If you’ve done any research about starting your own business or creating a course, it’s likely you’ve come across various opinions on branding—everything from “you don’t need it” to soapbox speeches relaying the importance of it. To get clear on what exactly branding looks for small business owners and to uncover actionable ways you can improve your brand strategy structure, we sat down with branding expert and designer Natalie Fortunato of Natalie Linnea Handmade.
First, let’s get clear on what branding actually is.
What’s the first thing that pops into your mind while reading the following descriptions? The iconic swoosh logo; the golden arches visible from the highway. For most of us, it probably took zero effort in recalling the companies these symbols represent—Nike and McDonald’s. But here’s where branding becomes so much more than having an easily recognizable logo.
“A solid brand focuses primarily on emulating a feeling and builds everything else around that emotion,” explains Natalie, pulling upon research done by Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman. “Emotions are the primary driving force in decision making and 95% of it is subconscious. Emotion is what really drives the purchasing behaviors, and also, decision making in general.”
Emotions play a crucial role in building your brand. The emotions your brand elicits will either draw in new customers—or not. That swoosh isn’t so iconic because it’s a tidy little piece of art, but rather, because of what it represents: determination, power, athleticism. That’s what consumers are chasing: the feeling and emotion the swoosh embodies.
“This is why it is essential to first get clear on who the ideal client is and how they want to feel before doing anything else while building a brand,” notes Natalie. “Question how the product or service is going to transform them and satisfy their emotional craving.”
Once you have a sense for who your ideal client is and what they want (if you don’t, relax—there’s a tip ahead for this), you’re ready to dive into strategy. Here’s what Natalie says to build your ultimate brand strategy structure.
1. Establish your niche
According to Natalie, a niche says: I’m a badass at this one very specific thing that you need and nobody else can do it like I can.
“Niching down is often the hardest part for my clients during our work together,” she adds. “We think if we have broad offers or an array of products instead of just a few, that we will appeal to more people. The exact opposite occurs because when you’re trying to speak to everybody, you end up speaking to nobody. Not only that, but this logic is rooted in a scarcity mindset. This is a way of subconsciously saying, ‘I don’t believe my one special service/product will resonate with enough people, so I will water it down and spread it out.’
Think about it: Would you rather hire someone who is mildly good at many things or an absolute expert at one? Know your strengths, stick to them and trust. Your dream audience is out there and waiting for you, she adds.
2. Get crystal clear on your ideal client
What is their name and age? Do they belong to any fandom communities? How do they spend their spare time? What’s their family dynamic like? What are their deepest fears and insecurities? Journal or script around this question to get clear. Being vague here can feel more comfortable, but being as specific as possible here will be one of the most instrumental things you can do in your business.
This is one of the first deep explorations Natalie has clients do so they can use it as a reference point for everything from creating an Instagram caption to writing copy for a launch. Every word should be speaking directly to that wildly specific person you’re hoping to appeal to, she adds.
3. Know yourself and know your market
This is especially important for personal brands and entrepreneurs developing a brand strategy structure. What makes you undeniably you? Find out the most unique parts of who you are and don’t just highlight them—scream them from the rooftops, says Natalie. Intertwine your identity into the genetic blueprint of your brand. “Everyone has a special sauce that sets their brand apart from everyone else’s. Play, discover, question, identify, and then amplify it,” she says.
For consumers, decision making is overwhelming. They are choosing products and services in a competitive climate of business owners doing the exact same thing. If a customer feels known, recognized, and connected to who you are, that will lead their decision in the tie-breaker, she explains. They want to see themselves in you and the best way to do that is to show your unapologetic self.
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4. Build it the right way
Consistency is key. Potential clients only buy from people who they trust, and the best way to build trust is to be consistent in your messaging, your offers, and your aesthetics. That’s why building a solid brand that resonates with your authentic self and your ideal client is essential. Don’t sleep on this part and pivot only when necessary so you don’t end up confusing your audience (or yourself!), notes Natalie.
5. Be vocal
Identify and vocalize your values and don’t forget to walk the walk, too. Natalie goes on by saying: Our world is bursting with diverse values, beliefs, and interests these days. Your ethics and integrity are a connection point for your audience and can literally make or break your brand. Get clear on the things you are passionate about in order to attract like-minded customers that feel safe with you, and who feel empowered by supporting you.
6. Go all out
Give 110% to everything you do, she adds. Reliable, reputable, and successful brands don’t blow up and stay on top for no reason. They continually deliver. Their loyal customers can’t shut up about the quality of their products and services which is what feeds the cycle of their exposure, growth, and income.
Whether you’re brand new to the game or you have been running your business and building your brand for years, there are always more ideal clients who are waiting to connect with and to help with what you’re offering. Stick to these simple and key tips and you’ll be expanding your empire sooner than you think.