It’s been a while since my last solo episode, but this week I wanted to tell you about something I am really proud of, something that has been in the works for quite some time, and a couple of weeks back it was finally ready: v2.0 of my Brand it! Framework.
Previously, you could buy a workbook that took you through my framework, but that is changing. I’ve completely revamped the workbook, it’s now twice the volume (but still no fluff!) – but I’m not going to be selling my workbook separately anymore, it’ll be reserved for 1:1 clients, group programme students and special friends. But stick around for this episode and you’ll get a breakdown of what it’s all about!
TL;DR – here are the links you’re looking for:
Back to the framework! This framework is the essence of my entire branding philosophy. If I tell you it took me almost two decades to arrive at this I won’t blame you for rolling your eyes at me. But it really is a combined result of my formal training, tweaked and iterated through working with clients throughout my career so far.
And it’s not as if my previous framework was bad in any way, but it had started to feel like it was no longer 100% aligned with how I work with my clients, and how I see branding as part of something bigger.
My old framework was more linear; a series of steps, 5 steps, culminating in the creation of a brand identity as the grand finale. But something was missing. For starters: branding is not linear. A brand isn’t static. And secondly: The brand identity is not the grand finale, it’s one part of brand implementation – it just happens to be the part of brand implementation that I am really good at.
The new framework fixes all this. Rather than a strict linear process, it allows you to craft your brand from the inside out, and it recognises that all the bits and pieces that make up your brand – they’re all connected.
So since you’re listening to this, you won’t be able to see the visualisation of the framework. It’s over in the shownotes, in all its glorious simplicity, if you ever wanted to see it. But imagine four segments of a circle, surrounding an inner core.
Your brand core:
Because it all starts with the very heart of your brand. Your brand core consists of:
- Your purpose; the reason your brand exists (beyond just profits!)
- Vision and mission; the impact you want to make in the world and how you are going about it
- Your values; what do you believe in, and what do you stand for?
- Your goals. Where your purpose, vision, mission and values are aspirations that guide the direction of your brand, goals are statements of specified outcomes that need to be accomplished in order to live up to those aspirations.
So that’s your brand core, and that is what will inform and influence every single part of your brand, so don’t be tempted to skip it, even if you find it challenging. Then, each of the four segments surrounding the core is connected with bi-directional arrows. That’s because, like I mentioned, a brand is not a static thing, it’s fluid. Each part of your brand is interlinked – every change you make to one part will impact the rest. That’s why it’s so important to get the brand core right before you start working on the rest: The brand core is what connects it all.
The four segments that surround the brand core:
In this segment you’ll typically look at your competitors, define your niche and your target audience, you might conduct a gap analysis, and consider your positioning.
I honestly believe that as long as we are true to our own purpose, we shouldn’t worry too much about our competitors. They do their thing, you do yours. But: that doesn’t mean you can or should completely ignore who else is out there in the playground – because if there are twenty kids there, and eighteen of them are fighting to play on the swing, you might have more luck playing on the slide instead of fighting everyone else for that one swing. It’s generally good to have a general overview of:
- who your key competitors are
- what their strengths are
- how your brand compares
That way, it’s easier to spot areas with more room for you to play – your way!
Same goes for your niche. Niching down means to focus on a small but well-defined segment of the market (market niche), and what most people mean by that is finding a specific demographic (gender, age, income level, education level) that you can cater to as a business, which in turn makes it easier to tailor your marketing messages. But you can also niche down based on the product or service you offer (product niche), centering your business around one specific area of expertise within a broader category of similar offerings. To further narrow down your niche, you can look at traits such as price (luxury→discount), level of quality (premium→budget, handmade→mass produced), psychographics (values, interests, attitudes) or geographics (residents of a certain location). That opens up a whole new level of possibilities for tailoring your niche to fit in with what you want for your brand, instead of what other people say you should do. Once you realise that there are ways of niching down that allow you to do so without feeling like a prisoner of your own business, it becomes a lot less scary.
As for a gap analysis, that’s another one of those terms that sound more complex than it usually is. You have a vision for your brand, you know where or what you want to be, but between you and it is this huge gaping hole that you have to somehow navigate around or across. Most of us will find ourselves stuck in that position at some point. Often more than once. So what do you do? Do you fill the hole with truckloads of rocks so you can walk across? Do you build a bridge? Do you lace up your hiking shoes and take the long road around it? Jump? Fly across it in a hot air balloon? Fill it with water and swim? That kinda depends on the size and shape of the hole, right? In other words: you need to do some research to find the best approach. What we need is a tool to help us get unstuck, one that’s easy to use and that we can pull out of our back pocket whenever we find ourselves in a pickle. That’s where a gap analysis comes in: to give you a clear picture of the gap between where you are currently at and where you want to go, so you can figure out the best way to get from here to there.
Then there’s the elusive target audience. Have you ever tried to pinpoint your ideal client avatar? Down to what they like to eat for breakfast, what their job is, how many kids, where they live etc? Ever felt like it’s a bit… constructed?
