You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. But, did you know that people form that first impression of you within just one-tenth of a second of meeting you? That may seem rather hasty until you consider that visitors to your website only require half the time. That’s right. It takes the average person one-twentieth of a second to decide if a web page they land on has anything to offer them.
Decisions made that fast are not based on clever copy or well-crafted value propositions. They are based solely on profile: the look and feel of the page. Not what you say, but how you say it. It’s immediate, it’s visceral, and it matters. Although it is the fourth chapter in this guide, it’s actually the first thing that matters when introducing your brand to new prospects. If things don’t seem right within 50 milliseconds you have created an enormous barrier in your prospect’s path to purchase.
Your brand profile includes graphic design, but also encompasses all the other decisions you and your communication agency make as to how your brand will appear, sound, behave, and interact online. In addition to your web presence, brand profile is expressed through everything else associated with your brand: your office decor, your brand’s values and preferences, the causes it supports, its taste in music and the arts, the way the receptionist answers the phone, your packaging, and your policies for returns. It takes a lot of diligence to create the same impression at every touchpoint. But the reason it’s worth it is because that’s exactly what it takes to build trust and confidence among prospects.
|Objective||Reinforce the brand’s identity and make it easy to recognize and remember through its appearance, as well as all other relevant senses.|
|Question||Answers the prospect’s question “Is this brand real and genuine?”|
|Result||Builds credibility, trust, and self-identification with the brand.|
|International||Your profile may be modified to meet and accommodate local positioning needs, but the core profile elements, such as logo type, logo, colors, fonts, graphic style, tone, manner, etc., should be identical across all the countries where your brand is.|
|Top Tip||Make sure you have a user-friendly, graphic profile available to anyone working with the brand. Offer it online and as a downloadable PDF. Ensure that it covers needs that are particular to online, such as alternate web fonts and avatars.|
At every step in the path to purchase, your brand is constantly being evaluated according to what it says and also how it says it. The “how” can reveal a lot to a prospect who is hungry for clues as to what it would be like to do business with you, but is on the lookout for discrepancies that may reveal greater inaccuracies in how the brand represents itself. The more integrated your brand profile is with the message you are delivering with your category, value proposition, and position, then the easier it will be for prospects to get their head around your offer and trust you enough to try.
For many hard-boiled business types, this can all seem too soft to matter. But, the truth is these soft issues are much easier for the brain to assess and so opinions are formed around them quite swiftly. If enough of these passive impressions are negative, the prospect is unlikely to invest the time and effort it takes to actively learn about your brand.
6 steps to creating an honest and compelling brand story
❶ CODIFY YOUR BRAND
If all touchpoints are meant to reflect the same brand profile, then it only makes sense that the elements that make up the brand profile would be committed to paper. Whether it’s with a simple brand brief or more in-depth brand codification tool make sure you document all your brand’s moving parts. Aside from helping you communicate your brand, this exercise will often reveal flaws in your brand logic that can be fixed, as well as gaps that need to be filled. Our brand brief covers a dozen essential elements like category, value proposition, position, target, and competitor analysis. Our full brand codification tool covers over fifty items. Whatever you use, just make sure to commit the essence of your brand to paper and have it scrutinized for a sanity check by someone outside your team. This is the skeleton upon which your brand story will be fleshed out.
The brand codification process typically involves defining
and aligning elements like:
- Target audience / segments
- Target beliefs & perceptions
- Target options / competitors
- Value proposition
- Speaking points
- Selling points
- Tone & manner
- Visual profile
- Brand persona
- Brand architecture
- Vision, mission, goals
❷ REVEAL YOUR BRAND STORY
How did your brand start? Who founded it? What were the founder’s stories? Where did the brand originate? What era was it founded in? What idea or principle was the company conceived around? What obstacles were overcome? What mistakes were made? What accomplishments achieved? What forces shaped the values of the company? Questions like these are the basis for your brand story.
As you develop your brand’s unique story, remember that there are two types of brand stories: painted and stained.
For the painted brand story, you simply take the image that you think the public wants and you cover the brand with it. This isn’t difficult to do. But, it is rarely original, it’s easy for competitors to copy, and it tends to peel away with time. That’s why painted brand stories are not recommended for premium brands.
For the stained brand story, you study the grain of the brand. Then you apply the right stain to reveal what is already there, just in a better light. This requires more craft, but is also more genuine, believable, and enduring. Duffy Agency works with our customers to create the latter type of brand stories that are original, true, and engaging.
