What is branding? It’s not ink and cardboard

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A lot of people think branding is logos and business cards. But those are just channels and products that reflect your branding.

The oft-repeated quote when people talk about personal branding for small businesses comes, ironically, from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

To put it another way: when people call you to mind, what impressions come along with that?

I often talk about foreground and background messages. Foreground messages are what you tell people explicitly, like an introduction/pitch at a networking event or points you make in a blog post. Background messages are impressions people pick up about you, often with little or no conscious awareness they’re doing it – for instance from the colour scheme and layout of your website, or your writing’s tone of voice.

So branding is the process of getting clearer about what messages you want to attach to yourself in people’s minds, then using tools and channels to implement that. 

Everything you put out is an ambassador for you. The more you can build that clarity and carry it through, the better ambassadors you’ll have.

If you’re in the position where you’re a business, and the business is you, and authenticity is a core part of how you work, then branding is often a personal development process. Because it’s hard for most of us to describe what we do in a way that makes the outside world ‘get it’.

It can involve a lot of soul-searching about who we want to work with, what change we help them to make, what benefits they’ll value as opposed to what we want them to know or have… and how we can get that across within those few moments that we have someone’s attention. It connects through to big things like niche and purpose.

I’ve got e-products about developing an intro/elevator pitch, exploring your messages and building those into websites – check those out if you want to explore more. When I build or renovate websites for clients, background messages and authentic branding are a central part of the process.

One of the best pieces of advice is simply to be aware that branding can be big, and it can be a process, and you need to give space for that and not run yourself into the ground trying to get it done. If you get stuck, push a little bit but then stop digging and come back to it later.

You don’t have to get it all right in one go. And logos and business cards are not the business (organisation, etc). You don’t actually need either. They’re just furniture. You can get simple stop-gap solutions if you need them right now, and improve them later (as long as you don’t establish counterproductive impressions!).

Branding is an investment. It can be made of many parts, and develop in many stages. And be far stronger than cardboard.




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