The Basics of Branding

Regardless of your business type, branding is one of the most important aspects of business success. Branding is what identifies a business in the eyes of the customers. When you see the “golden arches,” do you think of McDonald’s? When I say Nike, do you see the swoosh? When you see a silver or white apple with a bite taken out of it, do you think of Macintosh? For most of us, the answers to these questions are yes. Why? Because those companies have built effective branding strategies.

Branding is much more than a logo or a symbol, though. It’s an entire picture of how the company is portrayed. It’s the look of their website, their social platforms, their product packaging, their print materials (like business cards and brochures), their employee uniforms, their logo…the list could go on forever. All of these things must show a consistent image–a brand.

One of the services I offer for FREE is a branding audit. I ask my prospective clients to give me everything they use to communicate with their customers available in print–newsletters, brochures, business cards, flyers, etc. Then I sit down at my computer and simply type their business name into Google. The less I’m given ahead of time, the better. If I’m a customer looking for them online, what will I find? I also search for their business type on Google. Where do they show up in the results? Do they show up in the results?

From here, I take detailed notes on what I see. What showed up in my search results? When I got to their website and social pages (and believe me when I say I don’t always find all of them!), did I see a consistent image? How does their digital presence compare to the print materials I was given? Again, do I see a consistent image? I look for the big obvious things like logo visibility and color schemes, but I also look at the smaller things like font choices and writing style.

All of these things together can portray a consistent (or an inconsistent) image to our customers. If these folks can’t even tell they’re looking at a handful of things all supposedly representing the same business, they may get confused and head elsewhere.

Remember a little bit ago when I said I do this for FREE? Lots of people wonder (and some are even willing to ask) why on earth I would do this level of work for no money. The simplest answer is that I just enjoy doing it. Plus, if my findings and recommendations ultimately land me a new client, I can’t complain about that!

Ready to do this little exercise yourself on your own business? Here’s my process:

Step 1: Gather Print Materials

Take a few minutes and gather up all of the print materials that represent your business and may find their way into the hands of your customers. This may include things like brochures, business cards, flyers, postcards, and more. Once you have them all together, lay them out on a table.

Now, jot down your initial reactions. Do they match? Is the color scheme consistent? Is the logo placement prominent and consistent (e.g. always in the upper left corner)? Is the writing style consistent? What do the fonts look like? Are they consistent in style (e.g. sans serif vs. serif) from one document to the next?

Once you have all your notes penciled down, you can stack up all the materials with your notes and set them aside.

Step 2: Google Your Business

Head over to Google (or your preferred search engine though I highly recommend Google since it’s most widely used), and type in the name of your business. Don’t include anything else like the location or your own name. Make a quick list of where you appear on the first page of results. What number are you, and what’s there (your website, your Facebook page, etc.)?

If you didn’t find all of your digital locations (i.e. website and all social platforms) on the first page, keep clicking through the pages. Make a note of where you found your listings–page and rank on the page.

Step 3: Open All of Your Digital Pages in Their Own Tab

Whether they showed up in your search results or not, next we’re going to open up each of the different pages (website and each social platform page) in their own tab. For the social pages, go to the actual business page, and be sure to be logged out of the social platform yourself. You want to see what it looks like in the eyes of a non-follower.

With all the tabs open, we’re going to go through the same process as we did above with the print materials. Write down your initial reactions in regards to color scheme, logo visibility and placement, writing style, fonts (even though these of course aren’t adjustable on social pages), etc.

Step 4: Compare Your Notes

At this point, I like to move to a clean work space and compare my notes side by side. What did I jot down about the print materials? How about the digital pages? How do these things compare? Are the observations similar? Different?

As I’m comparing these notes, I take a whole new set of notes that ties together the two avenues–print and digital. This set of notes eventually becomes my official list of recommendations to the potential client.

Step 5: Go to Work

Now that you have your list of improvements, it’s simply time to start making the changes. Remember the goal here is to create a consistent image on ALL platforms and with ALL documents and sites. I’m not suggesting (necessarily) that you need to go out and reprint all of your print items and redesign your whole website. I am, however, suggesting that you may need to make some changes here and there to ensure a well-branded design.

Step 6: A Little Extra

If you want to take it a step further, you can repeat step 2 with some slight changes. Now, instead of searching for your actual business name, you’ll search for something more generic–something more like an unsure customer would. For example, if you run a hair salon, you might simply search for hair salon or hair stylist or just salon. 

Try different words and combinations, and continue taking notes on what you find. Where do you show up in the search results? Do you show up in the search results? What keywords ranked you higher in the results? The answers to all of these questions can help you improve your SEO.

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