Make your brand a standout –
even when it seems there’s so much competition.
You know you’re not the only photographer/naturopath/kinesiologist/healer/EFT coach/whatever who does what you do.
So how do you get people to stop and look at YOU in the first place?
How do you capture their attention?
The answer is clear.
It starts with knowing you DO bring your own unique self to the job.
And just like in real life with the friends you choose – some particular types of clients will resonate with you more. And that’s a good thing. Because when you work with the people who resonate with you most, you do your best work. When you do your best work, that’s a win-win – you love what you do even more, your clients receive the exact help they need, AND they sing your praises because they got great results. Word of mouth is the best marketing ever.
Doesn’t that sound like a fab way to run a business?
This is where your BRANDING comes in. It’s the catalyst. It’s what gets you noticed in the first place. And your branding encompasses how you present yourself at every turn.
Brands that stand out are NOT just a fancy logo. It’s the overall feel created by your colour palette, your font choice, your image style, your graphic layouts. It’s your vision and your personality infused into every interaction you have with your audience. It beams out of your website, your social media, your emails, your Youtube videos, your PDF workbooks, your presentations, and so much more.
THIS is why it’s vital to create a brand that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. To create something that’s distinctively you.
When you do that, you stand out.
And then you’re top of mind when people go looking for the thing they want.
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Branding well will set you apart in many ways, and will also set people’s expectations of what it’s like to work with you. Good branding will help you charge the prices you want for your good work: when your brand looks high-end, you can charge more. And of course, your good work will deliver on that promise.
However, if your brand looks a bit of a shambles – then that sets up a less favourable expectation of what it’s like to work with you and you’ll be struggling to get very much business at all.
Brand perception – or how highly your audience regards you – is huge.
Why buy a Louis Vuitton handbag, when a Kmart one does pretty much the same job?
It’s all to do with expectations.
Before we get into the ‘how-to’ of creating branding excellence, lets look a bit more at why it should be a priority.
Branding excellence makes you money.
You might think branding is just about looking pretty. it’s not. It’s NEVER just about having a cool logo.
Of course it needs to be cohesive, and beautiful.
But – the best branding relies on knowing your ideal client intimately, and then strategically addressing their hopes and desires. Once you’ve got that info and you’ve got your visuals aligned with that info – your business will naturally grow as a result.
Here’s why it will skyrocket your business:
Strong branding –
- and consistency in using it creates memorability – so you’re top of mind when people go looking for the thing they want.
- projects the vision that’s in your audience’s head when they go looking for the thing they need, so they hone in on it like bees to a flower
- clearly conveys who you are, what you do and how you help – which stops buyer confusion (note: confused customers don’t buy)
- turns away the people who are totally wrong for you – saving BOTH of you time and energy that you can put towards more of your ideal clients!!
- it makes it easy (and time-saving!) for YOU because you don’t have to agonise over what/how to post
- feels ALIGNED – which means you LOVE to share!! Which in turn means increased visibility
- AND – Good branding and delivering on that brand promise results in customer loyalty – and customer loyalty is GOLD.
So, how do you achieve excellence?
How to achieve excellence in branding.
Now we know WHY it’s important – how do we achieve that?
There are three parts to this:
- understand your audience
- assess and align your brand
- keep your team on track with your brand
Everything starts with understanding our audience thoroughly, and knowing how we can best serve them. Excellence in branding is built with purpose.
Your visuals are a communication tool – visuals are just another type of language. You’ve heard the expression “a picture paints a thousand words”, and it’s absolutely true! It’s the images you choose, it’s the harmony of the colours, it’s the flow of the shapes in your chosen fonts. And it’s how you put them together in your graphic layouts.
Just as music conveys a mood, so too do all the elements of your brand. And people respond to that instinctively – beyond the logic of merely fixing the problem they have. We’re human, we respond to things emotively. And branding is about communicating the exact feeling that resonates with the ideal client and what they want to achieve.
Back to basics – understand your audience
As I said before – it’s not about the logo. There are lots of huge companies that don’t use any kind of icon or symbol, but just have a simple wordmark – their name in a particular font and/or colour. Tiffany & Co, Jeep, FedEx and The New York Times are just a few examples – and there are many, many others.
It IS about knowing exactly who you are and projecting that in EVERY interaction you have with your audience – in your social media posts and on your website of course, but also your videos including backdrops, the layouts of your ebooks and presentations, your business card (if you still use them!), what you wear when you meet people in real life, what you write and say, and so much more.