In this manner, the brand story is not fabricated so much as it is revealed. While it is true that every brand has a story to reveal, that doesn’t make those stories equally engaging, compelling, or believable. For that to happen, the story must be crafted.
❸ CRAFT YOUR BRAND STORY
Crafting a brand story involves more than simply documenting the company history. True brand storytelling involves fully developing the brand’s character without straying into fiction. This includes the brand personality, back story, persona, voice, mannerisms, vision, mission, goals, ethics, values, tastes, tone, look, feel, and behavior. As Harry McCann famously phrased it, “Truth well told.”
Having a three-dimensional brand persona has become more important with the development of our digital culture over the past decade. Before that time, brands could get away with being one-dimensional because marketers had much more control over how the brand would be exposed to the public. Typically, exposure was in short, meticulously controlled and choreographed glimpses through TV spots or print ads. Communication was one-way and brands were not expected to speak much. All this has changed. Today, brands are online 24/7 and are expected to interact and communicate non-stop. And, not just delivering their sales pitch, but also reacting to real consumers in the real world.
“Every brand has a unique story to tell.
It just needs to be coaxed to the surface for
all to see and admire.”
Most traditional brand models were not created to deal with this level of hyper exposure. As a result, many brands languish online failing to engage. Flat brand strategies built around analog brand models prevent these brands from interacting in a manner that today’s prospects find convincing. In these cases, a digital brand strategist can develop the brand strategy to add the extra depth and voice that is required online today. This isn’t about changing the brand strategy so much as developing what’s there to better meet the new challenges and opportunities brands face online.
In that sense, brand development in marketing today is a lot like character development in film-making. It starts with a core idea that in itself may be rather generic or just plain boring, like “a fish that gets lost.” Then, the story is developed and brought to life with details, form, voice, personality, drama, and behavior. This is challenging work that requires skill. But, the end result is a story that the audience can recognize, relate to, remember, and believe in, like the story of Nemo.
❹ OPERATIONALIZE YOUR BRAND STORY
Once your brand story is brought to life, the next job is ensuring that the story is communicated to and understood by everyone on staff. This is important because it will be up to them to reflect this story every day in their jobs. This step of bridging the brand story from paper to operations is a challenge for all companies. Our advice, after decades of experience working with scores of businesses, is to operationalize the brand using a bottom up rather than topdown approach.
With the top-down approach, senior management decides what the brand means for all the employees, and then tells them what to do in order to accurately reflect the brand. But, since the small group making the rules can’t possibly know all the intricacies of everyone’s job, this approach results in a rather superficial brand profile. Just as important, it fails to engage the knowledge and interest of the rank-and-file employee (which is essential for the brand to really take within the organization). For organizations looking tocreate more meaningful and enduring change, there is a better way: Bottom up.
With the bottom-up approach, the brand story is taught top-down, but how that story will be reflected in day-to-day operations is defined from the bottom up. Managers are trained in the brand story, including the brand’s values and vision. Then, they are asked to suggest ten measurable ways they could better reflect the company’s values in their day-to-day work. Brand strategists assess and discuss their answers with managers to ensure proper interpretation. Then, the managers are tasked to teach the brand story to the people that report to them, ask the same questions, and assess and discuss the employees answers. This process is repeated from the top to the bottom of the company. Each employee’s answers are cataloged in a database.
Together, these answers constitute the operational foundation for communicating the brand on a day-to-day basis throughout the company. The answers also:
- provide a receipt that the employees understood the message and how it relates to their jobs
- engage employees with the brand by having them internalize, interpret, and provide input to the project as it relates to their jobs
- communicate senior management’s commitment to the brand story
- provide measurable criteria to rate the company’s success at bridging the brand into operations
- provide a basis for assessment on how well individual employees are “walking the walk” with regard to living the brand.
❺ COMMUNICATE YOUR BRAND STORY
Only after the story is internalized and, more importantly, operationalized should it be communicated to external stakeholders like customers, prospects, partners, and vendors. Of course, communication is more than the company’s advertising rhetoric. The brand story should shine through all aspects of the brand experience at every touchpoint online and off.
But, if we focus on online, a brand’s graphic profile and, specifically, its web design and user interface design will speak volumes to prospects in a split second. Their importance cannot be overstated with regard to online marketing. Beyond that, an obvious channel for communicating brand values is through the various types of online content the brand produces. A sign that your brand is not adequately developed is if your team struggles for content ideas for apps or to fill blogs,Facebook, and Twitter streams, as well as Instagram and Pinterest boards. With a welldeveloped brand, you’ll find an abundance of ideas jumping out from the strategy.
