As a freelancer or agency, adding branding to your service roster can create incredible opportunities to increase both your income, and your fundamental knowledge of your client.
This understanding of your client’s brand is also crucial for development and creating assets and campaigns that resonate with your client’s audience. But have you taken a good look at your brand lately? Are you being as effective as you can be in reaching your audience and generating new business?
Don’t fret, there are exercises you can do that can benefit both your business, and your client’s.
Recently, we sat down with Jenn Bane, community lead at Cards Against Humanity, for a Shopify Partner Session webinar, where we chatted about comedy writing, pranks, and friendship — some of the key components to creating a lasting brand impression.
In her presentation, Jenn gave some actionable insights into the secret sauce that makes the Cards Against Humanity (CAH) brand unforgettable. We’ve compiled three of these tidbits into an article to help you (and your clients) resonate more strongly with your audience.
Defining your brand
You may have put some thought into your business image, but have you considered how your brand is currently being perceived? Is it well defined and consistent? After all, a brand is more than just a logo, typeface, or color palette — it’s the sum of all the feelings and interactions someone has with your company. If you or your client’s brand was a person, who would they be?
Stephen Colbert was the inspiration for the overall Cards Against Humanity brand, not only for his sarcastic, deprecative tone but also for his acting method — like Colbert, CAH employees are “in character” when they’re engaging with their audience, and “out of character” when speaking from a personal perspective (like Jenn’s webinar). By having this active vision of who their brand is, Cards Against Humanity has a solid foundation to create an unforgettable brand experience.
Is there a distinction between the brand you’re working on and the personality of its stakeholders? If they’re one and the same, there might be some fine-tuning to do. Taking the time to define your brand, or encouraging your client to better define their own, is an exercise in building for the long-term.
Below are a few tools to help simplify this process:
1. The Unique Selling Proposition
The Unique Selling Proposition (or USP) was first identified by advertising-aficionado Rosser Reeves in his 1961 book Reality in Advertising. Created to find patterns in successful advertising campaigns, this theory has three criteria for creating an effective “proposition” — or product positioning statement:
- A brand must make a true proposition to the consumer.
- This proposition must be completely different from those created by category competitors.
- This proposition must appeal to the masses.
The success of the unique selling proposition paved the way for its use in branding. The above criteria can be used to craft a compelling brand positioning statement, which your business or client can easily replicate using the following formula from BrandWatch:
(Brand) is the (product/service category) company that provides (target audience) with (brand benefit statement) by (reasoning brand will deliver on this promise).
This statement provides a clear definition of the brand, and can act as a stepping stone for future brand activities. You can work through a positioning statement with clients to get a better understanding of who their brand is, and what it stands for.
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2. The Brand Identity Prism
If you’re looking to expand the definition of your client’s brand (or your own), try using the Brand Identity Prism. In his textbook Strategic Brand Management, Jean-Noël Kapferer presents the idea that in order to have a clear identity, a brand must define six facets of a prism: physique, personality, relationship, culture, reflection, and self image.
- Physique represents the physical appearance, or the memorable physical traits of a brand.
- Personality is your (or you client’s) brand character.
- Relationship describes the specific type of relationships a brand could symbolize. For example, Dove encourages its consumers to love themselves, and demonstrates this relationship in all of their campaigns. Dove is the facilitator in this relationship.
- Culture represents the specific values a brand embodies and bases its behavior on.
- Reflection depicts the brand’s specific consumer, or established target audience.
- Self image is how the consumer sees themselves.
The sum of these characteristics creates a clear and concise brand that can be defined from all angles. It accurately describes the brand itself, its consumers, key values, and how the brand can appeal to its audience.
Next time you’re taking a deeper look at your client’s branding, or revamping your own, try filling out Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism — you might uncover some insights that will ultimately make the brand stronger and more relative to its audience.
3. Brand Equity Model
Kevin Lane Keller — professor at Dartmouth College and also the author of a book titled Strategic Brand Management (separate from Kapferer’s) — has a different brand identity model that, in addition to the Brand Prism, may be more appropriate for further defining an existing brand.
Similarly to Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism, Kelley’s Brand Equity Model encompasses a 360 degree view of the brand and its defining features. Instead of taking the shape of a prism, Keller’s Brand Equity Model looks like a pyramid — six building blocks used to develop a successful brand.
The first block, salience refers to how aware a customer is of a brand. Do they instantly recognize it? Can they eventually identify it with other relating features like a logo or typeface?
To begin defining you or your client’s brand, the first step of the equity pyramid is to answer the following questions:
- Where does the client/customer think of the brand?