The first step to building a great brand is to check that you have the right brand elements – because you want to start with great building blocks. These brand building blocks are the key to successfully structuring your brand.
So, start by looking at your existing Brand Style Guide.
If you don’t have one – you need to get onto that now!! But don’t panic – I’ll talk you through all the elements of a good brand style guide.
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What’s in a Brand Style Guide (if you don’t have one)
A Brand Style Guide (BSG) is simply a document that specifies your brand elements. These can be as simple as a one-page document that shows your colours, fonts, image style and brand keywords.
They can be MUCH more extensive too – I’ve seen corporate BSGs that are an entire book. There’s the introduction to the brand – which is about the overall vision for the brand and what the inspirations are behind it. There’s information on how to use those elements, eg. there’s lots of logo variations given, so if you have a tiny space, or a square space, or a tall rectangular space – you can find a version that suits that. There’s also detailed instructions on how to use the logo – acceptable colourways and spacing, as well as what NOT to do (eg. don’t stretch the logo!).
They also include heaps of visual examples of the branding in action – examples of graphic layouts, when to use which fonts for which purpose, and whether they should be capitalised or not.
And SO MUCH MORE information about how to use everything! All of which means that even the most junior graphics person at that corporation can produce graphics that fit with the corporate vision, with minimal supervision.
- Brand keywords are vital. Deep down, YOU KNOW ALREADY what you want your brand to feel like. You know what qualities are important to you. You also (deep down) know what your clients want, what your clients aspire to. So, start writing down a rough collection of those sorts of quality/feeling words. Examples of these words might be: joy, balance, nurturing, vibrant, calm, connection, etc. Aim for around 20ish-30ish words.
- With that rough list of words in mind, create a mood board – a collection of images that align with and express those feelings and qualities. My favourite, and one of the simplest ways to go about this is to create a Pinterest board (make it private if you like) and pin a heap of images – as many as you like. Then distil that collection down to around 10-20 of the best images. If you still want to keep the images that don’t fit on this brand board, just pop the leftovers onto another board!
- Next step is to choose colours and fonts to fit with that mood. Again, you can use Pinterest to guide you if you’re not sure what to choose – eg. If nurturing is one of your chosen qualities, search for “nurturing colour palette” and it will come up with lots of palettes that are soft and warm in tone. Add all the palettes that you like to your Pinterest board, and then when you’ve got a dozen or so, choose the one you like best. And no, having the same colour palette as some other brand does NOT mean you’ll look the same – this is just one element and I guarantee you’ll be using it in very different ways to other people.
- Lastly, go back to that rough list of words you started with, and add, extend, extrapolate and filter those brand keywords, until you have a super strong list of words that exactly express how you want to look and feel.
This final list of brand keywords becomes your BRAND FILTER – whenever you want to create a new graphic, or choose new photos, or write new copy – step back and say “does this new thing look/feel like these keywords?” If it doesn’t, then regroup and try again. THIS is how you ensure your brand is beaming out a pure, clear message that sets you apart from everyone else.
Your Brand Style Guide is a summary of all your brand elements – colours, fonts, logo, image style, and brand keywords. If you need more information about how to put one together, you can read this article here
Assess your existing brand:
If you’ve had your branding created a while ago, it’s important to reassess it occasionally, to ensure it still fits with your overall business vision – what you want to achieve, who you want to work with, AND that it’s expressing exactly who you are.
So get your Brand Style Guide in front of you, think about these questions, and write down some notes:
- Does it feel like YOU?
Do you love it? Does it fit with your favourite colours? images? things you choose to surround yourself with (clothes, furnishings)?
- WHO is your audience? Demographics are good, but probably more important is psychographics. Your audience is ASPIRING to something – be that balance, calm, joy, vibrancy, or something else. Is that what your brand feels like?
- Put it together: look at your brand elements. What emotion or feeling do they project? Does it project YOUR personality? Does it FEEL like what your audience is aspiring to? Check ALL the elements individually (colours, fonts, image style, brand keywords) for your gut-level response. Does it TRULY feel like those keywords?
That’s it! It’s really those three simple steps to ensure your brand is on track. If you need more information on how to choose the RIGHT elements for your brand, you can read more HERE.
Keep your team on track with your brand:
When you’ve put your heart and soul into creating a brand that beams out YOU, and then you ask your VA to make something for you – a new ebook, some social media posts, a web page – and then they come back with something that just feels wrong, or even just a bit – meh – it’s disheartening to say the least.
Because they’ve totally missed the point of your brand vision. They’ve failed to capture your essence. Because this brand is your baby – it’s an extension of you.
