Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When working to build an authentic brand, it’s all about the way your business makes someone feel—current and future customers alike.
Getting in touch with who you are as a brand and delivering that message to your consumers is vital to the health of your business. Your purpose, story, and visual representation are few of the many components that elicit a feeling that a consumer won’t forget. Delivering that emotion is the difference between having a one-time customer and creating a lifelong one. There are six fundamental steps when it comes to building an authentic brand.
“Along the way of building your brand, don’t ever lose sight of who you are or what you want your brand to be. Be authentic in what your brand stands for,” said Jomaree Pinkard, CEO of Hella Cocktail Co. and alum of Hot Bread Kitchen’s Small Business Incubator.
Branding your business authentically all starts with the purpose of your business and who you’re trying to communicate that to. From there, you can uncover your story and tone which will lead to your brand personality. You know who you are, but in order for others to know who you are and what you do, you must package yourself in an articulate and concise way.
Within each of the below six steps, you’ll hear insights from two small business owners: Jami Stigliano, CEO and founder of DivaDance and Nic Faitos, Senior Partner at Starbright Floral Design. You’ll also find questions you can ask yourself to help answer each step of building your brand—whether you’re starting from scratch, looking to level up your current brand, or working on a rebrand.
1. Define the purpose of your business
Establishing the purpose of your business is the starting point of creating authenticity—purpose will ultimately drive your ideas, passions, and be the fuel in your tank that keeps you moving forward and fulfilling your “why.” Aligning your business with your purpose will create momentum and show consumers who you are and what your drive is.
For example, a travel agent doesn’t simply book travel, but rather helps create meaningful memories; a house inspector makes sure a family with a newborn baby can safely move into their new home; and a contractor can make dream homes come to life. The key is asking yourself: What is my calling? Why do I do what I do?
Best-selling author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek created the “Golden Circle” model that explains how businesses should market themselves. Typically, businesses tend to promote themselves in the following order:
What—the products or services you offer to your customers
How—your value proposition
Why—the purpose and reason your business exists
Simon recommends reversing the order and explains how it can inspire customers, ultimately leaving a higher impact. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Stigliano of DivaDance also explained the importance of sharing your purpose, “Your purpose is the North Star for your brand. It informs everything you do—from your branding to how you talk to clients to how you train/coach your team. The purpose of DivaDance is to inspire confidence and build community. Not only does this purpose guide our decisions, but we’re outwardly vocal about it to our clients so that they know we’re a brand they can personally align with and relate to. Our clients know we’re more than just dance classes. Keep your purpose statement succinct, clear, and easy to repeat by others—this will help build evangelists for your brand.”
Starbright’s Faitos talks about the importance of creating a strong foundation from your purpose. “We want our reputation to be a solid partner in the NYC florist community. The highest standards for service and quality have built our reputation and made us who we are. Now, as we have entered our 26th year, we use these pillars of our reputation as our foundation upon which to grow. Our mission now is to ensure that our reputation for who we are, what we do, and how we do it remains intact. Growth is gravy. We focus on our growth in a steady and slow way always wanting to ensure that we are holding ourselves to the highest standards.”
Ask yourself, what is the purpose of my brand?
Why do you do what you do?
Why did you start your business?
What makes you different from other like-minded companies?
What problem does your business address?
2. Uncover who you are trying to convey your purpose to
Your target audience is the group of people that you want to share your purpose with. A common misconception is that it’s better to try to appeal to the masses rather than narrow down an ideal target market. We encourage your business to, of course, be welcoming and open to all, but that doesn’t mean you have to specifically market yourself to everyone. Trying to get your business in front of all audiences can dilute the messaging—but when you get laser focused on exactly who you are targeting, you can make your messaging more specific and your marketing more impactful.
Stigliano speaks to the importance of creating an ideal customer, also referred to as a persona or an avatar. “A lot of small businesses think that casting a wide net with their target audience will get the most customers. For example, I’ve heard others mention target audiences like ‘moms’ or ‘college students,’ but gone are the days that you can lump people into such large buckets—you have to think more specifically and clearly about your target audience. One exercise I recommend is to give a first name to someone in your target audience and picture them as an individual. For example, at DivaDance, our target client’s name is Molly and she’s around 27 years old, likes boozy brunches, has an ethnically diverse group of friends, knows every Beyoncé lyric, and isn’t a hardcore workout enthusiast—but she wants to stay active! Certainly we welcome all adults to our classes, but being clear about our ‘Molly’ allows us to focus our advertising effectively to attract the client who is most likely to buy (and keep) a DivaDance membership.”
Ask yourself, who is my target audience?
Who is your dream customer?
How do they spend their free time?
What’s important to them?
Where do they usually spend their money?
Who makes up your current customer base?
Who is most likely to use your product or service?
If your business was a person and had a party, who would they invite?
3. Figure out the tone of your brand
The tone of your brand represents the personality of your business: dedicated copy, phrases, and jargon that you use to speak to your customers, from your website and email communications to product names and social media content.
