Today I wanted to talk to you about why some creative business owners seem to be scared of brand.
First, let’s clarify what I mean when I talk about a brand.
I see brand as everything you are as a business. While your business might include you working in different capacities – doing your accounts, making or marketing, for example – brand is everything else; almost like the space between the things in your business.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon is quoted as saying brand is “what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. In this way, brand is the feelings and thoughts customers or potential customers have towards you (which you can’t always control).
Brand is the big, big picture surrounding your business and it’s what moves a good creative business from everyday into something much more.
big bad brands
I’ve seen and talked to many creative business owners who are fearful of building a brand around their business, or building a personal brand around themselves.
They see brand as a bit of a dirty word. “We’re humans,” they shout, “we’re not corporations! You can’t define us and you can’t put a logo on us!”
“We’re not numbers – we are complex, hard to explain, human beings!”
When you think of brand as a dirty word, it’s unsurprising you don’t want to be a brand. We’ve heard so many terrible stories about big brands and big corporations hurting our planet, our people, and our livelihoods, that the idea of being a brand – for some creative people – is unpleasant and something to be avoided.
However, I also see these creative business people are a bit scared of what a brand makes you do, even though it can be really positive.
Having a clear brand means you have to decide on who you want to be to your customers. You have to decide how you look and sound, what you talk about and when. You have to commit to being something consistently. This entails a responsibility to yourself, to potential customers, and the people who buy from you.
The right brand sets the bar high for your business; you have to live up to what you want your brand to be. It means you have to believe in yourself, what you’re doing, and not let self-doubt topple you.
With this in mind, it makes sense that some creative business owners are nervous. They don’t want to pin themselves down or commit to a specific set of ‘rules’ about what they can and can’t do in their business. They might even feel like they’re not ‘good enough’ to have a proper brand for their creative business.
But let’s go back to the quote from Jeff Bezos: brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Think about that carefully. We can’t control what people say about us when we’re not there; we can only influence them to say something positive.
Your brand is created whether you want it to be created or not, because every time you do something you are creating your brand.
98% say coke
Take the example of a big business like Coca-Cola or Jeff’s business, Amazon. Both of these companies work very hard to create positive brands. They want a brand which people like, use and turn to first. Coca-Cola in particular has worked very hard at creating a brand around refreshment and happiness, where their product = refreshment.
What this means is I can predict the result of an experiment I do with my students. I get students to close their eyes, imagine it’s a hot day and reach for a cold drink. Then they hear me open an aluminium can of pop, and I ask them to tell me what drink it is.
98% of them say Coke. Every single time.
Coca-Cola’s brand efforts are so strong that a generic click-hiss sound of an aluminium can being opened is synonymous with their product.
On the flip side, there are lots of things Coca-Cola can’t control which have helped to create its brand. These include things like:
- We’re more aware than ever of our health and hidden sugars or salt in our food
- Many countries where there isn’t a scarcity of food are suffering from food deserts or high junk food diets, which we’ve identified are bad for our health
- Obesity is an increasing problem for the health care of many countries
- The unethical activities of big businesses, particularly around the environment, are becoming more transparent
All of this comes together to create Coca-Cola’s brand; one which for many people is fun, refreshing and delicious. For others, it’s tainted with negative associations of poor health and a lack of sustainability.
As a creative business, you might not have the resources of someone like Coca-Cola or Amazon. But you’re still creating your brand every time you answer a customer complaint, source new materials, post an Instagram photo, go to a networking event, attend a fair…
You’re constantly creating your brand, and you can either choose to do this consciously or not.
So being frightened of building a brand is like being nervous of breathing; it’s happening – whether you’re happy with that or not isn’t really the question.
Instead of feeling scared of branding your creative business, it’s time to feel the fear and do it anyway.
Acknowledge that you’re creating a brand in the actions of your creative business and your actions as a creative business owner.
This means you can get excited about it; think about what this allows you to do! Perhaps you could try some new photography to showcase your business’ values, or talk about interesting things which, beforehand, you weren’t sure fitted into your business.
You can start to consider what a brand means for the deepening and growth of your creative business. Where could you go next, knowing you can rely on these foundations?
You are a very important part of your creative business. Your brand is the next most important part, and it’s what will help move your creative business from something everyday to something meaningful, inspirational and sustainable.
It makes sense to be nervous about creating a brand for your creative business, but by your current actions you’re already doing it. That means instead of being scared, you can start to feel excited and conscious about what you can do to create something you’re proud of.
If you need some help, take a look at my Crystal Clear Brand workbook.