Honestly, I’m tired of the demographic centred approach to defining your target audience. While statistical data can no doubt be useful, there are other factors I find more interesting and powerful. Instead of pigeon-holing people based on just their age, gender, location or income, I’d much rather define my target audience based on a combination of demographics and psychographics – with an emphasis on personality, attitude, aspirations and their general world view. That, to me, feels like a more human centred way of doing things, which in turn is more in tune with my core values.
That said – creating one or more client personas can be a useful (and fun!) exercise. Just don’t be tempted to make personas up based on assumptions. Talk to people, get onvirtual coffee chats, ask questions, look to past clients you’ve loved working with etc.
Next segment is…
Brand personality = assigning human characteristics to a brand in order to resonate with a specific audience. Thinking about your brand as a person with unique personality traits makes it easier to show up in a way that speaks to your ideal clients on an emotional level. A memorable and consistent brand personality, rooted in your brand’s values, is an impactful way to increase brand equity and make your brand stand out.
Gone is the era of “just slapping a logo on it” and calling it a day. Consumers today are savvy and discerning, and they want to feel an emotional connection to the brands they buy into – because they see them as extensions of their own personality, values and identity, not just as commodities. And that’s where your brand personality really shines! Establishing an emotional connection means increased brand loyalty, but beware: it has to come from the heart. Taking advantage of people’s emotional responses and stabbing at all their trigger points for your own benefit is not only morally wrong, it’s also very likely to backfire! Your brand is the sum of all feelings, thoughts, visual and other memories (positive and negative) that people have about your company, product or service. What feelings do you want people to get when they interact with your brand?
The third segment is…
This is typically where you will work on your brand story, but also your brand promise, value proposition, tagline & slogan and your key message(s).
Many people think that the brand story = is the history of their brand. In reality, your brand story is way more than that. Sure, your history can be part of it, but more importantly: your brand story must inspire an emotional reaction. It’s tempting to talk about where you came from and where you want to go, but the main reason people enjoy and remember stories is because they see themselves in them and are able to relate. Actually, you’re not even the only author of your brand story – every person in your audience is a co-author. So if you want your audience to emotionally connect with and relate to your brand, you need to make your story about them; their emotions, struggles, challenges and triumphs – not a timeline of how your business was formed.
A brand promise tells your customer what they can expect from your product or service. Sounds pretty easy, right? But you won’t believe how many brands get this wrong. Why? Because in their eagerness to be “the chosen one” they promise more than they can deliver. Ouch. The old over-promise and under-deliver trap. It’s a bitch. The more you deliver on your brand promise, the stronger your brand’s reputation.
Your brand promise and your value proposition, and to some extent also your positioning statement, are similar in that they are all stripped back ways of articulating why someone should choose your brand over another. But where your positioning statement is mostly intended for internal use, your brand promise and your value proposition are more outward facing. And where your brand promise speaks to the long term purpose behind your brand as a whole, the value proposition focuses more on your product or service’s actual features.
Taglines and slogans are short phrases that captures your brand essence, personality, and positioning, and distinguishes your brand from its competitors.
- A tagline represents your whole brand
- A slogan represents a product/campaign
And then, at the forefront of your marketing, your key message(s) are there to express your brand’s strategic position in a way that resonates with your key audience. It needs to communicate your brand promise in a way that is consistent, memorable and relevant to the people you want to serve, and should be steeped in your brand’s uniqueness. Well-defined key messages make client-facing communication easier (extra important if you have team members!) and more successful, conveying the essence of everything that your brand is.
The fourth segment is the “action part”:
This part of the framework is about making that strategy come alive. Most people think of the visual identity here, but this part of branding is so much more than that! You also have brand copy, brand touchpoints (every point of contact with potential clients), brand experience, brand culture… and so on!
Your visual identity is where your logo belongs, along with brand colours, typography, image style and any other graphic elements. Basically, anything visual that represents your business, placed within a system to ensure consistent use and increase brand recognition.
Then there’s brand copy, which should also reflect your brand values and brand personality. Your brand’s tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it, and it goes hand in hand with your visual identity. And because your brand copy will appear literally everywhere – your website, branded collateral, social media posts… – you want to make sure there’s not a mismatch here, or you’re very likely to confuse the heck out of that audience of yours.
Brand touchpoints = every single point of contact that someone can have with your brand. And because each and every one of them is an opportunity to either strengthen or weaken your brand’s perceived image, you need to have thought about what your brand’s touchpoints are. You want to make sure that your brand comes across the same across every touchpoint, so your audience can recognise and trust that your brand is who it says it is.
Customer experience is an often overlooked, but oh so important part of branding. How your clients and customers feel before, during and after interacting with your brand – whether it’s when they buy one of your products or their user experience as part of your group programme – has everything to do with how they perceive your brand, and whether or not they will come back for more. And maybe even more importantly: whether they will recommend you to their friends, or tell them to steer the heck away.