To figure out what the right tone is for your brand, start by exploring and imagining how you want your customers to feel after they interact with your business, whether it’s virtually or physically. Fill in the blank: “We are a company that does X, and we are a company that does not Y.” Faitos described how his floral business filled in those blanks. “We are a fun-loving group, and we are true New Yorkers to the core. We serve our community with trust, reliability, and quality. You can be low-key but fun and fearless. Our tone exudes confidence but is not egocentric. We are here to serve and for the benefit of others. We express our principles and let others boast about us. We simply do not brag or boast. Just fun and light-hearted.”
Faitos also shared the importance of staying relevant and evolving the tone of your brand. “Our brand tone changes with the times. The tone with which we speak to our audience changes over time. We started in 1994, and it is now 2020. 25 years have passed by. The way we speak has changed and so should the way brands speak to their customers. We have evolved over the years. We remain true to our founding principles, but the way we express them has evolved.”
Ask yourself, what is the tone of my brand?
How do you communicate with potential customers?
How do you address your customers in an email? Is it more formal using their salutation and full name or more informal like, “Hey you!”
What do you want someone to take away once they leave your website?
What are the top three adjectives that summarize the personality of your business? Maybe it’s helpful, traditional, and comforting, or perhaps playful, modern, and motivational.
What emotion do you want consumers to feel after making a purchase with you?
What do you want people to say about your company when you’re not in the room?
4. Tell your business story
Businesses are often birthed from an “aha” lightbulb moment. Find a way to create a beginning, middle, and end/current status of your brand story within a few concise sentences. The true unique element of your brand is you, so adding your story and explaining why you are different is a key piece to making your brand come alive with authenticity.
Stigliano explained more on that: “Small business owners have great stories—typically, they start their company out of a passion, necessity, or both. Your clients want to know that story and understand your ‘why,’ similar to why your purpose should be front and center in your brand. This allows your clients to align with you and tell your story to others. Though I never want to be the sole face of my brand, telling my story to clients creates a special connection for them because they too may have a similar story of what brought them to our classes. I created DivaDance after leaving a stressful ‘beginner’ hip hop class at a world famous dance studio in Manhattan. I felt defeated, frustrated, and disconnected from something I loved to do. I was determined to create an experience for other women who wanted to keep dancing without the ambition of becoming Beyoncé’s backup dancer. I’ve seen this story resonate with thousands of women who have taken our classes and started their own DivaDance franchise.”
Ask yourself, what is my business story?
How did your business start?
Why is my business important?
What is your experience before having started your business?
Where do you see your business going?
What do you attribute your success to?
5. Determine your creative elements
The visual marketing assets your brand is equipped with only enhances the experience for the consumer. Logo, website, colors—anything used in promotional materials on your Yelp Business Page and other social media constitutes as your creative elements. You’ll want to be sure they match your brand tone, aka personality, so there is synergy across your business touch points. When a customer walks into your business, do they see, hear, smell, and touch the things they may have seen online? What were their expectations for experiencing your brand, and how did you exceed them?
For example, when you interact with any business, your subconscious is digesting and reacting to how that brand made you feel. From website design to the color of the cashier’s shirt, coming up with key elements to create a consistent experience can lead to a larger sense of community and belonging for the consumer as well as create a higher quality experience.
Starbright Floral Design has uncovered the importance of tapping into the feelings behind every purchase. “By their very nature, flowers are a visual product. It would be hard to have flowers and not present the brand visually,” Faitos said. “There is so much to see. So much to show. There is a deeper side though. Consumers do not buy pretty pictures. They buy emotions. Every purchase we make is tied to how it makes us feel. The creative side translates the floral visuals into an emotion. There are many emotions that are manifested in the beauty of flowers and therefore our task is easy. Finding the deeper meaning, finding the dominant emotion of how your brand can make someone feel is critical. If the visual is what catches the eye, the creative has to capture the heart.”
Ask yourself, how do I come up with my creative visual elements?
How do my logo, website, Yelp Page, social media, email marketing, and in-person experiences overlap visually?
What imagery do I want people to associate with my brand? Is that imagery presented consistently across all of my channels?
6. Plan your promotion
Once you’ve built your brand from the ground up, it’s time to promote it. Promotions are a key way to make sure all your hard branding work doesn’t just sit in the digital universe but rather reaches your target audience. Promotional efforts can be free or paid, depending on the channel and the delivery. Examples include paid SEO, social media, Yelp Ads, ambassador programs, initiatives for employees to market your business, etc. You can capture your target audience within a budget your business is comfortable with, or you can start by focusing on free marketing efforts at your disposal, from your free Yelp Page to neighborhood business partnerships. Don’t be afraid to experiment; you may not always know how to reach your target audience and that’s okay—find ways to test different ideas and markets to make sure your important business story is being heard.
Faitos shared: “ABP—our principle is to Always Be Promoting. There is never a time where we would shy away from publicity or finding a way to wedge ourselves into a story or an event. How can this storyline benefit from flowers? How can this event be better because of what we do? We are constantly asking questions and seeking opportunities to leverage ourselves into circumstances where one would not think we would.”
Ask yourself, how should I promote my business?
What channels can I find my target audience on?
What type of promotion do I want to do: paid vs. free?
What platforms can I leverage to make my business more well-known?