To build your brand, be consistent

Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 43 we spoke to Dan Ratner, the founder & CEO of Uberbrand. Dan has over 15 years of experience in marketing, communications, and branding. He believes that branding is essential for businesses to achieve their goals. Dan works closely with Uberbrand’s clients to comprehend and address current customer perceptions and ensure a positive customer experience while achieving business goals. 

Dan works with well-known Australian brands across a variety of sectors including financial services, travel and education.

In this chat, we spoke about how Dan believes that it is crucial for business owners to understand who they are and who they serve.

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Dan Ratner on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored by Dan Ratner, Founder and CEO of Uberbrand.

If you’re trying to grow your business, you have to keep one key distinction in mind: your brand is not what you say it is. It’s what people think it is. Small to medium-sized business owners often try to build their brand without truly understanding what a brand is. If you don’t understand what a brand is, and what your brand is, how could you expect to leverage it and have people engage in it? 

It has been widely taught that a brand is the sum of all the unique designs, symbols and words that create the identity of a product or business, differentiating it from its competitors. However, a brand is more than an identity. A brand is an idea or concept held in someone’s mind. It’s not what I tell you it is, as the owner of that brand. It’s literally what you’re going to think it is – your perception. You own it, not me. 

This concept comes to life through all the experiences, touchpoints and impressions people experience over time with that product. The more a person interacts with a product or business, the more the person builds up a perception of it. That perception is the brand. If you are a little bit confused at this point, consider this analogy. I ask this question to many people and always get similar responses.

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you hear the word ‘frog’? For most people, when they hear the word ‘frog’, they picture the colour green in their mind. I conducted research a few years ago and found there are about 5700 frogs in the world and yet, most are brown. Why does everyone think of a green tree frog? Is it because we grew up with things like Kermit the Frog or The Princess and the Frog? Is it related to rhetoric about the environment?

So many conversations and communications have made impressions on us, reinforcing to us that frogs are green and making us believe this is the truth. It’s a perception we own that has become the reality. A brand works the same way. It’s a perception in someone’s mind that they own that becomes their reality of your brand.

As a business owner growing a brand, you have to keep in mind that everything you communicate and every action you take will leave an impression in someone’s mind about what you are. If you’re consistent over time, a definite image will start to solidify in their mind until they have formed a brand associated with you. In other words, if you want to build a brand you have to know what you want it to be and strive to consistently build that impression in people’s minds.

What is branding?
While a brand is a concept in people’s minds, branding is the management of all the expressions and impressions you give to build that brand. After you define what your brand is, you then define what it is you do, look like, and say over time. 

Consistency is important for this process. Studies have shown that businesses that are consistent with their branding have an average of around 23% increase in revenue because of it. Not only that, but you are three to four times more likely to get excellent brand visibility than those with inconsistent branding. This is because consistency allows for brand equity to grow. Brand equity is a brand’s value determined by a customer’s experiences with the brand.  

Consider how many of us have a regular coffee shop we go to. Imagine if I went to your go-to coffee shop with you one day, and that day happens to be the day the barista isn’t feeling too well and makes subpar coffee. I’ll say I’ll never go there again because there is no brand equity for me. Meanwhile, you, being a regular, will say, ‘today was just a bad day, but I’ll be back tomorrow’. There is a bank of brand equity for you that has been built over time through experiences and impressions. All the good coffee and great conversations you’ve had with that barista have allowed you to build a good perception of the brand. Since the coffee shop has been delivering consistent visual, verbal and emotional satisfaction and delivering on its promise, you have a positive concept of that brand.

That is branding. It is the management of your brand to deliver what it promises through everything you do, say and look like in a consistent and ongoing manner. Every person in your business is, therefore, a part of branding.

It’s not about bucking the system
I’m not trying to sound conservative when I say this, but for many small businesses, they are operating in a Red Ocean. Their industry already exists within defined boundaries and among many competitors. If you’re a coffee shop, people expect you to sell coffee first and foremost. Part of your branding is delivering what is already expected because ultimately, as small to medium businesses, you are trying to achieve success at a business level, not trying to make some grand systemic change. 

Look at your category of business. To go back to the frog analogy, if people think frogs are green, why would you make your frog purple? Many brands exist within an already existing category of style, visual cue or rhetoric. In a way, even though you want your brand to be different, you still have to keep within certain category norms if you want to sell to that audience. So take a step back and think, what is the truth about your brand? What traits make it your brand? Why should your audience choose you in that Red Ocean? Is it quality, passion, flavour, price or something else? 

How important is branding to SMEs?
Branding is fundamental for small to medium businesses, and it’s actually very easy for them to execute because it has nothing to do with money. It’s about showing up and doing the job.

Branding is difficult for large companies because it’s hard to regulate what thousands of employees are doing and whether or not they are delivering on the brand promise. As a small to medium business, you should leverage this advantage. You need to create more of that bank of equity to build that perception which will pave the way to the next step which is marketing. A lot of entrepreneurs think marketing is key, but there’s no point in marketing if you haven’t branded first! 

First and foremost, understand who you are, what your product is and why you are doing what you’re doing, and consistently deliver that image over and over again. Learn about competitors and the target audience and why customers should choose you instead. If people perceive frogs to be green and you show up brown, people will get disconnected. So know who you are and deliver that consistently.

Even if you don’t have time or you’re too lazy to take a look at your brand, know that with whatever you do, you’re already creating a brand. Everything you do will leave some sort of impression on the customer, leading to a perception in their mind. If they keep coming back, it’s because you’re doing something right, so I would say that’s worth looking into. It doesn’t take much to ask your customers what it is they find attractive in the brand and use that information to scale the brand against these customers.

Brand consulting does help. Sometimes it is difficult to look in the mirror and see things outside of what you want to see. Getting a brand consultant is great for helping you get out of your own head, and defining who you are by finding out all unbiased information for you. 

Don’t change too much
I speak of consistency, but you’re probably thinking that as a business owner, there will come a time when you need to change things if you want to keep growing. Of course, part of defining who you are today is also defining your aspirations. In that tension between the present and the future, is change. For example, if you have a business in one location and your goal is to expand to multiple locations, then you have to think about what you can change to enable that growth. Regardless, even when you want to bring about change, it’s about looking at your brand. 

Creating change means bringing in inconsistency, which is what we don’t want. So don’t rush into it or change your brand without really taking a step back and looking at it first. Consistently deliver your brand until that’s no longer relevant. When it’s not relevant, go back to the beginning where you look at what your purpose is and for whom, and continue on that brand loop.

Building a successful brand has five steps. Find clarity of purpose – be sure about what you are and why you do what you do. Find clarity of audience – who are you doing it for because if your purpose changes, your audience has to change too. Find clarity of the offer – what are you selling and does it make sense in that category? Then, be consistent when delivering those impressions – build a defined perception in your customer’s mind over time and consistently. Lastly, pivot when you need to. If the brand loses relevance, start over with finding your purpose again.