When was the last time you took a fresh look at your brand and your marketing message? It may seem like yesterday that you were struggling with identifying your ideal customer and exactly what makes your business or product or service unique, but it’s probably been longer than you realize.
I’ve updated this popular article with even MORE new branding exercises and new spins on previous exercises to reflect changes and trends in small business marketing.
Branding is a Shortcut for Getting Chosen
Branding is the box your customer puts you in when they are thinking about buying what you are selling. In a busy, skeptical, overcrowded marketplace, the human brain creates shortcuts for itself — this is the biggest reason you need to have a firm and solid brand — so that when your customer is thinking about buying what you’re selling YOUR company name us the first to pop up in their mind. While there are many other reasons branding is a good idea, this is the only one that matters to customers and revenue-hungry entrepreneurs.
Why You Need to Do Branding Exercises Regularly
Every brand needs a fresh take and a fresh message that resonates with a new generation of potential customers. To help you with that, I’ve pulled together the latest branding exercises that you can do fairly quickly either on your own or with your team.
68% of your customers have no idea why they should choose you! I saw this statistic many years ago – so don’t ask me where it came from, but it rang so true to me, that I remembered it. If you’ve ever said “I need more customers” or if your customers are complaining about your price — you’ve got a branding problem. That means that they don’t know WHY they should choose you.
Branding Exercise #1: Top of Mind
When I want__________ I go to _________ (insert your name here)
- Go get some index cards or sticky notes
- On each sticky note write something that your customer WANTS when they are buying what you are selling
- Now look for where you can be more specific — add those descriptions to your “want” note or create a new note
People Choose You Because of Who You ARE and Not What You DO
Your brand also serves as a shortcut to likability. Your brand should clearly communicate the personality of your business; are you a luxury brand or a budget brand. Are you soft, friendly and casual or are you cutting edge, techie and formal? Different strokes for different folks.
Branding Exercise #2: Be Your Best Brand
In this exercise, the questions may seem lofty and irrelevant to your business, but when you look at your own buying behavior, you will see that it’s truer than you might imagine. You’ve heard the phrase that people buy from those they know, like and trust. That is easily and intuitively understood. But do you KNOW why people know, like and trust you? That is the bigger question. A lot of business owners don’t. And these three questions will get to the root of the know-like-and-trust-factor.
- Who are you being in the world?
- What are you committed to?
- What can people count on you for?
Just for fun, make a list of your favorite brands and see if you can answer these questions for THEM — you’ll notice that it’s pretty easy. But when you try to do it for yourself, it’s a little more challenging. If you get stuck, pull in some friends, associates, and customers into the exercise, ask them these questions and see what you learn.
Gillette launched a controversial ad campaign where they took their decade’s old tag line “Gillette, the best a man can get” and asked themselves “Who are we being in a world where some men exhibit bad behavior?”
This was a BOLD move on their part and received lots of criticism, but they did this because there is a new generation of men shaving who are asking themselves this question.
Whether you agree or disagree, with the commercial or their point of view, take the time to think through how Gillette approached this very branding exercise and see if you uncover some startling updates to your brand.
Before you dismiss this as too confrontational, remember that there is a new generation of consumers both in B2C and B2B who demand that you are clear about what you stand for. They are buying your story and not just your product.
Branding Exercise #3: Develop a Brand Persona
Brands are a lot like people. They actually have personalities and, like people, these persona’s or archetypes resonate with their ideal customer. In the same way that we choose our friends, we choose our brands — in short, they complete us. In this exercise, you’re going to create a brand persona where you create your brand as a real human being. Here is what you’ll need to pull that together:
- A Photo: Here you can choose a photo of a person who most represents your brand qualities. You can even choose the photo of the founder or you can do an illustration.
- A Backstory: For this, use the company’s history and attribute it to a human being. Companies are founded by people, so look back on what the founder’s motivations were, their life, their values, their passions, etc. You’d be surprised at how much of that is infused into the company’s brand.
- Psychographic Attributes: For this section, focus on the corporate culture. Is your company detail oriented or creative and free?
- Demographic Identifiers: You can look back on the company’s history and the history of its founders or you can do a summary of your employee’s demographics.
