We hear a ton about brand-building, especially from big-company executives. But what is a brand, and why is it important to invest time and money building it?  Vala Ashfar, CMO and Chief Customer Officer at Enterasys, sums it up pretty well in a tweet: Your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room. Yup.

Potential and current customers, investors, and employees can have a big impact on your company’s fate just by making an offhand comment about your business. And what they say about your business becomes your company’s brand.  Those marketing executives are right.  Building a brand should be a priority and a part of your strategic plan.

Aubrie Pagano, the co-founder of Bow & Drape, an online custom clothing start-up for women, says building her company’s brand is the toughest challenge she’s faced as a in her start-up. She’s meeting that challenge by making sure every business decision she makes reinforces the image of Bow & Drape as the online destination for women to show their great taste. 

Here’s what you can learn from Pagano about brand-building:

Own Your Vision, and Your Changes

“Part of building a brand is knowing when to stick to your guns and knowing when not to,” says Pagano.  As CEO, she learned the hard way that it’s her responsibility to make sure every decision and every action reflects the corporate vision.  This is not always easy, especially for those of us who have a natural tendency to be people-pleasers. 

Earlier in Bow & Drape’s formation, the business model looked quite different than it does now. The company's first business model connected designers with women who wanted custom clothing. But it turned out that that model put too much emphasis on the designer, and not enough on the customer. Pagano led her team in a complete business model overhaul.  

Later, when a design contractor started taking Bow & Drape’s line in a direction that did not reflect the company’s brand, Pagano realized that she alone was responsible for bringing the clothes back in line with her vision. That wasn’t an easy conversation to have, especially when person on the opposite end of that discussion—in this case, the design contractor—is supposed to be the expert. 

As CEO, Pagano had to own the vision and not back down.  She realized that she is the expert of her business, and turning the Bow & Drape vision into reality starts and stops with her.  When your brand is at stake, you have to make the hard decisions and have the tough conversations. There’s too much to lose if you don’t.

Develop Personas for Your Key Customers

Pagano’s responses to almost every question I asked her came back to the customer persona she and her team had created. She described her customer so well that I got the sense that Pagano had an actual picture of her typical buyer in her head. The Bow & Drape persona is a well-travelled urban woman in her mid-thirties. She is professional, decisive, busy and social; values quality, and invests in looks that reflect her classic style. Pagano used the personas to tell me the story of the Bow & Drape brand through the eyes and experience of the very women she is hoping to convert into customers.  Developing personas to represent your customers allows you to empathize with the needs, passions, motivations, and construction of meaning of your target buyer. 

Focus, Focus, Focus

Similarly, every one of Bow & Drape’s investors, partners, industry experts, influencers, and board members is chosen based on their ability to help the Bow & Drape brand meet and exceed the needs of the sophisticated women Pagano and her team want to turn into loyal customers.  You need to get everyone on your team rowing in the same direction – toward your customers!  That will help you make much better decisions that align with the customer-focused brand you want to create.

Build a Brand-Based Culture

Company culture starts on day one. Why? Because the culture of your company is a huge part of your company brand. You have to align your hiring decisions and team atmosphere with your corporate brand. It doesn’t mean everyone has to think the same or be the same person. It does mean that you have to create a team with shared values. 

The Bow & Drape team is located in Boston and NYC.  They use Yammer daily to share ideas, inspirational quotes, pictures, and anything else that depicts the Bow & Drape customer.  The company culture fosters a brand based on the team’s shared passion: Giving any woman who wants to wear clothes that reflect her unique tastes with the ability to do so.  And that is exactly what Pagano wants people talking about after a Bow & Drape employee or customer leaves the room.

What does your brand say about your business?