Care should be taken to maintain the brand profile over time. Many elements of the profile, particularly graphic design elements, may need to be changed or updated over time. On a personal level, this would be like an individual changing hairstyle or clothing over time. These things can change, but we wouldn’t expect radical changes in an individual’s personality or history. By the same means, the core elements of a brand’s profile, such as its personality and story should be timeless. Once these core elements are established, stakeholders will expect:
- Continuity — same personality reflected across all touchpoints
- Consistency — same personality over time
Be sure not to disappoint them.
❻ DON’T OVERLOOK TECHNICAL ASPECTS
Okay, so far we have touched on profiling the brand by ensuring there is a convincing brand story. But, there are other less creative aspects to brand profiling that, although technical, are every bit as important.
These are the nuts and bolts of your brand’s online presence, which are often an afterthought for marketers, but are on the front lines with regard to the prospect’s experience of the brand. These include things like whether your brand’s website is optimized for mobile or not, whether it is ADA/508 compliant, its load speed, and linking. It also includes site navigation and overall user experience. How your brand ranks in search is also important. It is difficult to convince prospects that you lead you category if you don’t lead in search results.
Expectations with regard to online execution are constantly raising. Prospects used to be very forgiving with regard to production quality online (remember those Common Craft explainer videos that were all the rage five years ago), but that is rapidly being displaced with expectation of quality comparable with the local TV station. Same goes for content in general.
From the social platforms your brand engages on to the production quality of its content, right down to the load speed of your servers, digital details shape the perception of your brand in very powerful ways. It’s worth auditing them regularly to ensure your brand is up to snuff.
❼ GET PERSPECTIVE
Be sure that you base your brand’s profile on your strategy as opposed to the artistic whims of a web designer. And, be sure to identify the key assumptions that the profile is based on. All strategies are based on assumptions about the market, most of which are untested. The more you vet these assumptions, the more you reduce the risk of failure.
Having a third party validate your assumptions with the target is an excellent idea. You may know your brand and your market better than any outsider, but the outsider has one essential ingredient you don’t have: perspective. Without that, you’re really operating in the dark. This is particularly important when marketing over borders. It may add to your timeline and budget, but it could cost your brand a thousand times this investment if you guess wrong on the target’s behalf.
Perspective can also help ensure that your brand message is being expressed consistently across all touchpoints. Marketers tend to focus a disproportional amount of attention on brand communication via promotional activities like websites and advertising. However, prospects today form perceptions of brands from the other end of the spectrum, by researching your product and company online via third-party sites. In this networked marketplace, the opinions of friends, colleagues, and trusted review sites are far more influential than a brand’s marketing communication. It’s important to use a tool to monitor online mentions (buzz) about your brand and competitors.
BRAND PROFILE IN ACTION
- Glassing A brand profile that attracts attention is great, but not when it creates obstacles further down the road. Few examples communicate this better than this campaign for Glassing, a premium eye-wear brand. These sophomoric ads communicate little about the brand other than they have hired a very green creative team who probably only speak English as a second language (bad puns are the calling card of copywriters developing campaigns in languages other than their own). Attention grabbing? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons (unless you are selling to six-year old boys).
- First Impressions As we’ve already said, brand profile is more than your website design. However looking at a few online brand makeovers Duffy Agency has done recently, you can start to see what a difference a brand’s profile can make when it comes to making that first impression online. In each of these cases, the brand’s design not only lacked confidence, but it also obscured the position, value proposition, and category of these brands.
Checklist: Brand Profile
- Have you codified and documented your brand?
- Have you written your brand’s back-story?
- Have you documented the facts surrounding your brand and how it was founded?
- Have you documented your brand’s personality traits, values, and vision?
- Have you crafted all of the above into a compelling brand story?
- Have you based your brand profile on your broader brand strategy?
- Have you verified the assumptions in your strategy with your target in all major markets?
- Have you trained your staff in the brand story and received their feedback on how to implement it in day-to-day operations?
- Is your brand profile truthful and authentic?
- Is your brand profile differentiating and competitive?
- Have you checked the various technical aspects of your online presence to ensure they also reflect your brand values?
- Do you monitor online buzz about your brand to see how well it correlates with the profile you are trying to project in the market?
- Have you used a third party to assess your brand profile in comparison to competitors?