to your customers. From letterhead to software user interfaces, you want to clearly and consistently communicate what you represent.
What advice do you have for small business owners who are trying to build their brand?
Adam: There are a few things I would suggest when you’re first building your brand, all of which will make the process smoother and more successful for you.
Treat Branding as a Necessity: You should dispense with the notion that a brand is a luxurious coat of paint on top of your real business. It is your business as far as the world is concerned - although, it’s worth noting that I consider the quality of your actual product or service to be the most vital piece of your brand.
Think Holistically: While the quality of your offering is the nucleus of your brand, it also extends to every single touch point between you and your customers. Carefully examine the tone of your written content, customer service, and even training materials. No detail is insignificant. A fresh color palette isn’t going to compensate for a rude email or a poorly optimized website.
Be Authentic: It can be tempting to follow the expectations of your industry or ape your competitors, but the best brands emerge from a business that represents itself honestly. Certainly don’t be afraid to reverse engineer brands you love and repurpose ideas that work for you, but do so in a way that earnestly reflects your beliefs (and respects the trademarks of others). An often overlooked side effect of developing an authentic identity is that you’ll rarely struggle with extending it into new mediums. When you have a coherent identity system assembled from your beliefs, building new assets and evolving your brand over time tends to occur naturally.
Keep Your Costs Low: It’s entirely possible to build an incredible brand without burning through a lot of cash. Creative agencies are not your only option. Although they produce great work, agencies can be quite costly and often provide more services than you actually need to put together an effective basic brand. Independent freelancers and even accomplished students are a great place to look for expertise. Working with them will require you to educate yourself more on process and trends, but they can produce work that’s every bit as good as that of a fully staffed firm.
Find the Right Freelancer: When you’re searching for a freelancer, what you really want to find is an authentic source of taste that can guide you through this process. As a bare minimum, you’ll want to end up with a kit of gorgeous visual materials, but more importantly you want to work with someone who’s going to care enough to dig into your business with you and discover what makes it genuinely compelling.
Adam Saint leads the product team here at Bench. He's been designing products and brands for more than five years, and believes that design is fundamentally the process of connecting people with knowledge and capabilities to help them live happier, more successful lives.
If you have any questions about building a brand for your business, ask us in the comments section below.
This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.