- Goals & Motivations: This is another area where you can look to your employees or your team as inspiration. Is your organization active with community and volunteering or are they more focused on activities and financial persuits?
- Roadblocks: What are the perceived obstacles that your organization faces that get in the way of your goals
- Moto: Is there a quote or motto that best reflects the personality of your business?
This kind of exercise is a great way to collect information from your team and employees to give you insight of all the moving parts inside your organization. You may be surprised by what you find.
Branding Exercise #4: Transformer
People don’t buy products and services, they buy TRANSFORMATION! Stop and think about this.
It’s easy to see that people buy transformation when you think of products or services such as weight loss or beauty. But the desire for transformation is very real even in the world of B2B products such as machines or software.
- Take out a sheet of paper or jump into a document and create three columns; BEFORE, CUSTOMER, PRODUCT, and AFTER
- Place your ideal customer persona picture or just draw a stick figure of your ideal customer in the top middle block.
- Put your product or service in the lower middle block.
- In the BEFORE column – make a list of how their situation occurs for them when they are dealing with the problem that you solve.
- In the AFTER column – make a list of all the ways that your product or service TRANSFORMS their life.
It should look something like this chart from Ryan Deiss and Digital Marketer:
You can also see a full video class on this process with detailed examples directly from Ryan Deiss.
Branding Exercise #5: This Not That
This is a fun kids game that can be easily adapted as a branding exercise to help you understand exactly what sets you apart from the competition.
The name of the game is simple. You can brainstorm this on your own or you can enroll your team in the game. Make a list of brand attributes but focus on opposites. For example:
- Funny not serious
- Friendly not stilted
- Detail oriented not obsessive
Here’s an example of what this branding exercise might look like:
Branding Exercise #6: Infomercial
I’ve been using these five powerful questions for so many branding style exercises. In this version, I’m asking you to engage the right side of your brain and create a visual picture.
- Draw a stick figure of your ideal customer right before they want what you are selling
- What problem are you solving for your customer? Draw a representation of that.
- What is their perceived notion of how the problem is solved? Add a thought bubble of what your customer is thinking.
- How do others say this problem is solved? Add a “chorus” of competitors and write what they might be saying.
- How do you believe this problem is solved? Show yourself as a HERO. Guide them to the solution.
The beauty of using images and thought bubbles to brainstorm your branding messages is that it accesses a completely different part of your brain. By simply drawing out your customers’ situation, problem and possible solutions, you will come up with new ideas and messages that you may not have considered in the past.
Branding Exercise #7: Build a Swipe File
How many times have you found yourself having to write something about your business, or maybe create a website, sales page, email, brochure or ad and come up with NOTHING! Not just writer’s block, but complete empty-head. You need what we marketers call a swipe file.
The idea behind a swipe file is super simple — take what works and converts and adapt it for yourself and your marketing. It’s a super easy way to take advantage of the testing, that others have done and apply it for your own marketing.
A swipe file is really nothing more than a folder or notebook (can be on your computer or in your drawer). The purpose of this exercise is to collect words, phrases, headlines and bullet points that best describe the benefits that you offer to your customers.
Here are some tips and tools to help you master the art of swiping:
- Get some screen capture tools. I use Jing from TechSmith as well as Awesome Screenshot. You can also use the Evernote web clipper.
- Create folders or notebooks for your swiped content. Great content comes in all shapes and sizes, so you’ll want a place to keep it all. Evernote is a great way to put all your swipes in one place.
- Sign up for email lists. The best place to get great ideas is by signing up for marketing experts’ email lists. Find those experts who you know are running million dollar marketing programs and sign up for their downloads and emails. You will find a TON of great ideas, phrases and content that you can adapt for your own.
- Set time aside to process. Once you’ve established the habit of grabbing great content, you’ll want to set aside time to process it all. Find time slots either daily (as a coffee break) or weekly to process what you’ve found and adapt it for your own.
Branding Exercise #8: The Spin
If you’re feeling a little stuck — this branding exercise will get your creative juices flowing and, like some of the other exercises here, will get you focused on how you are the same and how you are different than other brands.
- Pick a brand that you know and like. It really helps if you are intimately familiar with the brand. Pick a brand that is in a completely different industry or category from yours. The more different, the better. If you own a coffee shop, don’t pick Starbucks or even McDonald’s, pick something like Southwest Airlines.
