By Kristin Schuchman
Smart solopreneurs know that branding isn't just about picking out a snazzy logo, a vibrant font and a clever tagline -- it's about making sure your business stands out from the crowd. Below are 12 traits of a brand that not only sets a business apart but stands the test of time.
1.Your brand may not be right for everyone.
But that’s okay. In fact, it’s actually the point. With ubiquitous brands like Coca-Cola setting a standard of everyday approachability, it’s tempting to think that your brand should also strive for mass appeal. Think of your brand as a secret code language that you’re using to reach out to a select audience — members of your target market who have been searching for you for months and will be so happy to finally find you. Neil Blumenthal, co-CEO of Warby Parker, a quirky eyeglass retailer, said this well when he said, “Although you can’t be everything to all people, you can definitely be something to some people.”
2. Your brand should reflect your passion and connect emotionally with your audience.
If it doesn’t, it’s not working, and you’ll spend more money reminding people that your company exists. As humans, we respond viscerally to colors, words and shapes, whether we realize it or not. The panda in the World Wildlife Fund logo makes us think, “ahhhh,” Apple’s logo appeals to our creativity and optimism, and the Harley Davidson logo conveys boldness and working class practicality. If you make people want to wear your brand as a badge of honor, whether it’s on a sticker, a computer or a t-shirt, you won’t have to work half as hard to promote your business. People will do it for you.
3. Your brand should tell a story.
People love stories. In fact, they actually need them. Don’t be afraid to tell your story; you should be telling your story. Brands with stories behind them get talked about. Columbia Sportswear’s former CEO and sort-of mascot Gert Boyle was a widow when she took the reins of the company earning the moniker “One Tough Mother,” an inspiring figure who epitomizes resilience and durability, which translates well for a outdoor apparel brand.
4. Brands can do good, even if they’re a for-profit company.
Tom’s Shoes realizes this. Every time someone buys a pair of Tom’s Shoes, they donate a pair to someone in need. Warby Parker has a similar “buy a pair, give a pair” program. New Seasons Market, a Portland grocery chain, gives generously to local farmers market, whom some would argue are their competition. Are these companies full of bleeding hearts who don’t care if they ever make a dime? No. They simply understand that most people possess an inherent desire to give back and that if their company can facilitate that, their brand (and the world) will be better for it. Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard told Inc. magazine, “I know it sounds crazy, but every time I have made a decision that is best for the planet, I have made money.”
5. Brands can start a movement.
CrossFit started as a way to work out that didn’t require expensive gym equipment in a sterile, over-lit setting. It’s now something people describe as drinking the Kool Aid. WordPress has a similar following. By keeping his software and WordCamp conventions inexpensive and accessible, WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg, 31, has developed a loyal following among geeks and bloggers with a range of technical expertise. At the Portland WordCamp in September 2012, he told “WordCampers” that his capitalist friends accuse him of being a hippie freak and that his left-leaning friends accuse him of being a greedy money grubber. He says that he’s always thought that somewhere between the two extremes is the “sweet spot.” He isn’t alone. Companies like WordPress, CrossFit, Lululemon, Wikipedia and REI have built strong brands by not only appealing to peoples’ passion, but by harnessing it to propel the organization’s growth.
6. Brands don’t have to take things so seriously.
Even stodgy professions like banks and insurance companies are realizing that you don’t have to take things quite so seriously — Umpqua Bank celebrates whimsy. The Oregon bank chain has been known to hand out ice cream treats at their Alberta Street location in Portland at Last Thursdays, and the lobbies of their flagship locations look more like boutique hotels than banks. Esurance uses humor by comparing people’s relationship to a typical insurance company to that of a couple in a new relationship. At first they work really hard to earn your business, then they grow complacent and take you for granted. Esurance, these commercials suggest, is different. (The fact that the voice-over in these commercials is John Krasinski fits well with the brand’s desire to seem approachable and laid back, two qualities inherent in the character Krasinski played on The Office.)