But keeping all your team members on track and creating great graphics that encapsulate your vision consistently is not as hard as you might think.
COMMUNICATION & UNDERSTANDING IS KEY.
1. Ensure your team are familiar with you and your brand style guide, and especially those KEYWORDS. What do you want it to feel like??
eg. If balance is one of your keywords, then symmetry is an important aesthetic quality for your brand!
2. Include extra guidelines/parameters for the implementation of graphics.
This is why in corporate, their Brand Style Guides are like actual BOOKS – with a tonne of extra instructions about how each of the brand elements must be used, in what contexts and which combinations of sizes, colourways, and more. This means that even the lowliest assistant should be able to create something on-brand if they follow the guidelines.
For those of us with only 1 or 2 on our team, we don’t need anything that complex, but you can still say things like “don’t use diagonals or circles”, and /or “use soft gradient overlays”.
3. DO give your team feedback!! Don’t feel like you’re nit-picking by giving them feedback – otherwise you’ll always be frustrated with how they do things. If you can articulate clearly and kindly why something isn’t working, and/or how YOU would do it, then they will learn and be more closely on track next time. ALSO (I learnt as a teacher) – you can’t explain something unless you understand it thoroughly yourself- so, by forcing yourself to articulate what you want your brand to look and feel like – you’ll become much more familiar with and knowledgeable about it yourself, which can only lead to a MUCH stronger brand!
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Assess how well you’ve used your branding up to now
Now you’re clear on your brand (and whether it needs to be updated or not), it’s time to check in on how it’s been implemented.
For most businesses, there are two key areas where they interact with their audience – their website and their social media. How those areas look and feel is due to which ELEMENTS of your brand you use of course (colour, fonts, image choices, etc) – but also HOW THEY’RE USED – your layouts – which demonstrate the principles of design such as alignment, repetition, contrast, size, emphasis, etc.
(And a quick reminder – within this article, we’re concentrating on the VISUAL side of your branding – the “first impressions” part. Copy is a whole ‘nother area!)
Here’s a couple of super quick tasks you can do to easily assess how your brand’s looking to your audience. The first one will take you all of about two minutes, and give you a massive insight!
Quick task 1:
Go to your Facebook page (or your Insta feed), and click on the Photos tab or look at your Insta grid – it’ll show you alllll the photos you’ve posted.
Go with your gut-level response. What’s your first impression?
Did you choose those images because of what they mean? What memories they hold for you? Just because you thought it was pretty?
Your audience does not see it the same way.
We all come with our own set of experiences and will interpret things in our own way.
So, dig a bit deeper into those posts.
Because – even though your audience sees these images one at a time – altogether, they give YOU a clear indication of how visually strong your branding is. Because part of the purpose of these visual elements is to create something distinctive so that in the first millisecond that someone sees your post, they go “ Oh, there’s [your business name] again”.
And if you’re continually providing engaging content – then they’ll not only say “Oh there’s [your business name] again”, they’ll ALSO stop and say “what’s she got to say today?”
Because “Branding is what others say about you when you’re not in the room”
– Jeff Bezos
So, to make your brand stand out on social media:
1. choose images that have an obvious meaning – don’t make your audience work hard at guessing games, they’ll give up!
2. stick to your brand colours and fonts when you’re creating graphics. Don’t change it just because you “want a bit of fun” or whatever – you’re diluting your brand voice if you do this.
3. Filter your choice of images, and layouts through your brand keywords. Ask yourself, “Does this feel eg. Balanced? Joyful? Nurturing? (or whatever your chosen qualities are). If it doesn’t – no matter how pretty it is, discard it and move onto something that DOES project those qualities. Your brand will be so much stronger for it.
Quick task 2:
When you create graphics, or build a page on your website, or create an ebook – the idea is to communicate something.
And the way to get that information into your audience’s brains as quickly as possible is to make it easy for them to do so.
There are a couple of super-common mistakes many content creators make, which disrupt the very content they’re trying to convey. Which means that when the audience find it too hard to consume, they’ll give up and go somewhere else that’s easier.
The idea is, you need to make layouts – the “what you put where” of graphics – FLOW.
So, here’s those common mistakes, and what to do instead:
1. Don’t have large slabs of text.
We’re a society of skimmers; we’re all a bit rushed for time, of trying to be everywhere and across everything all at once (FOMO anyone!?). So, all we want to do in those first few milliseconds when we glance at your thing is to establish whether it’s worth our time to dive deeper/read further. So asking us to sit quietly for more than a few milliseconds is a tall ask.
