Feeling cooped up? Everyone should have a set of branding books in their office.
Let’s get something straight.
You don’t read branding books just when you want to update your brand or launch a new product. The time to read any type of branding book is — all the time.
The 3 Questions Every Brand Must Answer
No matter where you are in your branding journey, there are three questions that every brand must answer for themselves. Not only that, but the way your customers answer these questions about you should be consistent.
Let’s jump in.
- Who are you being? As a person (if you’re a solopreneur) or as a company, who are you being in the world. This question speaks to the general personality of your brand and how people perceive you. For example, are you serious or funny; casual or formal; soft or rigid.
- What are you committed to? Another way to look at this question is “What do you stand for?” If you’re a fan of Simon Sinek, you can also say that this is your “WHY” — the reason that you are in business. It needs to be something much bigger than yourself. You may be inspired to make lots of money, but what do you stand for? What is the reason behind what you stand for? Is it freedom, is it security, is it relationship?
- What can people count on you for? This is my favorite question. It can be in reference to a way of being “people can count on me being enthusiastic” or is it something in reference to your product or service — “People can count on me helping them look and feel their best.”
Answering these three questions is absolutely critical because when circumstances or markets go through a massive shift, these questions will answer themselves and be self-evident in the way you run your business.
For example, say that you decide that who you are being is “calm and careful”. This is a good way of being for any professional, financial services or legal or medical professionals can take on this way of being. And you’re committed to making sure that your clients are secure, taken care of and not worry about whatever your business is.
Finally, people can count on you for providing solid advice that keeps your customers safe, secure and with peace of mind.
BUT, now, let’s say that something happens in your market — like the stock market drops, there’s a health crisis or a weather-related tragedy. If you suddenly start freaking out, then your brand has no credibility.
Is it time to update my brand?
That voice pops up from time to time, but there are really 10 triggers that should tell you when it’s time to update your brand.
- You haven’t updated your logo, website or any marketing materials in the last 5 years
- Your customers are telling you your price is too high
- Your company name is “Yourname & Associates”
- If you were to grab your marketing materials or go to your web site and replace your name and logo with a competitors — no one would know the difference
- When you ask 10 customers what your business does, you get 15 different answers.
- You’ve started serving a new industry
- You’ve launched a series of new products or services
- You’ve acquired new skills and technology
- Your existing brand image doesn’t match your existing company culture or marketing message.
- You don’t need a brand, because you have excellent word of mouth marketing and referrals.
I’m going to just come out and say it — if you see yourself in at least 3 of the 10 triggers, you’ve got some serious brand laziness going on. You can tell yourself it doesn’t matter, but I GUARANTEE that it’s costing you money and profitable customers.
And, if you think that branding is expensive — you would be RIGHT — especially if you’ve been doing it WRONG. Don’t just rush straight into designing a logo or a new web site. Take some time to think it through; understand who your ideal customer is, clarify exactly what you stand for as a company and by all means take the time to update and solidify your competitive advantage. If you take the time to do these things FIRST, branding will be crazy easy, inexpensive and profitable.
The best branding books to get you started
As the Book Editor for Small Business Trends, I get access to the most current books for small business owners. Some you may have seen or heard of and some may not be so familiar to you. But I’ve chosen all of these because they each have a down-to-earth perspective on branding and marketing for small businesses on a budget.
Understand the Context of Your Brand
The first step in branding is really understand the context of your brand and your business. This means understanding the market and industry landscape that you are operating in, understanding the trends and the culture that will impact your business and your brand. Not only that, but the following books will help you update your vocabulary and language that you will be using in crafting your marketing message.
Non-Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict The Future by Rohit Bhargava (see the review)
If you see yourself in Triggers 2,6,7 or 8 above, this book is for you. It’s a must read because it covers the trends and topics that are HOT HOT HOT in our culture today. Bhargava has curated 15 trends to be aware of as you build your business and your brand. You don’t have to use all of them, select the top 3 that you feel most closely resonate with your brand, read up on them, start following them and most importantly craft a point-of-view for your brand that will connect with your ideal customer.
Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Rene Mauborgne
Pick up this expanded edition for 2015 if you are struggling with Triggers 2,4,6,7 or 8. You can also visit www.blueoceanstrategy.com to get basic examples of templates and tools that you can use in conjunction with the book. Armed with your super ability to spot trends, Blue Ocean Strategy will give you the framework to craft a unique competitive position that allows you to stake a powerful, long-term claim to the market of your choice.
Branding 101 – How to Build Your Brand
Our next set of branding books will guide you through the basics of branding; what is branding, how to identify your ideal customer, your target market and even some basic messaging.
I’ve chosen this one because it takes solid branding principles and makes them accessible for entrepreneurs and small business owners – without making you feel like you need the budget of an Apple or Nike to get your branding right. You’ll feel right at home with it’s format of giving you basic questions to answer and then guiding you into implementation. This updated edition has added even more social media strategies and how-to’s for small business.
All of you who failed Triggers 1,3,4 and 9, this is for you. If you’re looking for a basic step-by-step guide through the branding process, this is the book for you. It will take you from the 30,000 ft. view of what branding is, all the way down to the 3o pixel view of choosing a color palette for your logo and everything in between. This book is far more focused on the design and image component of branding and helping you to give direction to someone who is helping you with design.
Heavyweight Marketing: Knockout Strategies for Building Champion Brands by Nikolas Allen (see review)
This is one of my favorite branding books for 2015 for main street business owners. If you’re a startup and have limited to no marketing or branding done, or if you’re a marketing mess, you’ll want to check this one out. Nikolas Allen is truly the marketing guy next door who has taken is “in-the-ring” daily branding work with small business owners just like you and slapped it into this practical book.
How to get your brand inside your customer’s brain
In it’s simplest terms a brand is a short cut that your ideal customer uses to embody the promise, experience, value and benefit of working with you, buying from you or using your product or service. A good solid brand is like a wormhole that eliminates hours of tedious thinking and deciding and connects them directly with YOU.
So, I’ve decided to include the following books in my best branding books lineup because I feel that a brand is utterly meaningless it hasn’t achieved this “wormhole” effect.
“Why is this so HARD” I whined to a fellow marketing buddy. “I’m a marketing person, isn’t this supposed to be easy?” I said. “Well, it’s not easy because what you’re doing isn’t marketing, it’s product development!” she said. A-HA!!!
Now you know the reason I’m including this book in my best branding books line-up. You see, branding isn’t just about image or logos or even messaging. It has a TON to do with the product or service you’re putting together. And “Hooked” is on this list because it’s one of the few books out there that will help you develop, design and craft a product offer that is downright irresistible to your ideal customers. YUM!
Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention by Ben Parr (seereview)
Earlier I said that the entire purpose of branding was to create this “wormhole” effect that connects your ideal customer to you in seconds instead of years. To accomplish this, you’re going to need to grab their attention. And if you want to learn to do that like a “Boss” as they say, you’ll want to grab a copy of “Captivology”. This is a tasty bit of writing by Ben Parr (a journalist) who will astound and amaze you with how wondrous our brains are at managing what gets our attention. You’ll get fantastic ideas on how to make small tweaks that grab big attention.
Brand Famous: How to Get Everyone Talking about Your Business by Linzi Boyd (seereview)
And finally, another of my favorite books from the 2014/2015 book season — “Brand Famous”. I loved this book because the author is sassy and a little brash and offers a lot of smart branding advice and exercises that will help you get straight to the heart of your brand and help you to communicate in your very own brand voice. Boyd works with a lot of big brands, but her advice in this book is all about the scrappy small business owner.
Don’t just read — DO
If you’ve read this far, then I feel that I need to remind you that while I LOVE reading books about branding, nothing comes close to actually DOING the stuff that’s inside.
No, you don’t have to do everything every book says. My goal is to pick at least ONE exercise or ONE strategy per book to implement and put to use in my business. And every time I do that, I learn something new about my brand, I make a new tweak to my message and I make more money!