Tara Hall

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Mar 01, 2016

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How to define your brand the right way Part 1

In November, I began work with a charitable organization to redesign their website and logo. It was during the kick-off meeting that I realized that the organization didn’t have a clear understanding of their brand.

Brands are something that we often associate with for-profit businesses. You often hear the term “brand” mentioned with examples such as Nike, Apple, Coke Cola, or some other large, commercial company name. But every business—large or small, for-profit or not-for-profit, regardless of industry—has a brand.

In this article, the first in a three-part series, I explain what a brand is and why knowing your target audience is crucial to defining your brand.

What is a brand?

You may have heard the saying that a logo is not a brand. While that’s true, that statement doesn’t tell you what a brand is. If you asked me the question, “what is a brand?” my response would be:

A brand is a combination of elements, some visual and some not, that represents your business to your target audience.

On the web, these elements include:

In other words, nearly everything you see and read on your website is representative of your brand. But what is it that you want to represent to your target audience?

When visitors come to your website, there is an impression, an experience, or a feeling that you want to convey to them. In other words, there are emotions that you want your visitors to associate with your brand.

Here are a few examples:

In each of these cases, the websites use the elements listed earlier—fonts, colors, and so on—to convey the experience, feeling, or impression.

Brand versus branding

Branding describes the activities used to support your brand. The purpose of branding is to convey the experience, feeling, or impression you associate with your brand.

Ideally, all brand elements work together; otherwise, your audience may sense that something is amiss and turn away. For example, you don’t expect “Dead Girl Beach” to be the title of a romance novel. In this case, the book title doesn’t fit with the book’s genre.

You will know when your branding isn’t working because your audience perception of your brand doesn’t match your own—or you’re not attracting your target audience.

Know your target audience

Do you know who it is you want to attract to your website and to your business?

The last thing that you want to do is repel your target audience with poor choices that misrepresent your brand. To avoid that, you need to know as much about your audience as possible.

My free guide, “Are you ready for a new website?” includes a section with worksheets for defining your target audience. If you haven’t already drafted an ideal customer profile, then I strongly recommend you download and complete the exercises.

When I met with the charity client, I asked about their target audience that not surprisingly is comprised of donors. While the client described their typical donors—most of whom had some personal connection to the client—they didn’t have a specific target audience in mind. But as long as they’re receiving donations, what’s the problem?

The issue here is that the client is missing out on an opportunity to reach a larger audience of people who could donate to their cause. If they continue to rely solely on their friends, relatives, or acquaintances for donations, then they are limiting themselves.

Consider too that if the client has marketing budget to reach an audience, then not knowing who their target audience is may result in unspent budget in the best case scenario or wasted budget in a worst case scenario.

Like money, time is a limited resource. Even with the number of free methods that they can use to reach their target audience, how will our client know where to spend their time?

If you don’t know who it is that you want to reach, then how will you know how or where to reach them?

Large companies know who it is they want to target and where to find their audience. There’s a reason why a company who advertise at golf tournaments may not advertise at a hockey game. The company knows which sports their target audience is more likely to watch.

As a small business owner, you don’t need to spend thousands in market research to find your target audience. You simply need to decide who the audience is, and then write a comprehensive profile of one member of that audience.

The worksheets in my guide can help with this task. If, like my client, you’ve been in business for a little while, then you may want to base your customer profile on those whom you worked with previously—unless they don’t represent the customers you want to work with in the future.

If you have an outline of your ideal customer, but need details, then consider finding someone from your target audience to interview. Find out more about their lives, their habits, their wants and needs. It may sound excessive, but the more you know about your ideal client, the better.

Once you have a clear understanding of your ideal client, you can tailor your brand to attract him or her.

Let’s say, for example, that the charity client’s ideal donor is someone who fits this simple profile:

Even with this simple profile, the client and I can begin making design and content decisions to support the brand to the target audience.

In the next article, I look at each of the individual elements of a website to show how to choose the right elements for your brand. I’ll include examples to illustrate when an element fits with the feeling that the brand wants to convey and when an element is incongruous.