A brand is a process (and authenticity is the key)

In marketing, brand by neville

Imagine a car without wheels. A beautiful car, certainly, but one without wheels. You notice it one day and think to yourself that this is a really nice car, but it’s not going anywhere fast – without any wheels. You may walk past the car a couple of times more and notice it, but pretty soon it fades into the background. You don’t even notice when it’s eventually towed away.

Your brand is a bit like that car. It may be beautiful and you’re certainly very proud of it. But without wheels it can’t move. And if it doesn’t move it will eventually disappear.

The usual suspects

When we think of a brand, we think of the usual suspects – a name, a logo, typography and colour schemes. To create that brand, you will examine things like “why are we doing this”, develop a brand promise, define your target market and your values. Eventually, you will put these things together to design your brand – your business identity. You will have a logo, know which fonts to use and what you need to look like.

If you’re a bigger organisation you may even have a style guide or “brand bible” that specifies exactly how the different components of your brand can be used.

But all these elements – your logo, name, tag line, fonts and colours – are relatively static. You define them once and don’t really change them (until you decide to do a rebrand).

A brand doesn’t help if you don’t get it out there

Having a brand is great, but it doesn’t help you a lot if you don’t get it out there. To build brand awareness, you have to show up frequently and consistently – you have to show up when you said you would without fail, and you have to look the same every time so people can recognise you.

So there are two more elements of a brand you probably already know about instinctively – the dynamic parts. They are:

  • your voice; and
  • your stories.

Your voice, and the stories you tell, are the dynamic parts of your brand. They don’t necessarily “change” – but they are dynamic. They are the wheels of your brand.

To build a brand, you need the static bits – your name, logo, colours and fonts and so on – but you also need the dynamic bits. Your stories and your voice.

The most important part of your brand

We can spend a lot of time agonising over what our logo should look like, which colours more accurately represent our business personality, and so on. These are the most visible parts of our brands, and we want to get them just right.

But we tend to ignore our “voice” – how we communicate with the world. We don’t worry so much about how we speak to our clients and customers – we’re more worried about what it looks like.

Here’s the kicker: your voice – and the stories you tell – is much more important than your logo, or your colours or fonts.

your voice – and the stories you tell – is much more important than your logo, or your colours or fonts

Without a voice, your brand never sees the light of day. Moreover, even if you do get it out there, without a voice it’s just static – it doesn’t tell stories, it doesn’t engage and it eventually fades away.

So to build brand awareness you have to tell stories. You have to talk about what’s important to you and your customers. That’s how you engage – by connecting with people who care about the same stuff you do.

And to tell stories you have to use your voice.

What is your marketing “voice”?

Your marketing “voice” is simply the language you use to talk to your clients. It’s the collection of colloquialisms, mannerisms, terms you like to use and grammar rules you choose to ignore that make your voice unique.

But there’s a problem with many marketing voices out there. They’re artificial.

Somehow we think that we have to sound “different” when we speak to the outside world. We have to be “official” or “correct” and use language we think is expected of us.

Nothing could be more wrong.

The people you’re talking to out there are just that – people. They’re human. They don’t expect or need you to be official or correct or different – in fact, trying to be something other than what you really are is usually a turn-off.

You can usually spot a “fake voice” a mile away. The language doesn’t sound quite right, it’s a little too formal, the words don’t quite bring across the same personality as the brand visuals – even if we don’t see it consciously, we recognise it at a deeper level.

Developing your marketing voice

Your marketing voice needs to be as real as you are. To use a bit of a cliché, you have to be authentic.

None of us like to be marketed to. None of us like to be sold to. When someone comes up to us with a load of hype and hard sell most of us will run the other way.

But when someone speaks from the heart, when they’re real and they don’t try to hide behind a facade, we’re more likely to listen to them. We instinctively know they’re not trying to con us, they’re really trying to help and most importantly – they care.

So to develop your marketing voice, throw out all the preconceived notions that you have to sound formal, correct or speak in a certain way. Just speak the way you would speak to a friend. Write the way you speak. Let your sense of humour shine through. Let those grammar rules slide – at least a bit. Be who you are.

It took me a long time to develop my “marketing voice” – because I thought it was something I had to develop. What I really needed to do was to let go of the learned behaviours about how I needed to sound, the language that I should be using and being grammar-perfect all the time.

If you find that your marketing material sounds just like you’re speaking to a friend, you’re right where you need to be.

A brand is a process

There are two categories of “stuff” in your brand – the static stuff (your logo, fonts, colours and so on) and the dynamic stuff (the stories you tell and the voice you use to speak to the world).

To build a brand, you have to start with the static bits. Design your logo, define what you want to look like – it’s all necessary and good.

But there’s a clue in those words right there – you have to build a brand. Building a brand is not something you do once and then let it be – it’s a continues process of showing up frequently, consistently and looking (and sounding) the same.

If you have to choose between pretty logos and sounding authentic, go with authentic every time. You can build a kick-ass brand with a just-good-enough logo and a great way of speaking with your clients, but you won’t connect with them if you have a great logo and an inauthentic approach.

With a half-way decent visual identity and an authentic voice, you can build a great brand. You have to show up frequently and consistently, and you have to be kick-ass. However you define kick-ass.

Put some wheels on your car

Remember that car we started off with? The beautiful car without wheels? There’s your brand right there – the “pretty” stuff makes you (or your business) attractive to the outside world.

But just looking pretty is not much good – you have to add wheels to the car so you can show up frequently and consistently. And when you show up, you have to be authentic – you have to speak to your audience the way you would speak to a friend.

So building a brand is a process – one that starts with defining what you look and sound like. When you have that in hand, you can move on to the next part of the process – showing up frequently and consistently and speaking like a human. And the more you do, the better the results you’ll get.

Good luck building your business.