In today's entrepreneur-friendly, low-barrier environment, pretty much anyone can incorporate a small business and launch a company. But to build a brand with which customers actually engage over the long haul requires far more than buying a URL and publishing a website with GoDaddy or Squarespace. While those fundamentals are absolutely imperative from a business infrastructure standpoint, creating a brand that has a heartbeat requires a sophisticated strategy and a boatload of authenticity--too much automation or sterile speak (no matter how professional-sounding the copy) just won't break through the news.
So what makes a brand breathe, and how do you begin to pump life into voice or visuals? For one, the brand needs a clear purpose. Fabian Geyrhalter, Founder and Principal of brand consultancy FINIEN and author of the #1 Amazon bestseller How to Launch a Brand, believes every booming company must be built upon a solid brand platform from the get-go, which is different than a business plan.
A business plan lays out a company's goals and strategy whereas a brand platform is created to define a target audience and create brand personas that speak specifically to that audience. Defining a brand's positioning is often the first step in creating a solid brand platform.
But what makes a brand actually have a soul? Geyrhalter thinks brands with soul have a unique quality that sets them apart from its competitors, citing how Bridget Field, Client Services Manager at Small Business BC, calls this the "so-what factor."
Opening a new eatery on a popular main street is great, but so what? There are tons of places there for local residents to eat, "so what" makes yours special and how can you build your brand around that? What emotions will be evoked when customers hear about it and how will their experience reinforce their perception of your brand?
Consider the emotional benefits
In his book, Geyrhalter mentions brand consultant Derrick Daye's analysis of Lever 2000's launch where the product was touted as the soap "that does it all," a rebuttal to Ivory's claim of being the best at cleansing, Dove's being the best at moisturizing, and Zest's being the best at deodorizing. Lever 2000's tagline made the other soap products seem, more or less, incomplete. Sure enough, Lever 2000 sales increased exponentially but likely due to the fact that it offered an emotional promise, not because the other soaps were actually inferior.
"Smart brands make an emotional promise to their audience by touting their product's features and benefits," writes Geyrhalter. "These emotional benefits may include safety, affection, status, self-fulfillment, knowledge, independence, and stability." Emotions, after all, drive far more purchases than logic, even when consumers think they're making decisions based on research.
Understanding the needs of your audience
To truly reach a niche audience, brands should aim to think like them, not just of them. Aim to understand your ideal customers on a deeper level by picturing an average day in their lives. Geyrhalter writes, "(Consider) what brands they prefer, whether or not they impulse shop, whether they're bargain hunters or social shoppers, and whether they have any specific interests or family concerns."
Geyrhalter suggests that brands try creating mood boards or collages for targeted audience personas that can put them in the shoes of those they're trying to reach most. Because the better a brand studies their ideal customer, the more they'll understand what motivates them, and the higher the likelihood they'll be able to build a direct pathway between the brand and customer.
Constructing a philosophy
Certain brands make emotional connections with their customers because they're explaining their motives--they're selling an ethos, a way of life, not just products. Harley-Davidson, for example, sells freedom and rebellion. As an employer, Google sells hard work, excellence, and silliness.
In Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, author Simon Sinek makes the case that brands should tell consumers whythey do what they do, not just what they do. Selling the philosophy of a brand is far more effective than selling a product, plus the former leads to more long-term value and loyalty.
Few lending companies have been able to build brand equity and mindshare as rapidly as Kiva. Their brand philosophy helps to set it apart from other lenders. Their mission: "We aim to drive social impact and enable opportunity while providing a borrower-to-lender connection: 'Loans that change lives.'" That's some serious soul.
LeanIn.org is another brand that's been able to capture a dedicated and passionate audience through its philosophy. The organization's mission of empowering all women to achieve their ambitions by providing inspiration and support through its online community resonates in everything it touches: from expert lectures to its local meetups. A byproduct of Sheryl Sandberg's book, the site now has more than 380,000 members in more than 50 countries.
Geyrhalter believes that every company has a sweet spot when it comes to developing a brand that evokes true emotion and genuinely helps solve a problem in its customers' lives. So if you're in the early stages of building a company, remember these tips for building a brand with a soul. Chances are, if you nail it, your customers will stick around for a very long time.