Six things your creative businesses can learn from corporate branding

If you think your creative business is too small to worry about branding…

Then think again!

Although many small business owners are half-right to think this, they’re also half-wrong. Branding does matter, no matter how big or small your business.

But the term ‘branding’ is heavily overused. I tossed it around for 25 or so years, as a tool to help companies like Kraft and Coca-Cola define themselves and their product.

But today, I try to avoid even using the term ‘branding’ when speaking to small business owners.

Unfortunately, whether your revenue is 100k or 100 million, how any business defines itself AND it’s customers is critical. It’s this aspect of branding where multinational corporations exceed and so where we should be taking a cue from.

Most international corporations will spend millions on research and market-testing before they ever make a public move. But don’t worry – you don’t need to max out your marketing budget just yet. Here are six ways you can achieve the clarity of vision you need to create a meaningful and impactful for your creative business.

1. Know why you’re in the business, and where you’re going.

Every business is in business to make money. Beyond that, why are YOU in business? What keeps you going when things get tough? Where do you want to be in 3 years? What’s the vision?

Usually when I ask this question, I get passionate responses – people really unleash their dreams trying to tell you why. This is definitely the advantage all small businesses have; the passion behind your vision. It’s this passion and vision that you want to speak to your customers, through your branding.

Big companies lack that passion – a symptom of their size. Instead, they need data-driven models, market research, test groups and extensive analytics just to get them to take a step forward, backwards, or even sideways!

But, you have to be realistic when constructing a vision for your brand too. Ask yourself, what are the obstacles in the way of achieving that vision? Is it you? Is it your team? Are your vision and goals aligned with your current capabilities as a business?

Many small business owners think they have to do everything themselves. The truth is, you don’t need to do everything yourself and the most successful entrepreneurs don’t. Running a business can be a whirlwind of decision making, so give yourself time to sit down and work out which of your goals require delegating or outsourcing.

This seems like a mammoth task, but really it can be as simple as keeping a record (of any kind!) of your thoughts and ideas around your business. Later, when you sit down, you’ll find it much easier to condense these into a single, realistic vision for your brand.

2. Know where your money is coming from

Although it may seem like a silly question, many businesses don’t fully know where their revenue is really coming from.

Do you know who you most profitable customers are?
Do you know who your least profitable customers are?
What’s your financial goal in 2018? Do you know the steps you need to take to reach that goal?

These kinds of questions help you form a better idea of your brand’s pricing structure; what type of customer uses your business the most, and what type the least. Tap into what your biggest fans think about your business and use that to guide your financial structure and goals.

One of my clients once catered for 18 weddings in a single summer, without making a cent in profit. By the end of it, she was nearly broke and burnt out. Why? Because she lacked confidence in her own expertise (although her customers would sing her praises) and didn’t price accordingly.

Global corporations don’t flinch when it comes to pricing. You’re an expert, so pay attention to your customers and price yourself and your brand accordingly.

3. Are you making enough noise?

When it comes to branding, you can’t assume that your customers will just remember you of their own free will. You’re going to remind even your best customers of your value proposition – at every opportunity.

Multinationals ensure their communications to clients and customers are consistent in tone, message and appearance. Often it helps to have someone dedicated to ensuring your communications are consistent, even if it’s not a full-time role.

4. Be consistent with your content

You’ve probably experienced this for yourself; a company’s website is so different or dated compared to their magazine ads, or offices, that you have to double check to make sure it’s the same company. This sends an inconsistent message.

Even small differences in colours, fonts and layouts can cause a potential customer to mentally ‘trip up’, causing doubt and often meaning they just leave your website without converting – not good.

Even if you’re uncomfortable creating content yourself, outsource it. This doesn’t mean you have to hire an expensive agency, there are plenty of good writers and artists out there who will be happy to help and are surprisingly affordable.

5. Design your own stuff as you would for your client

You already know that you need good design to make your message stand out. You do it for your clients everyday. The only thing is that you spend forever on your own and you can’t get it perfect enought – am I right? Time to let it go. Design your own stuff. Make sure the message stands out and just get it done.

What do you think of when I say Ikea? Blue and yellow? What about Google? Or Comcast? These companies are more than just a logo – they’ve integrated their colours, their logos, across the design of all their assets, and subsidiaries in the case of Comcast. You know this but as a quick reminder for your own business, branding that runs all the way through like this helps to make your messaging sing, and your company memorable.

6. Get clear on your messaging

This is often people’s biggest mistake when it comes to branding. They go from idea to shipping, skipping the steps in between and staking the odds against success.

Ideas are great, but until you determine what it is your company is about, where it aims to be, what your message is and how it’s delivered, what your visual identity is, and finally which channels are appropriate, you’re making it unnecessarily hard for yourself.

Think about it – how can you make sure you deliver the right value proposition to the right potential customer, at the right time, without these? That’s what good branding is ultimately about. Aligning your company to attract the kind of prospects and clients you want to work with.

Larger businesses may not be as nimble as smaller enterprises, but they will perform these steps tirelessly before launching any new product or brand. The size of their markets and scope of endeavours mean that risk of failure is too great – potentially millions.

This doesn’t mean multinationals are always right (I can think of quite a few failed products from major brands – anyone got Google Glasses? New Coke?). But there is a great deal you can learn from the way they align their brands or products with their customer base.