Got a business name? Now attach meaning to it

Got a business name? Now attach meaning to it

So, you've got a new business name and a great 'brandable' domain. What next? How do you turn a name into a brand?

Most will be familiar with the branding truisms, "a company's name is not its brand" and, "a brand is not a logo".
Quite right; a brand is, as the old saying goes, "what people think and feel about a business". A brand is not a company name, and it is not a logo.

To illustrate the point, here are examples of what two brands mean personally to me:

Amazon: an incredible, brilliant resource for finding and buying almost anything that can be delivered. A visually messy, but somehow perfectly usable, website. Their tax shenanigans make me feel guilty about using their service, but there isn't a comparable alternative.
The Amazon brand: I'm impressed by it, I use it, but I don't like it. If they sorted out their accountancy arrangements, I'd love it, feel good about buying from it, and probably buy more from it. Altering their behaviour would influence my opinion of their brand.

Waitrose: It's smaller than rival supermarkets and therefore offers less choice, but the pay-off is less in-store clutter and signage that makes for calm stores with a premium feel. It can come across as a bit pious, but a relatively sound ethical stance and a focus on fairness comes seems to be backed up by the company's behaviour. It's quite expensive, but I understand why and I'm willing to pay the price.
The Waitrose brand: I wish it felt less middle class, but overall it speaks to me in a way its rivals don't, and makes me feel pretty good about visiting.

What these brands mean to me is not encapsulated in their company names, nor by their logos. It's in the way they present themselves, what they provide and how they provide it – and it's in how they behave.

What about your business?

What do you believe other people think and feel about it? Do they think you're the expensive company? Or the cheap option? Or the one they don't think is quite right for them? Or the one with amazing (or amazingly poor) service? Or the only place they can buy that great product? The ethical one? Or the one with off-beat logo and branding? Or the one they only use because it's convenient? Or the one with the irreverent CEO or sales person? Or the one with the amusing marketing? Or the funky van? Or the one they can never quite remember? Or the one that just, somehow, makes them feel good. get the idea, it's not about the name, and it's not about the logo.

People will attach thoughts and feelings to your business, whether you like it or not – and whether they intend to or not. This happens by osmosis, often subconsciously, and as a result of their own experiences of coming into contact with it.

And once people attach this emotional, often irrational stuff to your business, it becomes a brand. Good or bad.

This might happen because they've bought something from you, met you, received an email from you, or just stumbled across your website. But however they come across your company, people will form an opinion when they do. This can be positive or negative, and it's not within your control. But it is within your influence.

Let's repeat that last bit; you can't control what people think and feel about your company, but you can influence it.

And to do this, you need to decide what it is you WANT people to think and feel. What would you like your reputation to be? What do you want to be known for above all? How would you like customers, competitors and peers to perceive you?

These are big questions that can be hard to answer, but answer them you must ...if you’re to build the brand you want. Otherwise you'll be just leaving it for your customers to form their own, unguided opinions. You don't have to leave branding to chance.

Even if you're only just starting out with a new business, make it a priority to work out what you WANT people to think and feel about it. And remember, it's customers and industry peers we're talking about – not your friends or your dad.

How to attach meaning to your name

Once you've decided that you want to be a premium business, or a hi-tech innovator, or fast and cheap, or local/regional/national/global, or the friendly creative guys, or the market disruptor, or the traditional safe pair of hands, or whatever, write it down. You should be able to sum it up in a sentence or two (sometimes called a brand statement and is effectively a brand strategy (but don’t let the jargon put you off). And leave out the generic 'dedicated to service excellence / customer-focused’ blah that anyone can claim.

An example brand statement: 

“We are a friendly team of maverick developers ready to disrupt our marketplace; we take existing, proven ideas and reduce them to their absolute essentials, making our products pragmatic, focused and affordable”

Through this simple statement – which deliberately doesn’t mention specifics – you get a feel for the kind of company it is. Have a go at writing your own. It’s not easy and will probably require many re-drafts, but it’s well worth the effort. You can get some useful pointers at this short post by marketingmo.

Brand statements are most effective for existing businesses which have real-world experience to draw upon, so if you’re a startup your brand statement will contain elements of guesswork and aspiration. This is fine, but be prepared to edit or rewrite it when you get commercial experience under your belt.

Once you have your brand statement (which you don’t necessarily share directly with the outside world), you can then ask your designer and/or web company to make sure that it shines through in your logo, imagery, colour palette, website and so on. And if you're at the beginning of your business journey, you may even be able to identify a business name that matches up with the aspirations you have for your brand.

All this is called branding and, when done well, it helps to project your business in a way that could, potentially, influence what people think and feel about your business.

But, as mentioned at the start, a brand is a lot more than a name, a logo and visuals – it needs to come through in everything you do: your products, how you do business, how you communicate with customers, your corporate behaviour.

And here’s a word of warning: to be effective, branding has to be authentic. If you want people to think of your brand as a technology-led innovator, it had better be true. If not, you'll get found out, possibly undermine and discredit your business and, by pretending to be something you're not, miss out on the customers who actually would be interested in you.

A quick summary:

  • You can’t control what your brand means to other people, but you can influence it
  • You need to decide what you want them to think and feel
  • Write this down in a short ‘brand statement’ …and make sure you can back it up with reality
  • Use this brand statement as your strategy/guide for your visual identity, all communications, and how your business behaves

Get this right and you have the potential to build a brand – not just a company.


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