Instead, break your text up with headings, and/or pullout quotes. And keep your sentences short.
2. Keep your graphics simple (part 1).
Some graphics I see in my social media feed have huge amounts of teensy text, with allllll the information about allll the things – the what/when/why/who/how-much and more besides. They’re jam-packed with text! And I am NOT going to stop my scroll to decipher that.
Instead – keep the text in your graphics to a minimum. The sole purpose of your graphic is to grab people’s attention – the rest of the information goes in the post. They’ll stop and read it if it interests them.
3. Keep your graphics simple (part 2)
Other graphics I see in my feed have multiple bits of stuff (4 bits of text, 3 unrelated images, and some fancy decorative elements, all randomly scattered over the rectangle of the graphic. This just makes our eyes jump around when we’re trying to read it all and gives us a headache!
Instead, you want to make your graphics flow – so people can inhale that information in one sweep. If you’re using Canva, it has excellent alignment tools – just drag things around on the canvas and they’ll snap into alignment with the other objects in the frame.
Keep everything centred OR left-aligned OR right-aligned, and everything will look much tidier, and your message will land quicker.
Keep your fonts for any graphic for social media to absolutely no more than two fonts, otherwise it’ll start looking messy. Perhaps even stick to one.
And please, for the love of all things graphical – make sure your logo is on a transparent background, and NOT on a white block which makes you look like a DIY numpty when you stick it on a coloured background.
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Get the foundations in place
By now, you should have a list of things to fix!
Prioritise – the important things to fix are the things that provide the foundation.
Step 1: Update your Brand Style Guide.
(a) Have clear parameters. You should have not only a one-page easy visual summary, but you should also create an extra single page of easy-to-follow instructions for your team, eg. “no diagonals”, or “translucent overlays are important”.
(b) Emphasise your brand keywords, and what you want your brand to look and feel like. So, if Simplicity is one of your key qualities, your team won’t be quite so ready to include those fiddly, frilly fancy things they found on Canva. If layered textures are more your thing, write that in your instructions and let them go for it!
Keep in mind two things:
– your brand is a work in progress, and you DO need to check in on it every year or two to see if still looks and feels like where your business is at NOW, and also check in on your vision of what you want your business to be.
– Your team members are human, and they will still do things differently to you – there’s always more than one way to say the same thing – but the clearer you are in your BSG, the more clearly they’ll convey that brand message (and they’ll get better at it the longer they work with you).
Step 2: Update your graphics templates.
Now you’re super clear on your foundations, now go to Canva (or your fave graphics program) and create some new BRANDED templates using your refreshed Brand Style Guide.
As previously mentioned, you want to create FLOW in your graphics, so it’s as easy as possible for your message to land!
Simple does NOT mean boring. Elements like gradients and overlays can add texture and interest, as can a background pattern. Just don’t overdo it to the point where it feels busy and cluttered (remember the old advice about “before you go out, take one piece of jewellery off”? Yeah, that. Less is more.)
Keep your text short and simple, and ensure things are EITHER centred, or left, or right-aligned. And strictly a maximum of two fonts in any one graphic.
Step 3: Stock photos
Liven up your graphics with some fresh stock photos!!
Make it easy for yourself – DON’T go running around the interwebs searching for the perfect pic every time you want to make a new graphic – that’s super slow and inefficient.
Instead, put aside an hour to create your own image bank. There are a tonne of free photo sites around with a search function (eg. Pixabay, StockSnap, Kaboompics, Unsplash…. and more). Put in a few search terms – two words will give you better results – and filter your choices through your brand keywords. Save them all to ONE folder on your laptop, so you know where to find them when you need them. Avoid those overdone, cheesy, generic photos like “girl laughing at salad” or stacked stones – the ones we’ve seen a MILLION of.
This will save you a bunch of time in the long run because you’ll always have great stock photos on hand (AND you’ll avoid the cheesy, crappy ones too – because you know they’re not right for you and you’ve had time to find better ones!).
Also, try and stick to one style of image, eg. one lighting style (soft or bright) and one saturation level (vivid or muted) in your photos. Some people (myself included!) use a particular filter/overlay/lighting & contrast adjustments. Or instead of photos, choose paintings OR digital art as your primary image style.
When you settle on a style, don’t mix it up! – because when you do, it just looks messy.
Another tip – next time you go for a photoshoot, ask your photographer to take some general shots that you can use as stock photos, etc – a flatlay using your things, a leafy background or two. Perfect!
Implementations: Prioritise the content you’re going to work on.