- When does the client/customer think of the brand?
- How easily and often does the client/customer think of the brand?
- What makes the client/customer think of the brand?
These answers will provide a solid foundation for the other three steps (or five building blocks) of the Brand Equity Model.
Performance and imagery are the building blocks that define what a brand is. Performance determines how well a product is meeting a customer’s need, and imagery is how a product, service, or business is meeting a customer’s psychological and social needs. As in the above example of Dove, the soap’s moisturizing formula meets its customer’s need for clean (moisturized) skin, but its self-love-focused campaigns satisfy the target audience’s social and psychological needs to change beauty standards.
Judgements and feelings represent how your customers feel about you or your client. How can you improve the current product offering? How can you change the brand positioning to induce a more positive brand experience? Is there anything you can do to increase the brand’s credibility? According to the model, there are six positive brand feelings that businesses should try to obtain: warmth, fun, excitement, security, social approval, and self-respect.
Lastly, brand resonance can only be achieved once a brand is officially top-of-mind for its audience. This is done by creating an extremely strong, deep, psychological bond through (we’ll cover that in more depth later in this article).
If your client is looking to rebrand, or audit their existing branding efforts, try implementing Keller’s Brand Equity Model to see if there are any new insights you can use to create more compelling interactions with their target audience. It’s also good as a freelancer or agency to audit your own brand to see if you’re being as effective as you can be in achieving brand resonance.
4. The Brand Deck
If you want to keep your branding exercises simple (yet effective), you can gamify the process.
The Brand Deck is a physical, collaborative tool that you can use to easily identify the driving characteristics of a brand. The deck contains three master cards: You are, you are not, and does not apply, along with a variety of adjective cards. Gather round with the stakeholders in your business, or your client’s business, and establish which adjectives get separated into which pile. In the end, you are, you are not, and does not apply should only have 1-6 adjectives in each.
Interestingly, each adjective card is double-sided. For example, one side of an adjective card can say “simple,” and the other side “complex.” This is important because in order to maintain consistency and clarity, a brand shouldn’t embody competing traits.
The Brand Deck allows for you and your stakeholders to visually identify who your brand is, and is a small investment to help your clients define their brand (one deck can be used over and over again).
If you’re looking for something a little edgier, Cards Against Humanity has teamed up with the Brand Deck to create a NSFW edition. However, according to the website, this version “has not been optimized for client-facing solutions.”
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Building relationships (or “friendships”)
One of the ways Cards Against Humanity has managed to create a lasting brand impression (or resonance) with its audience is through thoughtful relationships. Now that you’ve defined the brand you’re working on, it’s time to take a closer look at this brand’s relationships with its clients or consumers and establish some simple rules of engagement.
According to Jenn, brand relationships are way more complicated (and messy) than anyone cares to admit. They take time to nurture, effort to maintain, and sometimes just don’t work out (and not for a lack of trying). That’s why Jenn suggests it’s easier to look at brand relationships as friendships, and each person that interacts with a brand as a new friend.
There are many reasons why freelancers, agencies, and their clients should start comparing their existing and future relationships to friendships. Here are a few common understandings in personal relationships that you can use when nurturing brand friendships:
1. You can’t be friends with everyone
Like friends, there are positive and negative attributes about brands that will either attract or repel certain people — singing to the old adage that we can’t be friends with everyone. This model for brand friendships can help agencies, freelancers, and clients focus on the people who are more likely to become their “friend.”
2. You can’t be everything to everyone
Similar to the above point, a brand can’t be everything to everyone. If you, as a person, spread yourself too thin trying to maintain several different friendships with different types of people, you’re not being as effective as you can be in offering an authentic experience of yourself.
The same concept applies to freelancers, agencies, and clients: if you spread yourself too thin trying to appeal to too many target audiences, you can’t provide an authentic (and effective) brand experience.
3. It’s hard to stay friends if you never check in
If you’ve made a significant impact on someone’s life, you might be able to maintain a friendship despite the lack of communication. However, in most cases, if you don’t keep in touch friendships tend to wither away. For brands, it’s hard to stay top-of-mind for consumers if they’re not being engaged with consistently — so make sure to check in with your friends often!
4. If your friend says something’s wrong, listen
Sometimes you may do something that offends a friend, or makes them feel uneasy. It’s a normal growing pain when developing relationships. However, if that friend approaches you about this, it’s important to listen closely, apologize genuinely, and work toward a solution so the situation is less likely to happen again.
