Defining your Brand

ICONIC FITNESS BRAND SOULCYCLE operates indoor cycling studios around the

country and helped popularize the pay-per-class fitness model. Founders Julie Rice and

Elizabeth Cutler always had a very clear vision of what their brand embodies. According to Rice: When it comes to the brand, she—yes, she—was a person, with distinct needs. “There were no accidents,” Rice told Inc. “We always thought of SoulCycle as a brand, even when we had no right to think of it as a brand.”

That meant laboring over everything from the fonts to the logo to the smell in the studio.

Because the company’s first location in New York City was set back from the street with no signage, the founders were forced to focus relentlessly on the in-studio experience. “There were no sensory details left un-turned,” Rice says.

The founders focused obsessively on their customer—the centerpiece of their brand. “We always say when we train employees that we’re not looking to create users, we’re looking for evangelists. It should be the kind of experience that when you’re done and you’re going out to dinner with your friends at night you’re still talking about it and it takes up most of the dinner conversation.” They remembered personal details about customers and went as far as moving a customer’s car if her meter was up. That, they say, is the “culture of yes” that makes customers want to tell their friends all about the experience.

From the beginning, they decided SoulCycle would be the star of SoulCycle. The company refused to sell water or protein bars from other makers in their store. Rice says that’s a cornerstone of how the brand developed into such a strong presence. “There’s only one thing you’re ever served, and that is soul. Your shoes say SoulCycle, the wall says SoulCycle, the clothing says SoulCycle. You cannot miss the message that we are trying to deliver you.” SoulCycle’s branding works because it starts with the core understanding of their target customer—the person they needed more than any other, day in and day out. Every decision the founders made about the brand was based on connecting with that person—someone who was looking not just to work out, but to connect with a truly immersive experience. That brand became the grounding principle for how the company interacted with customers, every single day. From there, they relentlessly focused on consistency, which experts say is key. The more consistent you are with every element of your brand—in SoulCycle’s case, that even includes the

smell of the studios—the more your consumers know exactly who you are and will remain loyal to you.

BRINGING YOUR BRAND TO LIFE

If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal

to the brand.”

HOWARD SCHULTZ

A brand is a living, breathing thing and will undoubtedly evolve as your product adds features or

as the marketplace changes. That can make it hard for an entrepreneur to decide when to declare yourself “done” with brand development and ready to bring that brand to market. You can start by making sure “there’s a level of rigor . . . in the beginning,” says Emily Heyward, co-founder of branding agency Red Antler, which has counted companies like Casper and Birchbox as clients.

That rigor starts by being crystal-clear on what your company stands for. Begin with that

one-sentence description of what your product is or what your company does—the elevator pitch

you’ve likely practiced and maybe even mastered. But when it comes to your brand, Heyward

says that’s not nearly enough. You need to address three other questions: What is the purpose of

your company? How is your company going to connect with people? And why should people

care?

The answers you come up with shouldn’t feel flip or dismissive. They should feel like a part of you, and a part of each and every one of your people, inside of each and every function within your company. If you can’t articulate those answers, if everyone in your organization can’t articulate them clearly, not only do you not know what your brand is, but you’re simply not ready to go to market, Heyward says.

Once you’ve answered those questions, you need to make sure the brand you’ve uncovered is viable for the long term—you need to future-proof it. You can do that, says John Cinquina, the founder of brand strategy agency Red Meets Blue Branding, and author of Build Great Brands, by periodically holding a strategic meeting with your organization’s key stakeholders to clarify the plan for the coming twelve months, as well as three, five, and ten years out. Consider the markets you might operate in, the size you expect to be, your product or service diversification plans, and the opportunities you foresee.

You may have answered these in the past, but this time, discuss these variables within the context of your brand. Define what role the brand will play in helping you reach these goals and targets. Brands can only be successfully tied to company growth when you understand what success looks like.

You can go a step further by conducting a touchpoint audit: looking at all of the places a

customer or potential customer interacts with your brand. You may see that things have changed since you created a certain type of signage or made a decision, and that it’s time to update those manifestations of the brand.

A great brand structured for growth, like most things in a company, should be assessed

regularly, Cinquina says. Only you can determine how often you believe that needs to be, but it’s worth determining what works for you. This will help inform where to refresh, tweak, and measure. By measuring success, revisiting goals, and discussing improvement strategies, you may find that even small tweaks can go a long way. For some, that means quarterly, for others annually.

