Why You Shouldn’t Brand Yourself

by Michelle Salater on March 3, 2010

To have an effective brand, you need a clear, consistent, valid, emotion-evoking message, and excellent graphics.

Effective brand images have deep roots within customers’ emotions and thoughts. If your brand isn’t an accurate depiction of your business, or if it’s unclear, it will have no resonance within the minds of customers and prospects. And therefore, it will create no connection between the customer and the brand.

Nora Richardson of NDRichardson Graphic is a leading brand expert who helps businesses craft a strong brand image through graphic design and marketing materials. Nora is the author of The Branding Spot, a blog that helps entrepreneurs and seasoned business owners understand the importance of branding their business and doing it effectively.

Currently, Nora is in the process of rebranding her own company and is writing a series of blog posts chronicling the challenges of rebranding her company. She calls it Nora’s Branding Challenge.

Below is an interview with Nora on branding your business through graphic design elements:

Q: How does a brand work to attract clients?

A: In order to properly answer this question, I’d like to define what a brand is. A brand is the emotional connection your company has with its target audience. A brand consists of many things such as a logo, a slogan, even a musical tune. A common misconception is that a logo is a brand. A logo is not a brand. A logo is only one element that can be representative of a brand—an instant pictorial indicator that visually helps your audience differentiate your product / service from the competition.

Brands are designed to appeal to a prospective customer’s emotions. All consumers—no matter how educated or sophisticated—buy emotionally.

Customers respond to that intangible mystique that surrounds certain people, products, or companies. The best brands tap into the emotions of their audience as people. They create the strongest emotional response from the people they will most naturally work well with, and are impossible for competition to duplicate.

Q: What’s the correlation between a brand message and graphics?

A: Your company’s message and graphics are the identification factors of your business—they’re what make your business different from your competition. The graphics stand out through color, shapes, and lines to quickly and immediately grab the attention of a target audience. The message is what keeps their attention and compels them to do business with a company. The unity of both the message and the graphics creates a brand in the consumer’s eye. If the consumer is happy with your product / service, that helps to build trust. Trust over time turns into loyalty.

Q: How do colors in graphics play a role in illustrating brand message?

A: There is a whole psychology of color in branding and marketing. Color—or, in some instances, lack of color—can be the most powerful element of design. Research has shown that color increases brand identity, assists in memory, increases a reader’s participation in ads, and improves readership, learning, and comprehension.

Everyone relates to color in some way. Have you ever noticed when you go down the cleaning aisle in the grocery store that most of the color schemes of cleaning products are blue and yellow? Blue signifies professionalism, as well as cleanliness. Green is calming, and yellow makes people cheery.

Studies also show that orange is supposed to trigger a warm feeling or energetic feelings. And red is supposed to evoke hunger. That’s a reason why most fast food restaurants have chosen red as one of their brand colors. Sneaky, right?

During our lifetime, we correlate events with colors. When I design a logo for a company, I show the design in black and white first. Otherwise, I run the risk of the color having a negative impact on the design without the client realizing.

Businesses should think about the colors they use and what they’re saying subconsciously. Some industries have adopted colors to represent them. I have found that the information technology (IT) industry often uses blue and grey. There is nothing wrong with blue or grey. They are tried and true colors. But, if you are in this industry, you have to ask yourself this one question: Do you want to be mainstream in your brand colors, or do you want to stand out from the mob?

Q: What’s the worst thing a business can do to their brand message?

A: The two worst things a business can do to their brand message are being inconsistent with the message or having too many messages. Doing either of these things (or dare I think both) will confuse your audience, and they will stop listening to you.

The best thing to do is target one specific audience—know them inside and out by finding their likes and dislikes. Perhaps poll your audience to see if they see a need for your product or service and what they would find helpful. Tailor your services for those people. Then, your true brand message will come through. Keep it to one clear idea. Keep it simple and easy to understand how you differ from the competitors. And keep it consistent through every type of medium, including a website, email, e-brochure, print brochure, apparel, signs, business cards, voicemail, television, blogs, social media, customer service, and especially in person when networking.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake businesses make when it comes to branding promotional materials?

A: One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when designing their promotional materials is they try to cram too much information into the allotted space. Don’t be afraid of having blank space, or as designers call it, negative space. The point of a promotional piece is not to inundate the reader with everything your company can do. You need to create a campaign—meaning you need to research a market and only focus on that market.

Pick one topic that your business can provide well for that market, and keep the message and graphics simple. You can have several campaigns targeting different markets or different products / services. Due to time management and finances, I would suggest having only three different campaigns running at the same time.

The second major mistake is thinking that just because you have a computer, a brain, and knowledge of your business, you can write and design your brand components and promotional materials. There is much more to it than clipart, layout software, and a Thesaurus. Do your company a favor: hire a professional.

The third major mistake is talking about how great your company is. Clients are not impressed with self-centered, ego-stroking marketing materials that go on and on about your accolades. Instead, talk about the prospective client’s needs and how your company can help.

Q: What specific actions can a business—no matter what industry—take to improve their brand message?

A: Yearly, a business really needs to look at who they are and where they want to be next year, five years from now, and 10 years from now. Once that is figured out, then reflect upon your marketing materials. Is what you were saying last year still valid? If not, you may need to adjust your branding message and even your look. Every 5 – 10 years, you should update your look, even if it is just a minor change, by adding a shadow or changing one color in your logo, to refrain from looking stale and out-of-date.

Q: How do the most successful businesses project their brand message? Please provide specific examples.

A: Most successful businesses are honest with themselves by understanding what they do, and what emotional perks they provide to their market. For example, Kodak—a camera and film product company—doesn’t sell film and cameras. They sell memories. Likewise, BMW—a car manufacturer—doesn’t sell cars. They sell the “Ultimate Driving Experience.” And Allstate—an insurance company—doesn’t sell insurance. They sell piece of mind.

About Nora:

As a branding expert, graphic designer, and owner of NDRichardson Graphics, Nora Richardson works with businesses to help them grow and create a strong brand image. She also works with them to have a strong brand presence and emotionally engaging marketing materials including online graphics, logos, and print collateral. Check out her blog, The Branding Spot.

If you like this post, you might also like:

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  3. Are You Missing Out On Connecting With Potential Customers?
  4. Brand Message Global Positioning System: Locate Your Brand Message from A – Z
  5. Quality vs Quantity: Where Do Your Marketing Materials Stand?

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