Branding is often one of the most misunderstood topics among small local businesses. On this week’s show, I talk about what branding is, what branding isn’t, and why it’s so important to get it right.
When you think of Apple do you think of a logo with a bite out of an apple? Nah. You probably have opinions about Apple based on whether you use an iPhone or an Android, whether you’re a Mac or PC user.
And yet, when I talk to local small business owners when I ask about their brand, the conversation goes straight to logo design, website, and social media.
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About Jen McFarland
For the last 10+ years, it’s literally been my job to research and solve business problems — in the public sector, in the private sector, 7+ figure projects and solopreneur struggles.
I’m passionate about helping businesses vet ideas, take ownership of their projects, and incorporate digital marketing from day one.
Transcript: How to Rethink Your Branding for a Competitive Advantage
Hello and welcome to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. I’m your host, Jen McFarland. On this week’s show, we’re going to talk about branding. We’re going to talk about what branding is, what branding isn’t and why it’s so important to get it right. All that and more, here on Women Conquer Business.
[music] Hello and welcome to the Women Conquer Business Podcast, featuring discussions with your host, Jen McFarland. Every week, I discuss a different aspect of building a business while balancing it with an incredibly busy life. I share experiences, successes, and failures and answer questions submitted by you, the listener. Thanks for tuning in. Let’s get started.
When I sit down with businesses to work on their digital marketing strategy, one of the things that often comes up is branding. Branding is often one of the most misunderstood topics among small local businesses. When you ask someone what is branding, a lot of times you get the answers that, on the surface, appear to be branding, but they really aren’t. So here are a few things that branding isn’t.
One, branding isn’t your logo or a description of your logo. And yet, when you ask a lot of small business owners, they begin to describe things like the color scheme, what their logo looks like, maybe what their website looks like. All of these things, the fonts that they use, the pictures that they have, these things are not branding.
These are aspects of your brand, but they are not, on their own, branding, neither is the opt-in that you have on your website, those fancy pictures of you from a photo shoot in front of a yacht or a fancy car or all of these coaches showing all of the places where they work. These are not branding. Even the niche which is who you help and what differentiates you from your competitors, also not branding. These are all elements of your brand, but it’s not what branding is. And it might be a little bit confusing.
But if I said, “Tell me about the Apple brand,” chances are you wouldn’t say, “Well, they use a lot of white on their website. It’s silver and black and white. And they have an apple with a bite taken out of it.” I don’t think that that’s how you would describe the Apple brand. You would probably think about, well [laughter], if you love Apple, you have one set of conditions, and if you don’t love Apple, you probably have a different set of conditions for how you describe the brand.
The people who don’t like Apple will say things like, “Well, they oversimplify everything, and they only care about their users, and they just think they’re so different and so clever. But I have my Android phone and my PC and they’re just fine and they do everything that I want it to do.” Right? That’s fair.
If you talk to someone like me who has loved Apple since forever, we talk about things like their clever marketing ads, how they make all of their products accessible to average, everyday folk, and how they’ve had the same marketing over and over again about thinking differently. And it goes all the way back to some of their earliest ads which were takes on Pink Floyd and The Wall [laughter] and trying to make the computing industry accessible. You might go through all of your descriptions of Apple and not even get to the fact that they’re a tech company because they have done so much with their branding to help you feel differently about who they are and what they do that you’re not even getting to the fact they’re a tech company that literally sells all of the same gadgets and tools that Dell, IBM and the like, also sell. And it’s branding. That is branding.
It’s how you make people feel. So when you think about branding, and you think about your brand, it’s important to remember some of the broader context. And in some ways, it’s okay to think about these larger companies, and what a brand is, and what branding is for them, because it’ll help you explain your branding. So let’s think about that for a second. The number one thing, about branding, is how you make people feel. Think about Apple, they’re trying to make the tools, the iPhone, all of that stuff that they build accessible to everybody. That’s where, think differently, came from because before that, it was largely thought to be a large corporate thing. Not everybody had computers in their homes, it wasn’t really marketed to or thought about regular folk. And they just kind of, carried that thread with them, regardless of what products they make or sell or use. They’ve carried that thread for 30 or 40 years.
