Good branding starts with a logo, right? Not according to Gail Gonzales, the speaker at Freelance Austin’s August meeting. Gail, owner of Evolve Your Brand, suggests exploring your values to determine your “why” before concentrating on design elements to reinforce your brand.
As much as Gail believes in the power of visual branding, she learned that her clients’ success depended on much more. Now, instead of being seen solely as a graphic designer, her clients give her referrals saying, “Meet my graphic designer…and so much more!”
What is branding, and why should I care?
You wouldn’t head out on a road trip without a GPS, and the same goes for branding. Gail points out, “Most people create a name (without talking to a branding specialist), go straight for the logo, and then try to build a website,” but digging deeper to unearth these other elements first is essential to creating an enduring brand and building an effective website. “Do the work – the values and mission, your why, ideal client persona, etc. and then focus on your name and logo,” she recommends.
Being honest about what exactly you’re best at, and whom you are doing it for, as specifically as possible is key. Combining that with your authentic personality and making it clear what emotional benefits the client receives makes your brand distinctive.
The roadmap or GPS of an effective brand includes:
- Your why – what’s the reason you started the business?
- Define the brand beyond money – what impact and value do you provide? (tangible and intangible)
- Values – what commitments will you keep religiously?
- Define who you’re helping – what are these people feeling when they need you most?
- Customer experience – what processes will ensure you treat everyone with the same care?
- Develop your language and tone of voice – what appeals most to your target?
Write these things out – then list adjectives that can help create a visual brand to reflect this.
The Three Cs of Branding
While style and content can vary significantly, Gail shared three imperatives of rock-solid branding:
- Consistency – Brands, like relationships, depend on reliability and constancy to blossom. Audiences resonate with a brand when it is the same every time they experience it.
- Clarity – Write in plain language and drop the jargon and acronyms. “You want to create a path that is really clear for clients to follow,” Gail explains.
- Character – Be transparent, and don’t be afraid to tell your true story with all its relatable flaws.
There may be temptation to create a “safe,” generic brand to appeal to a wide range of clients, but Gail recommends being true to your gut and choosing a niche. As she says, “Some of the most iconic brands rub people the wrong way.” Trying to appeal to everyone appeals to no one.
Branding vs. Marketing
Gail frequently hears the question, “Which one is more important – marketing or branding?” The answer is both, but branding comes first – it entails creating a strategic position, and marketing builds upon that foundation with the tactics to support it. They must complement each other and work together.
“While branding defines who you are, marketing is improving your odds of success,” she says. Marketing a strong brand means the clients you most want will see you as the unique solution to their problems (read: a lot less work for you, the freelancer)!
Business vs. Personal Branding
Because freelancers often are their business, personal and business brands can be blended, and Gail has suggestions for how to do that skillfully:
- Use your headshot on your profile images for social media instead of logo.
- Be real, and do videos like Facebook Lives.
- Send emails from your name, not your business name.
- Get pictures with your clients (casual and interactive, uncluttered, good light).
- Use “I” and “you” instead of “we” speak.
- Consider a wordmark logo of your name.
Messaging is More Important than Design
While good design is helpful to ensure your messages are read, strong copy is essential because it addresses the question on all readers’ minds: What’s in it for them?
Gail recommends choosing clear over clever copy, proofreading, and paring down text as much as possible. For copy ideas, Gail compiles questions and testimonials from clients and weaves those into her headlines and subject lines.
Writing isn’t your thing? Connect with Freelance Austin colleagues who write professionally!
There are lots of ways to position your business, and often the missing piece is a niche. A niche doesn’t mean you ONLY work for a specific type of client, it means you only spend money marketing to this ideal client.
The sweet spot in finding a niche is that place “between what you love, what you care deeply about, and what makes you money,” Gail says. One approach is to find a problem in the market, preferably in an industry in which you have experience, and present yourself as a resource to solve it.
Other suggestions for developing a positioning strategy:
- Base your position on a very specific service or offer.
- Appeal to the type of clients you’d like, and go beyond demographics – personality types, for example.
- Consider size and type of businesses: Fortune 500? Nonprofits? Entrepreneurs? Start-ups?
Gail offered a useful fill-in-the-blank formula to help freelancers determine their positioning:
- I help ___ do ___ (optional: because I believe_____).
She also shared some examples:
- I help thought leaders write great books in just 90 days. 300 satisfied clients so far.
- I help manufacturing organizations energize, focus and align their operations.
- I help purpose-driven entrepreneurs bring their brand vision to life because I believe everyone should pursue their dreams.
Gail also covered whether you should rebrand; tips for external branding; and crafting heroes’ brand stories for clients. She discovered it’s tough to do your own branding because you’re a little too close to it – and there may be parts you’re just not good at. She got help and took courses, concluding the session with this essential question: “If I don’t invest in myself and my business, why would my customers invest in me?”
The same can also be said of freelancers who may benefit from branding or re-branding.
For additional information:
Learn more about Gail’s business, Evolve your Brand, and book a free, one-hour session to “brandstorm” with her.
View the slides she presented. The last slide has many resource links for building your brand.