- Choose a brand that has addressed a challenge you are also facing in your business. For example, you might choose Virgin because it has been able to shake up a tired market, or Netflix because it reinvented the movie viewing experience, or Disney because you love the magical, emotional connection it has with its consumers.
- Delve into all the magic moments, big and small, that make that brand special. Get as specific as possible. For example, if you are spinning with Apple, make a list of all the distinctive elements from the blue-shirted employees, the hand-held checkout, the Genius Bar in the stores, the unique intuitive touch screens, and the anticipated and orchestrated product releases.
- Pretend this inspirational brand took over your business. What would they add, transform and change? It’s useful to be as specific as possible. Don’t just say: “Starbucks would make my dry-cleaning business more customized.” Go further and think through the idea. Maybe you would have a large services menu displayed at the front of the store displaying daily specials or different “sizes” of starch.
- Draw and describe in detail one or two of your favorite ideas, then write down three steps to move this idea forward. For your ideas to become a reality, you need to go deeper into how they would work and have a clear action plan for next steps. Drawing your idea and explaining it in a paragraph helps to make sure it is fully formed.
- Take small steps to implement your ideas; include specific dates for completing tasks. In the dry-cleaning “menu” idea above, they might include: 1) list out services that could be included in the menu; 2) two hours of online research into chalkboard displays for purchase; 3) create a production plan and budget by a fixed target date.
Branding Exercise #9: Write a Manifesto or “We Believe” Statement
Creating a tag line or a marketing message statement is often difficult and overwhelming because it feels like you’re supposed to just come up with this single amazing, brilliant statement that perfectly reflects your brand.
Instead, why not just make a list of all the things you believe in when it comes to your business and how your customers experience your business. The list doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be brilliant. In fact, it’s best if your list is laid out in bullets with simple language anyone can understand.
Here’s a video by the Digital Marketer team that serves as a great example:
Notice that they incorporate “beliefs” from all facets of life – some are funny, some are silly and some you may not agree with, but it definitely gives you a sense for WHO Digital Marketer is.
If this example feels like too much (even for you) then check out how Buffer did it:
The lesson here is — write down what you believe because when you share who you are and what you believe, your ideal customers will come to YOU.
Branding Exercise #9: Try It On For Size
The last exercise isn’t really a branding exercise as much as it is a practice. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a branding is a project that you do or buy and implement. Instead, think of these branding exercises as “shopping expeditions” where you work on a branding message or idea and then try it on for size. In other words, work on these exercises, then implement what you’ve learned and USE IT with your team, with your customers with your audiences.
Take not on the feedback, most notably:
- What type of reaction did you get from the person when you gave them your branding message?
- Pay attention to body language and note when the person “lit up” or “got it” make a note of it — that’s a keeper.
- Notice when someone is confused and asks questions. What questions did they ask, where did they need clarification? Then incorporate that into your message.
How to Bring Your Branding To Life
Branding isn’t just for your business name or logo — everything you do around your business should have a clear brand communicated throughout. I strongly recommend creating a branded image as soon as you have your branding exercises completed. There’s nothing quite like seeing your brand come to life in a professional design to get your entrepreneurial juices flowing.
My favorite source for great design is 99Designs. I’ve been using them since 2008 for logos and site design projects. I like 99Designs because you get so much more variety and I also love the ability to survey my audience and network about which designs they like best.
I’ve had folks tell me that they like Fiverr. I’ve tried it, but haven’t been as happy with the results as far as designs go. So, 99Designs is my favorite resource for great design on a budget.
[Note: I am a 99Designs affiliate, which means the company pays me a commission every time someone signs up via one of my links. But this didn’t influence my recommendation, I recommend 99Designs because I have used them in the best, I have years of experience with them and honestly believe they offer the best overall value for crowdsourced design.]
99Designs has graciously offered the DIYMarketers community special pricing on everything from logo designs to total brand identity and business cards.
Branding is an Ongoing Activity – Keep Brainstorming
If there’s one thing I could leave you with today — it’s the understanding that branding is a daily, ongoing activity. It doesn’t stop once the logo is done. Your brand is so much more than a logo or an image — it’s your ability to fulfill on the promises that you make to your ideal customers.