Branding is often seen as something mysterious, and the power of building a strong brand is underestimated. How often have you heard someone saying that they have more important tasks to focus rather than taking the time to build a brand strategy?
We asked Debbie LaChusa, a well-known brand specialist, to shed some light on the importance of branding and how exactly you should get started with it.
Read on, as our new TNW Academy instructor has offers you her thoughts and ideas on how you should see branding, and how to start working on building your own brand already today.
What exactly is a brand?
I actually have a very simple definition of branding for independent service professionals—people like coaches, consultants, authors, and other experts. Your brand is who you are and what you stand for. It’s your positioning, your platform, and your point-of-view. It’s what sets you apart from everyone else who does what you do.
If I’m a coach or consultant, can’t I just market myself using my name? My name is unique.
Yes, your name is probably unique, unless it’s something like John Smith. However, your name doesn’t mean anything to anyone. If a prospect doesn’t already know you, your name doesn’t communicate anything about who you are or what you do. It doesn’t give prospects a reason to pay attention to you or your marketing. It doesn’t tell them how you’re different or why they should hire you.
Unless you’re well known, marketing using your name is not a good idea. It makes your job of marketing and getting clients that much harder.
I understand the idea of branding big corporations; but I’m just a solo professional.
I would argue branding is more important for solo professionals than for big corporations. If you don’t have a big marketing budget to simply generate name awareness (and most solo professionals don’t), you need to be able to quickly help people recognize you and see what you and your business are all about. A brand can do that.
Plus, your brand is what sets you apart from everyone else who does what you do. Just imagine if you’re an accountant, a life coach, or a wellness coach. How many other accountants, life coaches, and wellness coaches are out there?
A quick search on Google indicates all three are VERY competitive markets:
“Accountants” results on Google: 83,100,000
“Life Coach” results on Google: 11,100,000
“Wellness Coach” results on Google: 695,000
And that’s just online! If you’re trying to compete as a generic accountant, life coach, or wellness coach (and most other industries as well, these are just examples), you’re swimming in a very big pond with lots of other fishes! So you need to differentiate yourself so you get noticed.
Do I need to hire someone to brand my business or can I do it myself?
If you’re an independent service professional, and you’re the main person offering the services you sell, I actually think it’s better to brand yourself. Who knows you better than you? Who better than you to dig in and uncover your point-of-view, the platform you want to stand on, or to understand the real difference you make in your clients’ lives or businesses?
I’ve known people that have hired branding experts to create their brand for them, and in the end, they didn’t end up using the brand because while it may have been clever it didn’t ‘fit’ them. It didn’t feel comfortable. It didn’t feel like who they were.
Your brand must fit you like a glove. It has to totally represent who you are and what you bring to your business. That’s why even when I work with clients privately I never create their brand for them. I simply take them through my 9-step branding process and help them uncover their brand themselves. And when they do, they always get excited to go out and market because they love their new brand. It totally represents who they are and what they want to be known for. It’s authentic.
I have a great logo. Isn’t that my brand?
While your logo may represent your brand graphically, all by itself it is not your brand. Quite frankly, you don’t even need a logo to build a successful business as a solo professional. Remember, your brand is who you are and what your business stands for. A logo is just a graphic image.
How do I know if I have a solid brand?
Can you imagine one of your clients or prospects easily explaining in just a few words who you are and what you do for people, in a way that’s not generic? So, not… “She’s a life coach.” That’s not a brand, that’s a generic label. Here’s an example. Picture Susan, an organizing expert who has dialed in her brand.
Here’s what her ideal clients might say: “Susan? She’s the ‘Weekend Organizer’… THE person who can help you re-organize your entire house in just one weekend.”
Short, sweet, to-the-point, benefit/outcome oriented… get the idea?
If you can’t do the same for your business, or imagine your prospects or clients talking about you in such a clear and concise manner, you probably need to spend some time dialing in your brand.
How important is branding online?
When you’re doing business online, your prospects and customers don’t have the opportunity to come into your place of business, meet you, and experience your business environment and personality in person.
In the online world you’re just another website in the giant haystack we call the World Wide Web. It’s extremely difficult to stand out and build a relationship with people unless you give them something to hang onto; something to set you apart from all others; something to attract and engage your ideal clients; something they can like and feel good about.
It’s tough, if not impossible, to do all of this with a generic business. However, when you’re marketing under the singularly focused umbrella of a solid brand, the game changes. Suddenly you stand for something to all those folks you’re trying to attract. People come, they sign up, they follow you, and they buy.
If you’ve done a good job incorporating your brand into your entire business, your customers begin to trust you, they become raving fans, and they start spreading the word… even if they’ve never met you, because they feel like they know you.
What’s the biggest mistake you see service professionals make when it comes to branding themselves?
Coming up with a clever name that has no strategic foundation. It may be a cute name but it doesn’t stand for anything. It doesn’t represent what’s unique and different about them, their business, or the services they provide. Years ago it seemed like every female online entrepreneur had branded herself as The [Something] Diva. I guess it was a trend. But that type of copycat branding isn’t effective. You need to develop a brand that genuinely represents you and your business.
One other very common mistake is something I call ‘gift wrap branding.’ Gift wrap branding is when you have a brand name and it’s on your website, and maybe even your business cards, brochures or other marketing, but it’s only a surface name. Just like the copycat brand name, it doesn’t really have a strategic foundation. It doesn’t really represent the business owner’s point of view. It’s just a clever name they came up with and slapped on the outside of their business.
A good brand name has a branding strategy behind it, it represents a unique point of view, and it’s incorporated into every aspect of the business.
Debbie LaChusa is known as The Business Stylist® because she helps independent coaches, consultants, and other service professionals package themselves, their services, and their business in a way that authentically represents who they are and what they do for their clients.
Want to learn more? Take a look at Debbie’s online course, where she shares her proprietary 9-step branding process (the very same process she takes her private consulting clients through):