THE BRAND OF “YOU”

For better or for worse, our company is a reflection of my thinking, my character, and my values.”

RUPERT MURDOCH

Now your company has a bran d. But should you? Many people these days expect to interact with a human—not a faceless company. As a company founder, you are the company. So how can you make sure your brand pushes your goals and the company’s goals forward?It’s become commonplace these days for entrepreneurs to feel they need a personal brand, but developing a personal brand isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for introverts, and it isn’t for people who can’t take a little public criticism—which will happen, inevitably, if you’re publishing your opinions.

To cultivate a personal brand that will work in concert with your business brand, there are a few tenets to live by. First, focus on a few of your most-promising market segments, says executive coach, trainer, and consultant Rita B. Allen in her book Personal Branding and Marketing Yourself—areas where you can really stand out. You’ll get the greatest payoff of your time if you’re focused.

Next, know your marketplace and stay a part of it. Stay up to date on your industry, and stay visible within it—becoming a source of information. You should become someone people contact when they want advice or information in a certain area. You can do that through social media, of course, which is critically important for personal brand-building. But don’t stop there. Attend networking events and maintain contacts. Keep a database of those contacts. No matter who you’re talking to and in what forum, when it comes to personal brand-building, who you are speaks louder than what you do, says Nicolas Cole, founder of Digital Press, a content marketing and influence agency.

There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there. There are a lot of keynote speakers. There are a lot of marketers, and digital strategists, financial planners, brand executives—and what makes some of them stand out has far more to do with the way they present themselves than whatever it is they “do.” You do that through your voice—the distinctive flavor you deliver in speeches or even tweets. You also do that via your style—think Steve Jobs’s and Mark Zuckerberg’s iconic, oft-discussed sartorial choices. Plus, don’t forget your mannerisms. Whether you’re the type to maintain unrelenting eye contact or you’re a hugger, those choices will become part of your personal brand.

Most important, Cole says, be consistent. Consistency rewards both you and your audience, because it constantly reinforces those elements that comprise your brand. Consistency, Cole says, is how you attract more and more people, for a true following.

It can be tough to keep up. Not to mention addicting: Just ask all those people who

obsessively track follows and retweets. A million followers won’t make your product great. Don’t let your devotion to your own brand come at the expense of what you actually create in the form of your company.

Five Places to Incorporate Your Brand Identity

Your company has spent a lot of time defining and creating your brand and

identity. You may have paid a design company to create a logo or a new name

and a custom color scheme and paid a web designer to create a website that matched

your logo.

But your designer does not define your brand identity. You want that identity to

shine through every single day, and become woven into the fabric of your business.

Here are five ways to bring your brand into your business, every day, from John

Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing.

1. Business Cards. This seems like an obvious place to start, but some clients and

customers will first meet your employees inside or outside the office. Your business

cards must not only include your logo and colors, but reflect the quality of your

product and your business. Flimsy paper cards, while effective at distributing

information, will reflect poorly on your brand.

2. Emails. You should create and use a uniform email signature for all employees.

This creates immediate credibility for every employee who may have contact with a

client with whom they have not previously interacted, and it helps your emails stand

out in inboxes.

3. Workplace. Regardless of your industry, you will probably have clients and

customers in your workspace. Your location and your logo on the wall are not the

only things that have an impact on clients. The sounds, smells, and cleanliness of

your workplace can also affect their view of your company.

4. Forms. A lot of businesses use forms to gather information on their clients and

customers. While it may be easy to simply throw something together in order to

gather the information needed, it is worth it to spend some time designing the forms

so they fit with your logo and branding. This goes for online forms, too.

5. Talking Points. Everyone knows the importance of great customer service. Bad

customer service often results in bad reviews and negative referrals. But sometimes,

a small component of your customer service can be what makes you stand out. For

instance, Gates, a popular BBQ restaurant in Kansas City, has their employees ask,

“Hi, may I help you?” to every one of their customers. While this seems standard,

their cashiers are so consistent about doing this that it has become a part of their

brand. Their logo now proudly features the phrase “Hi, may I help you?”. Their

business became so well known for something so simple that it became a major part

of their brand.

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