After six years of officially working in “branding,” I’ve yet to see a consensus amongst a small group of people on what branding is. Even brand strategists have different ways of explaining it. 

Entrepreneur.com says it’s the act of differentiating a product from other products. (To which I reply, “Cool. Now, what does that mean to me? Be different how?”)

The thing is, it doesn’t matter what a magazine says branding is. All that matters is how you handle it for you, for your business, and for the unique things you offer. 

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.

– Seth Godin

If you don’t get a handle on what makes you different than the next health coach up the road, your business will never thrive. It may survive, especially if you’re charismatic or a sales natural. But it will always be a struggle. 

Even if you can’t spout off a definition of branding, you have to know what your brand is to grow your business. Said another way, you need to clarify what makes YOU a better choice than the next guy. Until you do that, your business isn’t growing and will likely shrink over time.

So where do your colors, fonts, logos, fall into this?

You’ll note, nowhere did I mention your logo design in the previous section. 

I’ve done a fair amount of market research in the last year. As I’ve shifted business strategies and moved more of my business to online services and away from in-person services, I dove into this subject head-on. 

In that research, I found an interesting condundrum–that’s a fancy way of saying I didn’t know what to do with the answers I got.

The exact same person said, “It’s a consistent image and clear message,” and then later, “what is branding if not logos?”

Another: “Telling your people what you are and what you stand for.” And also, “The only branding I’ve done is logo and colors. I know it’s important, but not sure how important it is for me right now.

Reading the transcripts of interview after interview, I found a general consensus of a vague idea that branding is your reputation in the marketplace. Still, the only way to show it was a consistent color scheme.

There was also an undertone: branding is something they'd invest in once they made it.

Are your logo and colors really the basics?

To move beyond the “branding basics” of your logo design and color scheme, we first need to understand those aren’t the basics. They’re applications of a brand.

If you don’t give the market the story to talk about, they’ll define your brand’s story for you.

– David Brier

Let’s start with a few fundamental truths of visibility in the online business world.

  1. Your brand is your reputation: what people think about you and think about what you stand for.
  2. When you work on your brandING, you are shaping that reputation.
  3. Your brand can (and should) be your business’s best and most loyal teammate.

With those truths in place, it follows that your logo is your brand in action. Your colors are a visual extension of your brand. 

But if your colors and logo (and fonts and photos and social media posts and speaking topics) are your brand in action, are they really the basics?

They are not. They’re an extension of your brand, your brand being what you’re known for in the marketplace. 

First, define, then apply

If you’ve ever been in a business Facebook group, you’ve seen someone post three logos and ask the group to vote on which one they should use. 

As a brand strategist, I shake my head. Unless that group is 100% built of the business’s target client, they’re getting advice from people who have no intention of buying. It’s like asking a vegan whether they prefer cashew chicken or shrimp pad thai on a restaurant’s menu. Maybe they’ll have an opinion, but that opinion bears no weight on which dish will sell better for the restaurant.

If you’ve done brandING work, you don’t have to ask a group which logo fits your business best. The brand tells you.

Realistically, many businesses start on a shoestring budget and thus… start scrappy. 

That means that as they self-design a website and download a logo template off of Canva, they’re doing the best they can. I applaud the scrappiness!

But when it comes time to grow their business beyond the scrappy level and move into a period of scalability and growth, those homemade brand applications will no longer serve them. 

Scrappy is great while honing your skills and working out what kind of client is best for you and your business. Once you know your best client and want to work with more people like that, it’s time to define your brand… so you can continue branding.

The idea that you’ll invest in branding once you’ve “made it” is a false premise. 

There are few businesses (and really, the people that run them) that inherently know the answers to the questions who are you, who do you serve, and how do you serve them. And there are even fewer who can clearly explain that in a marketable way, meaning it draws in paying clients.

Apply it

At this point, you might be thinking this is all fine in theory. And you may be wondering how exactly you can apply this to your own business. 

This is where big business success pulls away from those who continue muddling along. 

If you look at any industry, any category of life, it’s the same. 

100 people join a gym, and only 37 of them actually use the membership. Worse yet? Only 18 attend more than once a week.

Knowing you need to move beyond a basic logo and color palette to achieve business growth is different from doing it.

The free resources on the internet are endless. It takes time to pour through them, discern whether they’re reputable sources, and can guide you through branding clarity. If you go this route, you need to define:

brandscaping your business

I cover all of these in my Brandscaping Method: branding your business to invite the right people in.

Once you’ve defined, you’ll need a way to organize this information. I’ve seen plenty of options for how to organize this:

Moving Beyond a Color Palette

Back to that third truth: your brand can and should be your business’s best and most loyal teammate.

There are some magical times in business where you leap ahead and crush your own statistics. You think, “My hard work is finally paying off!” And it’s true, your hard work IS paying off–because it’s all the time you’ve directly shaped your brand that is finally bearing fruit.

These are all results of your brand doing some heavy lifting and getting your message out there in a way your best client understands.

This is also a moment that depends on you being known for something. 

Said another way:

Your best way forward to growth in profitability is growth in renown.

This brings us back to your reputation in the marketplace.

“Brand is just a perception, and perception will match reality over time.”

– Elon Musk

It doesn’t matter if you’re the best at what you do. It only matters if enough people think so.

I’m not encouraging you to become obsessed with vanity metrics like LinkedIn connections and Instagram likes. I’m suggesting you recognize your knowledge is only half the battle to a successful business.

One of the other things that came up from all that market research a year ago? It was the idea that each of the people I spoke with had a lot of expertise. They are GOOD at what they do, but still weren’t seeing the kind of success they expected. 

They felt like they’d worked so hard at their learning, their own transformation, their certifications, even at building their business to the level it was so far. They’d worked so hard at that, and their potential clients should just know how good they are.

Applying a clearly-defined brand actually does this. 

Defining and refining your brand, keeping it at the forefront of all you do, and allowing it to guide the content you put into the world does the heavy lifting when it comes to effortless client attraction.

Imagine an employee entirely devoted to sharing your big message with the world, and you’ve imagined your brand in the flesh. Small businesses don’t have the luxury of a dedicated PR staff. Investing time in branding your business is not only the next best thing, but it also doesn’t carry employees’ continuing cost.

Your branding tells the world what makes you, YOU.

Your branding tells the world why you’re different than the next guy up the road–and why you’re the better choice.

Showing up with the same, consistent message–and yes, the same logo and color choices everywhere you are–invites the right clients into your world.

Next steps

If this article has shown you a few holes in your business, you need to address them. You can lose hours to the freebies of the internet and possibly make headway, or you can choose a proven process like my Brandscaping Method.

If you’re struggling with consistency and visibility online, The Show-Up System is a low-priced training. I teach you how to brainstorm, organize, publish, and repurpose on-brand content.

I also work with select clients one on one to fully define and refine their brands, covering the above brand foundation and more. Want a done-for-you brand handbook with all the answers of what to say, where to say it and how to show up visually for YOUR unique business? See if you’re a good fit for Instant Badass Brand.