Here’s a true story that has nothing to do with with your creative brand…
Or does it?
I was on a Target run when I came upon two young boys playing with a Frisbee® in the store aisles. They had each taken an aisle and were tossing the disc back and forth over the top of the product shelves. I watched as one tossed the disc and missed. The disc hit product on the top shelf, knocking the items to the floor. He retrieved the disc and ran to join his buddy in the next aisle, leaving the toppled items scattered an in my way.
I watched the boys for a few minutes as they continued to throw the disc back and forth, apparently with no thought for anyone else or anything in the store. So I asked them where their mom was (yes, I assumed it was mom and not dad). They pointed toward another aisle. I suggested they go join her, and they did. A few moments later I saw them still tossing the disc near their mom who was occupied with her phone and apparently oblivious.
What does this story have to do with you and your freelance business?
It has everything to do with it! What do you think I was thinking about that oblivious parent?
Here’s a bit of history: Back in 2008, Microsoft was planning to lay Apple down through new messaging strategies. They booked a top-shelf creative director known for revitalizing popular brands. There was a lot of media attention within the ad industry. Everyone was expecting Microsoft to take out Apple.
This move on Microsoft’s part was deemed necessary because their previous brand strategy had been usurped by Apple. Apple had effectively re-branded Microsoft through its own marketing strategy — a direct and obvious hit against the PC. Apple’s Hi, I’m a Mac ads were clever, entertaining and winsome. Apple used humor and the principle of contrast to establish its users as hip and easy, and PC users as dowdy and problematic in comparison.
That point is highly significant for any enterprise that competes for territory in the marketplace. We shouldn’t forget how effective Apple’s strategy was. There’s a lot we can learn from it.
Both of these stories prove one big idea:
It’s essential to manage your brand
If you don’t manage your brand, someone else will. If you don’t manage your brand, you lose control of how others perceive you. It’s your reputation. You need to own it.
Personally, we rise and fall on the opinions of others. That’s also true of our businesses. If we provide good experiences, people think well of us. If they have a poor experience, whether actual or perceived, they will think just the opposite.
Despite the all too common advice that we shouldn’t care what others think, we really should. We are no better or worse than what others think of us. Always be mindful of your reputation.
Your reputation is your brand
Brand is reputation. Reputation determines who you influence.
Competitors and customers quickly pounce on any weakness, failure, hypocrisy or blunder, especially as it’s become socially acceptable to focus on others’ shortcomings. You may have dealt with trolls and bullies on social media. You may have watched as respected influencers because laughingstocks. The news is full of accounts where people have come to quick conclusions, formed opinions and voiced them on the media platforms, and essentially ruined another’s reputation.
Once a reputation is undermined, it requires long-term, arduous effort to regain trust.
Your brand consists of what, why and how
As the family at Target demonstrates, anyone connected with your enterprise — employee, investor, partner — will build up or tear down your reputation. By not keeping watch and curtailing her sons’ play, the mom clearly communicated her lack of concern and respect for others. It takes only one person, one post or tweet to start a wildfire you can’t control.
Brand lies not only in the graphics that identify your business, but what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. You must be strategic in how you promote your work, how you treat your clients — especially the difficult ones — the quality of work you create, and how you work with vendors.
You’re entirely responsible for your entire brand
What are you doing about the weaknesses in your customer service? How do you handle things when you make mistakes? What’s the word-of-mouth about your brand on social platforms? Do you follow through on the small promises you make? If you’re strategic and wholistic in maintaining excellence, professionalism and integrity, your reputation will hold steady even if you mess up and are called out for it.
The 7 Basic Elements of Your Brand Strategy
Simply creating graphic assets and promotional materials is not enough to manage your brand. You need a strategy — a plan, method, or series of actions for obtaining a specific goal or result.
Strategy, like its little brother, tactics, is a military term. You need a strategy and related tactics to take territory. So, think of your brand in terms of your sphere of influence — the territory you “own”, in which you operate. Strategy is the big picture goal and tactics are the small chunks or steps.
The following elements are basic to your brand strategy:
1] Defined target audience (ideal client). This involves not only demographics, but psychographics.
2] Brand promise. A statement of the benefits your clients get when they work with you as opposed to someone else. Brand promise is not about being the quickest or cheapest.
3] Values. Be clear about what drives your decision-making.
4] Your Why. This is the basis for everything you do as a creative pro and independent business owner. It crosses into your personal life as well. You need to continually connect back to your Why, and leverage it as the basis for a narrative that connects the right clients and fans to you.
5] Voice. Your brand needs a personality people can engage with comfortably. You personality can be serious or playful, humorous or caring. Do you use a broad vocabulary? Do you use expletives when you talk with people? Your brand voice needs to be consistent with your own personality in order to maintain it over the long term.
6] Mission. This is not your Why. This is about what you hope to accomplish, who you accomplish it for, and how.
7] Graphic assets. While your logo and other parts of your branding program are tactical, their foundation needs to be strategic. From colors and typography to image style and general design, everything created for your brand needs to be consistent and unique. If you’re a designer, illustrator or photographer, you surely already understand this. Create a brand guidelines as a compass to stay pointed in the right direction.
Every decision you make for your business should be consistent with your brand strategy, mission, and Why. Become your own client. Make time on a regular basis to work on your brand — especially get honest about what’s not working. Develop a plan to fix things, schedule the actions you need to take, and get them done.
More about branding
What do you think your clients think of you? What are you know for? What would you like to change? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.
Want to pick my brain about freelancing, creative business, or branding? Book a 60-minute tune up session with me.