Brand culture is how every employee lives out the values and mission of your brand, and should be as distinct as your brand itself. Brand culture is not just another corporate buzzword; it’s your core values in action! Done right, fostering a strong, positive and human centred brand culture will help you:
- Keep your employees happy
- Nurture better relationships between colleagues and teams
- Increase employee motivation and productivity
- Recruit and retain the best talent out there
- Ensure every member of your team understands and delivers on your brand promise…
- …which in turn leads to happy clients
And then all of what I’ve just spoken about should come together in your Brand Guidelines. These guidelines play a crucial part in keeping your brand communication coherent over time, especially if your brand identity will be implemented by others – like an employee, a virtual assistant, a copywriter or a design agency. It’s kinda like a user guide for your brand; sometimes it comes in the form of a printed document, but often it’s a PDF or an online directory. Regardless of format, it’s a system outlining how the individual brand elements should be put together in order to create a unique and recognisable look and feel.
Brand guidelines are useful for anyone communicating on behalf of your brand, and reduce the risk of a conflict between personal preferences and the pre-defined brand style. It’s in our nature to want to put our own mark on things, so if Vera VA feels like adding a bit of hot pink to your muted colour palette it wouldn’t be the first time someone’s personal taste got the better of them!
Brand guidelines should contain more than just your brand visuals though! Your underlying strategy and intangible brand elements also belong in here – the idea being that even someone who is not familiar with your brand should be able to pick up your brand guidelines and instantly know what your brand is all about.
A brand is a living creature, and it can (and should) develop as time passes, adapting to changing circumstances. Your brand guidelines should allow for this change, within certain boundaries.
So there you have it!
Remember how I said that brand strategy is about bridging the gap between where you are currently at and where you want to be? All of this strategy is pretty useless without a plan to make it happen though, so I also work with clients to help them turn challenges into solutions and solutions into actions through identifying and prioritising high-impact actions.
And all of that forms your very own, personalised strategic roadmap. So, how do you get your hands on this framework, if it’s not available as a free-standing product anymore? Well, there are a few ways:
One: You could hire me to work with you 1:1. Either by booking one or more 60-minute strategy sessions (the workbook will come up as an optional add-on) or by booking a VIP day or hiring me for a complete done-for-you visual brand identity (the workbook is included in the two latter options).
Or two, and this I am really excited about: You could join me and up to 11 other badass brandits inside my Brand it! group programme. This is a 12-week strategy journey where you’ll dive into the very core of your brand – in a small group setting and with 1:1 guidance from an experienced brand strategist. You’ll get video guides for each step of the Brand it! framework, regular group coaching calls with hot seats so you can get help if you’re feeling stuck, and a community of like minded business owners to inspire you and cheer you on!
After these 12 weeks you will have a solid foundation on which to build your entire business. Together, we’ll lay the groundwork for your very own actionable brand roadmap: a strategic plan, rooted in your purpose and values. Put into action it can lead to a more cohesive brand, stronger brand awareness and recognition, an aligned brand image, increased brand loyalty, more of the right clients, more referrals, a healthier bottom line…
You see, brand strategy is not just for 7-figure celebrity entrepreneurs or big multi-national corporations. It’s for you too! If you’re a regular listener, or you hang out with me over on Instagram, you know that I’m passionate about demystifying brand strategy and making it accessible to more small business owners, showing the value a strong underlying strategy offers.
This group programme is my way of making what my corporate clients pay €10-15k for, available to small business owners too. Because why should the power of brand strategy only be accessible for big corporations with budgets to boot? Well, it shouldn’t. I realised that by leveraging the power of community, I can help more small business owners build stronger brands. I also realised that if more purpose-driven businesses start leading by their values, the ripple effect can be huge – we can’t change the world on our own, but together we are powerful!
Ever had that sinking feeling of always attracting the slightly wrong clients and not knowing why? The constant itch to tweak your brand colours or have a new logo designed, but every time you try the itch returns as soon as you see someone else’s gorgeous visual brand identity? Struggling to retain brand consistency, sending mixed messages, confusing your audience, and attracting the wrong people? That’s brand fog.
Stumbling around Brand Forest in thick fog like a lost [insert your favourite confused animal/character here] when everyone else seems to have their shit together (they probably don’t btw) is frustrating to say the least. There are only so many dead ends you can go down before motivation starts to dwindle and you think “to heck with this, I’m done!”
You can totally escape the fog and take control of your brand. What you need is a compass and a map, and someone to teach you how to use them. And maybe some snacks. You know, to keep spirits up.
Good news: you already have the compass. I have the map. And I’m sure we can figure out the snack thing! I’d love nothing more than to help you find your way out of the brand fog.
If you’re listening to this and the calendar still says 2021, there’s still time to apply for the Q1 cohort that kicks off in January 2022.
Until next time,
Pssst! If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next one! I’d also be super grateful if you’d share my podcast with a biz friend or two, or leave me a review.