I recently wrote an article called Branding Your Agency: 4 Rules to Live By. This is a follow-up with more “how to” tips to help. I’m repeating the beginning of that article here because the pre-work to branding and advertising is SO important…
Last year, I taught a class for Employee Benefits Consultants called “Marketing Your Agency in a World Gone Crazy” with Wendy Keneipp from Q4intelligence.What did we mean by “world gone crazy?” The American consumer has completely shifted their buying behavior. With the advent of technology, buyers are well into their decision-making process before ever talking to you. Further, the health care and employee benefits industries have gone through a generational change.
Our premise: there are MANY activities to be completed before you get to start choosing logos and setting up your Facebook page. As Wendy laid out in a recent article, you must clearly define your business strategy: culture, purpose, values, ideal client, value proposition, client challenges and vision. “Without a plan for your business, everything is random and left to the whim of the moment when faced with a decision. You can’t effectively share your ideas with your team, clients, business partners, prospects – because you don’t really know what they are.”
Now you take your Business Strategy and the 4 branding rules from my first article - you shove it into the Hasbro Play-Doh machine, turn the crank and see a pretty brand come out the other end. Well, it’s not quite that easy and it may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Here are a few simple tips to help you move from thinking about your business/brand to creating it…
TIP #1: Take time to think about it
Crap! We’re back to thinking. Kind of. Really, most of us just don’t set aside time to work on defining our audience, culture, vision, values, goals, our brand, our message, look and feel. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be amazed at how your branding and marketing elements will start to surface – colors, taglines, key words, your voice, your personality and, as Howard Schultz says, your heart.
Here’s an example: with freshbenies, we knew that our main audience would be a mom. So, we could’ve used more woman-friendly colors. Then, we started thinking: while mom is our key audience, dad will still carry a freshbenies card. Does he want to have a pink card in his wallet? NO! It’s a good thing we thought this through because we have huge trucking companies with some pretty burly dudes who wouldn’t have appreciated a pink card.
Here’s another example: with freshbenies, we wanted to take the headache out of healthcare. Part of the headache in healthcare comes from the complication of accessing care. When I first started in this industry (having come from a career at JCPenney), I couldn’t believe the technical, formal language that was used toward the end consumer. We wanted to be the easy, simple and even fun product in healthcare. As a result, a casual, friendly tone with simple, everyday language permeates ALL the language we use on our website, social media, member materials, client emails, etc.
Think about how you can take your strategic plans and interpret them into your branding and marketing elements!
TIP #2: Work with talented people
Start with a talented graphic designer to help create a cohesive brand story with all the associated elements: colors, fonts, logo, tagline, etc. Trust me when I say that putting a business and brand strategy in front of a professional will REALLY help them get you to THE RIGHT end much faster. Not many businesses do this, so the graphic designer might just hug you!
Also, take the time to find the right people. Wendy told a great story about her experience interviewing a designer. She told the woman that they were a business, sales, and marketing consulting firm working with insurance and benefits agencies. One of the ideas that came out during their brainstorming session was the idea of transformation – because Wendy’s consulting firm helps benefits agencies transform the way they do business. When the designer came back with her branding ideas, there were feminine butterflies everywhere. What? Perhaps she missed the fact that Wendy runs a B2B company?
At this point, it was time to interview the next designer. While this isn’t a fun process, it’s necessary. It’s a little like dating and marriage – you’ll just know when you get the right one (here’s that “heart” thing again)!
Tip #3: Put it in front of your clients & team
Hopefully, your internal team was with you through the business strategizing stage, so they’re very familiar with what you’re trying to accomplish. Now, it’s time to reveal some of the branding ideas and ask for brutally honest feedback from your clients and team. What do they love? What don’t they love? What would they change? Is “your heart” showing?
This helps with a few things...
- You get buy-in from your internal and external teams from the beginning. It’s MUCH more efficient to bring them in during the planning process than to spring something on them at the very end.
- We all have blind spots and this helps uncover them much faster to get you to the best branding elements for your success.
NOTE! This doesn’t mean you’re going to do EVERYTHING they say. Here’s an example: when we first started, freshbenies wasn’t our brand name. We tried multiple names and had purchased about 10 URLs, but knew we needed to finalize our name. We loved freshbenies because it said “fresh approach to benefits.” So, we narrowed our names to 3 options which we put out to our “focus group” (mostly friends and family who were familiar with what we were doing). Guess what? Not ONE of them chose freshbenies – actually, most of them said they didn’t like it at all. But, we had a gut feel that it was the right way to go. We did and haven’t regretted it once.
So, put it in front of your clients and team, but temper their feedback with some intuition!
TIP #4: Get the team on board & be clear about your brand standards
Once you’ve got some key branding elements in place, be sure to create a brand standards guide for your internal and external team to access and use. We just started using a great website called www.frontify.com. As an example, you can click here to view our freshbenies Brand Standards. We cover this in our new hire orientation so all team members know the importance of maintaining our brand standards in presentations, documents, materials, etc. After that, it’s up to everyone to be accountable, consistently policing and gently correcting each other.
TIP #5: Stay consistent
One thing I’ve been guilty of in the past is getting bored of a brand and trying to randomly add elements. Don’t do this. Wherever someone sees your brand across any touchpoint – social media, flyers, website, direct mail, etc. - the look, colors, fonts, logo, feel, messaging, etc. should be consistent. Don’t go through all this work to strategize your business and build your brand, and then confuse your customer with inconsistency across all the touchpoints. Your goal is to leave a seamless breadcrumb trail for your prospects and clients - and not do anything to add confusion or make them pause.
Does the business strategy and brand building process take a ton of time? Yes! Does it take a ton of mental energy? Yes! It’s hard work and most people don’t or won’t do it, so I believe those who take on the challenge and execute well, will win.
Now it's your turn! Have you been through the brand building process? Are you considering it? Comment below or drop me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org!