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A Startup Mentor’s 4 Keys to Branding

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By Jennie Wong

brand_corporate_identity(MCT)—This week’s “Ask the Mompreneur” features an interview with Juan Garzon, a messaging strategist who helps creative entrepreneurs clarify their brand, communicate their value, and accelerate the growth of their business. He’s also a startup mentor for both the Impact3 and RevTech Labs accelerator programs in Charlotte, N.C.

QUESTION: Whenever I hear about “branding,” it usually refers to some big company changing their logo or company colors. But what is branding, really? And what do business owners need to understand about creating and managing their brand?

ANSWER: I hear from a lot of entrepreneurs who tell me that they know branding is important, but they can’t really define what branding is and how to go about building their own brands. They think branding can be limited to just a simple checklist (your name and your logo), or they worry that the branding process is going to be expensive and time consuming. These misconceptions keep small businesses from effectively building their brands and often result in lost opportunities. Here are some basics to get you started on your branding journey.

First, what is a brand?

Some people think of their brand as their name, their logo, or the design of their website. Others say it’s their message, their marketing, or their reputation. All of these are parts of what make up your brand, but they don’t paint the full picture. Your name and logo are just verbal and visual representations of your brand, which I refer to as the tip of the branding iceberg. What you can see above the water (the visible part) is a very small portion, but the bulk of it is underneath the surface and is what makes the visible part work. Branding is the process of being intentional about what you want people to know, think and feel about you or your company.

To help entrepreneurs and small businesses better understand the core of their brand, I use a system I developed called the 4 P’s of Branding. It boils down this hidden part of your brand into 4 aspects: your purpose, your promise, your personality, and your positioning. By asking yourself these questions (in this order), you’ll be well on your way to understanding what your brand is all about.

PURPOSE: Why does your company exist?
Why does your company, whether you are 1 or 100 employees, exist? Why do you get up every morning and do what you do? Why did you start this business to begin with? Your purpose is about connecting your business to its “Why?” and ensuring that the branding decisions you make support the reason for doing what you do, including putting it out for the world to see. For example, Southwest Airlines states their purpose right on their website, “To connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable and low-cost air travel.” Whatever that reason is for you, that’s the foundation of your brand.

PROMISE: What do you commit to doing every single time?

It is very important to really know your audience and communicate one thing you promise to always do for them (in your marketing, social media, sales materials, etc.). That one thing can be speed, it can be quality, it can be attention to detail or whatever high-level benefit you can consistently deliver. The point is, they should know that if they choose to work with you, you will commit to this one thing and do everything you can to make it happen. This promise goes on to become your reputation. Online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos makes a promise to provide outstanding customer service, and they often go above and beyond to make this a reality with little things like free upgrades and handwritten thank-you notes. Notice that their promise isn’t the lowest price or even high-quality shoes. This reputation has created tremendous equity in the Zappos brand and that of the CEO, Tony Hsieh. He even wrote a book about it called “Delivering Happiness.”

PERSONALITY: What words would people use to describe you?

There are lots of ways different branding consultants ask this question, including “If you were a celebrity/animal/car, which would you be and why?” These types of questions are all about discovering your brand’s personality, or the style in which you deliver on your brand promise. A good example to get you thinking about different brand personalities is to think about buying a motorcycle. You could go to a Honda dealership or you could stop by a Harley shop. You would likely never confuse the two, even though they both sell motorcycles. That is brand personality at play. If you’re a solopreneur, this will be based in large part on your own personality, but small teams have a little work to do in order to uncover the collective personality of their business.

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