So, how do you make people feel? That’s the core question to consider about your brand. And if you’re a brand new business, in the first three years, which is really the sweet spot of the people that I help, or even if you’ve been in business for 10 years, this is an important exercise to reflect on. How do you make people feel? Your customers, your potential customers, vendors, power partners, and affiliates. It matters. All of these matters. It’s not just the glossy pictures of you. Its how you make people feel. It’s how you talk to people. It’s how you interact with people, how you’re delivering your services. It’s all of it. And it all goes into that microcosm. That’s why a brand is more than a logo. A logo is a static picture that people look at. Branding is how you communicate on your website. And if how you communicate on your website is aligned with how you communicate with your customers, in person, by email, over the phone, if you do over the phone, on social media, it’s all of that.
There’s also, brand alignment when you’re talking to, potential customers. These are people that you don’t know, that you aspire to have working with you, as customers. Your branding is about, not just those fancy pictures that you paid for, it’s about the interactions that they have behind the fancy pictures, behind the pronouncements that we all make on social media. It’s about that delivery of services, and discussion of goals, and their aspirations as well as your own.
The same thing with your vendors, you can say one thing on your website, but then if you’re not treating people well, that you are working with, word gets out. It’s a really important part of your branding. And the same is true with power partners and potential affiliates. If it’s one thing to have everything outward facing, but if you’re really difficult to work with, that’s a hard thing to overcome for your brand, and people are not going to respond well to that. So it’s about having that kind of alignment. So you have to have alignment with how you act, and with your goals, but then also understand the goals of your a customer’s a potential customers. And it all feeds into that image. So it’s who you help, not just the niche, who you help, what they need, what are their biggest concerns, and how you fill that need.
So for example, Women Conquer Business, Jen McFarland Consulting, I help women-owned businesses. And I help them fill the gaps. So many of us have business coaches that tell us we need all of the things. And they don’t tell us how we implement all of the things. So then we go out on Facebook, and we ask our buddies about things like website platforms and social media and accounting software because there’s a vacuum of information. And we’re communal people, women. We like to find out information from our buddies. The problem with that is then we are not necessarily positioned for growth. So what I do is I have been listening to all of the concerns of women in my circle, my clients, my potential clients. I have a lot of partners who are business coaches. And I hear about where the gaps are, and I fill the needs of women-owned small businesses and help them get the services and the tools they need to run their business and be effective from a digital marketing perspective, rather than crowdsourcing for information on Facebook if that makes sense.
So those are the needs. I help you fill business needs. And how do I do that? Well, if you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you’ll know that I don’t spend all of my time talking about digital marketing. We’re on episode two in a row talking about digital marketing. We also spend a lot of time talking about things like mindset, project management, how to make change within your company. We talk about all different kinds of things that feed into this entire environment of business, and then also digital marketing. Because we are social creatures. We like to talk and hear from other women. We like to understand more of the picture. We’re not always about service, delivery, service, delivery. What do I need? I’m going to go out and do it. So my brand, a lot of my brand is about talking about things very holistically and in a communal way. And a lot of the soft skills that we already have as women that aren’t always talked about as strengths. So I deliver services in a way that isn’t super techy and that is hopefully accessible to women business owners so they understand all of the different things that they need, right? So that is part of my brand. That’s one way of looking at how services are delivered, and how you’re filling a need for your clients.