Your brand is EVERYTHING you put out into the world as your business –
- Online assets: Typically, this includes your website, landing pages from other CRMs (eg. Kartra, Ontraport), email marketing (eg. Mailchimp, MailerLite), social media (FB, Insta), and even your email signature. If you have a good password management system (eg. Lastpass) – this will help you to quickly identify all the accounts you have. Be prepared for a reasonable-sized list.
- Offline assets: ebooks, powerpoint presentations, business card, your backdrop for business videos/zoom calls;
So now, you’re probably feeling mildly panicked… There’s SO much to fix!!
So, let’s triage.
Write a list of what you would like to change, and then prioritise it.
Work on your most public-facing areas first – your social media, your website, and your mailing list provider. Resist the urge to tweak your ebooks first – we’re aiming for the most impact with the least effort.
1. Your social media page.
You probably only need to tidy up the last couple of months, depending on how often you post of course! – maybe 20-30 or so images (and accompanying posts)
Identify which posts don’t fit with the look and feel of your brand.
Read the accompanying post – is the content still good? Does it fit with what you want your brand to be? Edit (or delete!) your unbranded or off-brand images.
*Remember – you’re not aiming for it to be 100% branded stuff. Selfies are great, and some shared info from other sources is also fine and adds to your brand. Those things convey that you’re active, and participating in life! So, the aim is for the MAJORITY of your posts to look and feel like they belong to you and convey who you are and what you stand for.
Be brave, and DELETE WHAT DOESN’T FIT.
2. Your website.
If you need to update colours and fonts, go do that first. Most modern themes will allow you to do this in their site customizer options, which means it should take you no more than a few minutes.
Then, go to your home page, and pretend you’re seeing it for the first time:
- Is it immediately clear who you are and what you do?
- How does the “above the fold” section feel? This should feel like what your audience is aspiring to – bold, joyous, calm, balanced, etc.
Next – check through your text. Does it feel spacious enough? Is the font big enough to read easily? Is it easy to skim through because you’ve broken the text up with headings, paragraphs, bold pullout quotes, etc?
Do you need to swap out any images? Particularly look at those on your most-visited pages – your Home and your About.
Your blog post images are another area where people frequently go off-brand and wobbly.
USE THOSE NEW GRAPHIC TEMPLATES!
3. Your mail provider – Mailchimp, Mailerlite, ActiveCampaign, etc.
– Check through your optin sequences and automations. Pay attention to banners, and text, and refresh where necessary. Check your sequences are working as you intend, and your audience are getting what they signed up for.
– Create a new template for your newsletter emails using your refreshed Brand Style Guide
I admit to having made this EXACT mistake only a couple of years ago! I’d put up a new optin which was linked to a previous list I’d cleaned out – but totally neglected to notice that the old automation was still active! So people got weird emails from me for a month or so before I realised…
1. Check in with your existing brand:
- Ensure you have a Brand Style Guide
- Assess your BSG – does it FEEL like you want it to? Does it feel like what your audience is aspiring to?
- Keep your team on track with your brand by providing them with easy-to-understand extra instructions, eg. “Circles are a key branding element because they represent wholeness”
2. Assess how your brand looks to your audience right now – ie. How well have you implemented it? Write notes on what you think needs changing and why/how
- Check in on your Facebook page (or your Insta), and look back through the feed
- Go to your Canva (or other graphics program) and check your branded templates – are they on track? Do they FLOW?
3. Get the foundations in place
- Update your Brand Style Guide so it’s EXACTLY YOU, and fits with what your audience is aspiring to.
- Update your graphics templates
- Create yourself an image bank of on-brand photos. AND – next photoshoot, get some general shots that you can use as some totally unique stock photos.
4. Implementation- make a list and prioritise your plan of attack! Do the most public-facing things first.
- Your social media
- Your website
- Your mailing list provider – optin sequences and automations.
If you want a strong brand, you need to be clear, and to beam your light like a lighthouse.
And you need to love it.
Because the stronger you are, the more closely you resonate with what your audience desires – the more successful your business becomes.
Because a strong brand means you love the energy of your brand and love sharing it. It means stand way out from the crowd. Which in turn means you’ll grab the attention of more of your ideal clients (and turn the wrong ones away).
The result is:
You’ll be more visible
You’ll work with more of the clients you love, and
You’ll make more money.
So, go forth and create a standout, brilliant brand.
Your business and your bank account will thank you.
Grab this post as a handy reference ebook.
“The Ultimate guide to making your brand a standout to attract your ideal clients and make sales” is available as a PDF.
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