Building Buzz

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Maria RossCountless businesses—big and small—fail to grasp what brand really means to their bottom line. Brand is more than a logo. It’s your personality, reputation and the core promise you make to customers. Successful business owners craft a clear brand strategy before spending a dime on marketing or other operational decisions. If you’ve ever been frustrated by your event sponsorship yielding zero leads or an ad that didn’t drive traffic, you know what I mean.

Brand is expressed visually, verbally and experientially. Clearly and consistently conveying your brand in all three ways makes it stick and gets people talking.

Visual

Are your colors, logo, font and website communicating the right message to the right audience at the right time so people will buy? Or is it a jumble of conflicting conscious or subconscious messages? Choose your visual cues wisely to convey your brand effectively.

Bridget Perez of Seattle’s TRAY Creative helps businesses communicate their brand visually to ensure that design drives the buying decision. In her experience, owners often choose colors based on what they like, rather than colors that convey the appropriate message to the audience. She reminds clients that color choices are critical because they create the brand’s emotional landscape and are one of the key recall triggers for remembering a logo or brand. Design choices such as color, layout and font can motivate or repel your audience.

Verbal

What words or tone do you use in the messages you send? Many businesses create commodity markets by sounding exactly the same as the competition, forcing customers to decide based on price. Differentiate your business by creating an authentic brand that you can truly deliver, and verbally communicate that in tone and copy.

Andrea Rae of Alinga Bodywork in Phinney Ridge is a massage therapist and energy worker. Hundreds of therapists talk about the same things: serenity, relaxation and pampering. Andrea, however, is an outspoken Australian who was an occupational therapist for years, giving her a strong grounding in modern medicine and physical therapy. Her traditional work experience, combined with her pragmatic personality and open mind, are the basis of her unique brand, which focuses on delivering results, not just on feeling good. I worked with her to play up her unique personality, approach and experience to make her stand out from everyone else. This brand direction yielded a new elevator pitch, website copy and tagline: Pampering with Purpose.

Experiential

Do you walk your talk? Live your brand inside and out by using brand strategy to guide operations, hiring and even distribution. Seattle’s Dry Soda Co. uses the highest-quality ingredients to make an all-natural, caffeine-free, low-sugar soda beverage—one that complements great food or stands on its own.

Dry’s brand is modern, all natural and sophisticated. Gorgeous bottles, a clean visual identity and the fact that Dry is found only at certain high-end restaurants, stores and food or wine events further conveys its brand. Initially, the company avoided mass marketing; however, consumer beverage choices are changing and wellness has become a bigger priority for everyone, not just the high-end market. The “modern soda company” evolved the brand strategy to meet consumers where they are today. Dry increased flavor choices to include more mainstream preferences and decreased prices to stay competitive.

When Dry is ready to open the mass-market channel in 2011, it will look to a well-aligned mass retailer brand—Target. Dry Soda’s founder, Sharelle Klaus, understands that part of anyone’s brand experience is the context in which people first encounter a product. She’ll stay true to the brand by continuing to choose distribution partners with great care.

Crafting a strong brand strategy upfront and consistently conveying it visually, verbally and experientially helps your business stand out, delight customers and get people talking.

Maria Ross is founder and chief strategist of Red Slice, a Seattle-based branding and marketing consultancy. Local clients include Microsoft, Mud Bay, CRAVE and Alinga Bodywork. This article is adapted from her new book, Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget (Norlights Press, 2010).

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