This also applies to freelancers, agencies, and clients — by actively listening when a friend tells you there’s something wrong, you can proactively rectify the situation and improve the client or customer’s overall experience with your brand.
When creating new touch points for your client’s audience (or your own), try using these rules of engagement as ways that you would communicate with a friend. Instill this method of thinking in your own business, and your client’s, and you’re bound to offer a more authentic brand experience, which paves the way for creating a lasting brand impression.
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Maintaining a consistent tone
Now that you’ve defined the brand that you’re working on, and have established some fundamental rules of engagement when nurturing brand friendships, it’s time to consider the tone that this brand will take when engaging. This is the voice that will continue through the brand’s community, customer service, and messaging.
Jenn recommends speaking honestly and avoiding robotic language, as the personality of a brand is extremely important. This is shown through Cards Against Humanity’s customer service — where every response is helpful, yet pleasantly sarcastic and fuelled with comedy. CAH’s tone is blunt, self-deprecating, maybe even depressed — a little like April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation.
Below are a few exercises you can work through for your own brand, or your client’s, to help create a brand personality.
1. Content Marketing Institute
The Content Marketing Institute has a simple 5-step method for establishing a strong, relevant brand voice. This process is especially good for businesses or clients that have an existing trove of content that they can audit to improve their tone, and differentiate themselves from competitors.
Step 1: Gather your content. Pull together samples of your existing content that best represent what your brand is currently publishing. Could any of this content be written by a competitor? Is there a consistent tone throughout? Find the samples that are unique to your brand. These will be the building blocks for your strategy.
Step 2: Choose three words to describe your brand. Look through your chosen content and identify three different brand characteristics. Sort your existing content into these three piles. Further define these characteristics with an analysis of how these traits are currently coming across to your audience.
Step 3: Create a brand voice chart. Take the three characteristics as defined above and place them into a table. Define why that characteristic is important to your brand, how the voice should be implemented, and which tactics and tones should be avoided.
Step 4: Ensure everyone who needs to, knows how to use this voice. Go through examples of existing content that embody the desired characteristics, and demonstrate how you would edit content that doesn’t quite hit the mark. Ensure all stakeholders are familiar with this process.
Step 5: Revise as the brand grows. As a brand grows, sometimes defining characteristics change. Revise the brand tone at least once a year to make sure it’s still highly relevant to the brand definition and target audience.
2. The Muse
An article from The Muse outlines a different 4-step method for finding a brand’s voice. This process is great for businesses or clients looking to first establish a brand voice.
Step 1: Build archetypes. Imagine your ideal audience. What do they care about? What topics interest them? What do they want from your brand? Having the answers to these questions will build a solid foundation for establishing a consistent brand voice.
Step 2: Fill in the blanks. Pay attention to how you answer the following fill-in-the-blank statements (pulled directly from The Muse’s strategy). The tone you use throughout this process will help guide the overall tone of your brand.
- I want my brand to make people feel _______.
- _______ makes me feel this way.
- I want people to _______ when they come into contact with my brand.
- Three words that describe my brand are _______ , _______ , and _______.
- I want to mimic the brand voice of _______.
- I dislike brand voices that sound _______.
- Interacting with my clients and potential clients makes me feel _______.
Step 3: Test this tone. Bring together a group of people that represent your brand’s target audience. Do they respond well to the established tone? Do they have comments? Leverage this feedback to create a more powerful, resonating voice for the brand you’re working on.
Step 4: Find a muse. Looking for help getting started with implementation? Identify other brands that have a similar tone to yours and see what they’re doing. This muse will help you nurture your brand voice into something completely different, yet something that is still effective at engaging with your audience.
Kevin Gilbert from Domain7 wrote an interesting article for GatherContent about the significance of using a table to help establish brand tone. Similar to the method outlined by the Content Marketing Institute, this table visually provides examples of what to do, and what not to do, for every aspect of a brand’s voice — a simplified culmination of the above strategies.
The above table is repeated for every attribute of the desired tone (ie: caring, compassionate, shy). Every brand identity stakeholder can print out these tables and keep them at their desk for reference — so everyone is consistently using the same voice across mediums.
Though your brand, or your client’s, may not see Cards-Against-Humanity-success overnight, the above steps will help you achieve a level of brand identity that allows you to better resonate with your audience, and create a lasting brand impression.
When it comes to defining a brand, building friendships, and creating a tone of voice, have fun with the process and work collaboratively with all stakeholders — everyone in your organization, or your client’s, has to be on the same page to create a cohesive brand experience! As they say, teamwork makes the dream work.