The next step is to think about if your business schools are in alignment with customer goals. You might be making a lot of assumptions about what your customers need. But if you’re not really asking them, and you’re not really communicating or figuring out, or your messaging is a little bit off, then your goals might not be in alignment with the people that you’re trying to do outreach with or trying to reach. So it’s important to ask people what’s going on. Talk to your customers all the time about what keeps them awake at night, what are their goals, and then, how you’re filling them. This isn’t a one and done like, “Oh. Got my logo. I help certain people and I got this. Branding is an evolving process, and it’s important to really uncover how well you know your customers. What are their hobbies? What are their habits? What are their concerns? And are you reflecting it back to them? Can they see themselves in you? It’s something that is so important. It’s not always about this aspirational stand in front of a yacht or fancy car, and I have the one magic pill and that’s going to solve everything. I mean, those are marketing tactics that some people use if you’re, say, going to have a high-end brand or something like that. But usually, you have to have more to it than that, that you’re reflecting something back. Yes, you can be reflecting the luxury of standing in front of a yacht or a fancy car. But in order to market effectively and show more of your brand, you have to show people more than that. That’s why branding is can people see themselves in your brand? And there are so many different ways of doing that. There are so many ways to tell stories and to connect with people in different ways through images or video or testimonials and stories so that people can say, “Oh, yeah. No, I totally see myself in this brand and I want to interact with it. I want to engage with it because I know what they do and they get me. I see myself here and they get me.” And that is a key part of branding, to be effective on your website and social media, your email marketing campaigns, all of these ways, including in person if you’re going out and networking.
It all needs to be consistent, and it all needs to be aligned. And all of that work that you do is branding. That’s why you can’t just say that branding is your logo or your color scheme or your website. It’s so much more. And on top of all that, how are you delivering services? And mention that just at the very beginning, at the top of what your brand is. It’s how do you make people feel, and also how are you delivering services? So it’s really about what is your gold standard? And then, can you repeat it? One of the things that we talked about last week was setting up processes for how all of these software pieces are connected. So if something changes, then you’re able to navigate that a lot more quickly. That’s just writing down some simple processes as a guide. One of the first business books that I read when I started my business was E-myth Revisited, probably all of the e-myth series. And a lot of it talks about the importance of setting up that gold standard so that every time somebody interacts with you, every time somebody is a customer of yours, that they have a reasonable expectation of who you are, what you do, and how that interaction is going to go every step of the way. Those types of customer interactions, they don’t happen by accident. They don’t happen by just stumbling upon it and then remembering how it happens every time. It happens by laying out processes for what happens when somebody calls, what happens when somebody emails, what happens when somebody interacts with your website, when somebody downloads an opt-in. It means that you are developing a gold standard for every person who comes into your realm. And then they have that expectation, and you’re able to repeat that with every single customer or all of your vendors or all of your power partners.
And it requires time and organization and thought. And it also requires writing it down so that you can repeat it or then, when you go to hire somebody, you can say, “Here’s my list. This is what I expect of you. This is all the things that happen when we’re intaking a new customer.” Or, “Here’s what happens after somebody buys something from us.” Or, “Here’s what happens when we receive a testimonial.” All of these different aspects and phases of the business, being able to repeat that and deliver those services again and again and again are such huge keys to your branding. So your brand is not just your logo. It’s not just your website. It’s not just the fancy pictures of it. It’s the stories you tell, how you tell them, how you interact with other people. Those all are encompassed in your branding. And when you get it nailed and you figure out what you’re doing and you keep revisiting it and doing it and massaging it and getting better and better, that’s how you grow. That’s how you scale. That’s how you get more value in your small business. And that is a huge key to your digital marketing success for your business.
Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a friend. Next week, we’re going to continue our discussion on small business digital marketing tactics and strategies. Thanks for listening.
Thank you for listening to the Women Conquer Business podcast. You can find us online at www.jenmcfarland.com/podcast. You can also connect with Jen on social media @JenSMcFarland on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. The show is produced in Portland, Oregon by Jen McFarland Consulting. Women Conquer Business is available on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and many other podcast apps. [music]
Hi! I’m Jen! I have over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience in leadership, strategic project planning, and digital marketing. Today, I am the founder of Women Conquer Business, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to helping women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community build sustainable businesses. I’m a frequent guest speaker and trainer. Get access to my free business growth accelerator and hang out with me on my weekly women in business podcast, Women Conquer Business.