Branding is an essential business process for every individual and company. Your brand defines who you are and how you want your audience to perceive you.
Whether you're developing a personal brand, a business brand or both, it's important to truly understand who you are and what you stand for. Otherwise, you'll fail to attract the right following.
To help you get started, we asked the members of Ad Age Collective to share the best branding lessons they’ve learned throughout their careers. Take these lessons to heart as you build and evolve your brand.
1. Start with your ‘true north.’
Start with the destination in mind -- the end state, your "true north." What are you unwilling to sacrifice? What do you value most? Without this, your brand will quickly veer off course and risk losing its identity. That isn't to say that you can't recalculate your route or even the final destination, but unless you start by pointing your compass in the right direction, you are likely to get lost. - Rich Honiball, Navy Exchange Service Command
2. Pay attention to your audience’s perception of you.
Marketers make the classic mistake of thinking that they are creating a brand. Instead, they craft brands, but they don't control their brand. That power is left to their audience. The thoughts that spring to your audience's minds when they see or hear your brand -- that is the true nature of branding. Remember, “brand” is synonymous with “reputation” -- it's defined by what others say, not what we say. - Patrick Ward, High Speed Experts
3. Stay true to your character and brand promise.
Brands are precious, human-like stories and stories are brands. It's a very human truth. Like humans, brands develop and mature. They are also fallible and can be forgiven. Activist brands like Nike take positions. It's not a must. The must is that a brand must stay true to its character and promise because relationships and loyalty are earned. You slip? You can rebound. But, it will take time. - Lana McGilvray, Purpose Worldwide
4. Create a narrative from your audience’s perspective.
The biggest risk when building or refreshing a brand is that the thinking and focus can become insular. Well-meaning people sometimes navel-gaze at the expense of appreciating how important it is to connect the company's genuine story with what the people they rely on for success care about. The best lesson I've picked up is to create a narrative that comes from the perspective of customers and employees. - Todd Morgano, Falls Communications
5. Commit to doing the fundamentals well.
Brands that are committed to doing the fundamentals well tremendously increase their probability of success. A simple, clear and compelling value proposition is what separates the winning brands from the challenger brands. Some brands fall into the trap of tying value to price and/or cost, but the key is to establish themselves as something a consumer is not willing to sacrifice on or pass up. - Jeff Adelson-Yan, Levelwing
6. Steer your brand toward profit.
"Branding" is all the things you can control and all the things you can't. It's the trade dress and logo. It's the sum of that business' offerings. It's the behavior of that business entity in the world. It's all the opinions of people, justified or not, on the behavior of that business entity in the world. Our job is to steer, as best we can, as many of those things as possible toward profit. - Scott Montgomery, Bradley and Montgomery (BaM)
7. Focus on delivering value.
A campaign that makes a huge splash with their brand, either with a cutting-edge message, character or edgy persona will translate to long-term brand awareness if the brand provides unique value or stickiness with consumers. A large branding effort can fall flat or generate negative press if it doesn't deliver value to the consumer. A big branding effort will only be sustainable if product is king. - Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
8. Highlight your authentic beliefs.
The best brands in the world stand for something rooted in an authentic belief of leadership. They exist to make something better in this world. These beliefs are illustrated not in promotions, but rather in how the company behaves. Their behaviors sometimes show up in ads, but most often brands are felt most profoundly in the relationship and connection between employees and their customers. - Reid Carr, Red Door Interactive
9. Define your true purpose.
I'm alarmed by how the word "purpose" has been misused recently. It has been used as a synonym of the socio/environmental/economic “cause” a given brand should pursue. I believe a brand purpose is wider than its "do good" cause. To me, I've always seen the purpose of a brand as its clear point of view of a certain subject and how it will solve for that through its products or services. - Marcello Magalhaes, Speakeasy -- Knowledge Brokers
10. Stay true to your vision.
Stay true to the core of your brand. Define what your brand is, the specific target demographic and the specific relevance of your brand to that demographic. All of your programs should ladder up to the brand vision or purpose. - Issa Sawabini, Fuse
11. Go where your audience already is.
Whenever possible, bring your brand where your target audience already exists, where they’re receptive to brand messaging. It’s likely a waste of resources to create a new destination that competes with where your audience already exists and interacts. Take your brand to them. It’s less costly than trying to get them to come to you. - Mason Page, Reflect Systems
12. Give your customers what they actually want.
High-fidelity creative doesn’t necessarily mean more customers. Before taking on any drastic branding or website changes, be sure to understand why your audience comes to you. Some people respond better to the more authentic mom-and-pop aesthetic over an overly glossy and professional website. Do research; make sure your brand suits your actual customer and not what you assume everyone will prefer. - Troy Osinoff, JUICE