There are too many people branding their businesses without knowing what branding really is. There. I said it.
Yes, branding can:
- Help you gain more ideal clients
- Build top-of-mind awareness so that your business is the one to get the sale
- Build trust in the professional way you present yourself and your business
- Enable you to uplevel your pricing
- And so many more things
But design alone cannot. The two are not one and the same, and yet too many entrepreneurs and designers don’t know any better which has led to the problems many face today.
Design is about 10% of what branding actually is, yet that 10% is what most people believe branding is all about and focus on. As a result entrepreneurs are wasting money on brand design without a focused brand strategy and message and are stuck obsessing about getting the look ‘right’ or wondering whether their idea is ‘on brand’ rather than focusing on connecting and building relationships with the people who they can help.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve been (or are) one of those people. You are not alone, and, what’s more, it’s not really your fault that you’ve been led to think this way.
The truth is that there are 2 main factors that have led to this misunderstanding of what branding is all about.
FIRST: There is an oversaturated market for graphic designers.
Graphic design has never been more important in today’s visual world. Yes, there are many positions for designers in companies. There are even more designers looking to be hired for those positions. So what happens? Companies can be choosy and make 2 years of experience one of the requirements for an entry level position.
That happens in many fields. But designers have an opportunity to do something about it without a company. They can freelance. A freelance designer’s goals are often to get the experience they need in order to be hired at a company. Perhaps they are interested in a bit of side income too. Since these designers KNOW they don’t have a ton of experience and that they don’t need to make a living off of it, they tend to offer very low prices for design work.
This should be Red Flag number one for entrepreneurs.
However, instead, it looks like a great deal! Small business owners have been told that branding is really important and suddenly they can hire a designer for a fraction of what others charge not realizing that they are actually hiring inexperienced designers looking to build out their portfolio rather than build a successful brand for their client.
These designers (through no fault of their own) simply don’t know better. They went to school and learned how to design. They understand design principles. They can create logos and visual identities. But they do not look beyond the design of a brand and so all the client gets is a brand identity design. They don’t get the clarity of a brand strategy that will help them to decide what is on brand and what isn’t. They also don’t get the focus of a clear brand message so they don’t know what to say or how to communicate with their future audience.
Initially, everyone is happy. The new entrepreneur got a brand for cheap, the designer got experience and another project for their portfolio, but eventually, the entrepreneur will lose. They get stuck not knowing what to say. They get stuck not knowing what to do next. They eventually, realize that the look they created is not right and often become embarrassed to share it.
Cue the obsession to rebrand and halt all progress forward in gaining new clients. Now, the entrepreneur is facing re-investing in their brand and tend to put everything else on hold. Business doesn’t grow, and the reason we tell ourselves is because the brand isn’t right.
SECOND: Software Start-ups refer to their client’s visual identity as branding when marketing their product.
Now, this may seem totally obscure, but the way people talk about branding in terms of design just reinforces the idea that a brand is all about design. Period. End of story.
This is incorrect, branding is not all about design, but that is the terminology and idea most are familiar with.
When we’re faced with a bunch of software companies that have created a product to help us do business, we’re obviously looking at what’s included before making a purchasing decision. One of the MUSTS these days is to include the ability to put your ‘brand’ which means logo and sometimes colors…rarely the fonts on your invoices or whatever it is the software is helping you do.
While these companies are doing really well speaking their audiences language, they are also contributing to the incorrect definition of branding by implying that a brand is the design elements your company uses.
So. What is a brand after all?
There are sooo many definitions. I like to think of a brand as a message that has been focused to communicate a bigger idea that helps people.
That means branding is:
- Focused on achieving a purpose (often for the clients).
- Structured to fulfill that purpose through aligning their offers to do so.
- A clear understanding of what makes you different and how that difference can help certain people better than others.
- A focused message that communicates why this person should buy from them.
- An attention grabbing design to help better communicate that message more clearly.
These are, for all intents and purposes, the 5 Pillars I define and dig into in both my services and my 5 Pillars of Powerful Brands guide that is available for free on my website. If you’re interested in gaining brand clarity and actually developing a brand that serves you and your clients well, then I highly recommend checking it out. (Details below post)
Now, before I go, I just want to reiterate: Branding is not the look of things (logo, colors, and fonts). It is intent on helping people achieve a certain result and is clear and focused on what that result is and who can benefit the most from working with them. Design is just how that is all communicated.