Going from Bland to Brand

Giving your brand a personality in the noisy world of marketing

These days it can be tough to stand out from the crowd.

The world of social media, websites, SEO, Google Ads, online marketing and content marketing can feel like a cacophony of noise and it’s small wonder many companies can feel drowned out by it all.

But there are ways to rise above it, escape from the plethora and start making yourself heard.

There are of course many factors that come into play here, not least of all is your time; The time you get to spend actually working on this stuff to make a difference and make it work for you. I will address this issue later.

For now, I will focus on what the key element in digital marketing really is – brand.

Or more specifically, brand personality, brand identity!

First Things First

Before we go on, I want to define the word brand.

All too often I hear someone say, “What do you think of my brand?” as they show me their logo.

Be absolutely clear about this; your logo is NOT your brand.

For the purposes of clarity, I will define what I mean by brand.

Your brand is every single touch point your company (or representatives of your company) have with your customer or prospective customer.

Every word spoken, every ad run, every social media post, every email sent, every letter they see, every page, image, word and icon on your website, EVERYTHING that someone will encounter or interact with whilst dealing with your business, both before and after buying from you.

Your brand is everything.

The Beige Desert

I have often looked at many a social media account or online marketing campaign and noted that it is lost in what I refer to as the beige desert. The wasteland in which interest goes to die and customer engagement is starved of sustenance under a blistering sun of apathy. Where clone brands trudge in unison like drones toward the distant mirage of perceived success.


Because they are the same as everyone else, they’re doing the same things in the same way, using boring images, safe language, dull messages, or droning on and on and on about themselves like the person you wish you hadn’t got seated next to at a dinner party.

Now, it would be untrue to say that you HAVE to be different to stand out, or that you shouldn’t follow some of the conventions that online marketing requires you to. You simply can’t get an effective online marketing campaign working at all without doing SOME of the things that need to be done – it’s just not possible.

However, what is important is your brand identity and your brand voice.

Why do you need a Brand Identity?

Typically, if you’re a small business, your brand identity is YOU – the founder, the MD, the key doer of things, the number one sales’ person and the only point of contact for almost all your customers.

You are the person they buy from, it is you they trust, you they put their faith in and you that give your business a personality – your own.

In a slightly larger company, though there is a certain distance between the founders/owners/board members and the customer, a brand personality is equally, if not more important. 

It was once true to say; “people buy from people” and, in some instances, this is still true. But I would like you to take a look at the mobile device you currently have within arms’ reach (or even possibly in your hand right now) and ask yourself if anyone from the manufacturer ever talked you into buying that phone? Did a sales’ person for them call you up? Did they contact you by email or by letter with a great offer?

The answer is almost certainly no.

You bought that phone (worth somewhere between £500 and £1,000) purely down to marketing. You bought it because their brand personality won you over, won over your friends and family, won over people you trust and that made your decision for you.

So, you didn’t buy from a person – you bought from a personality.

Where do you start?

Now this can be an expansive question with a rather expansive answer. However, I would personally recommend that you always start at one specific place.

Answer yourself the question; What do we want to be known for?

Or rather; What do we want people to think of when they think of us?

They’re one and the same question, just slightly reframed. The essence remains – you’re wanting to answer the question about the images, emotions and feelings that are conjured up in the minds of your customers and potential customers when they think of your brand.

Because, ladies and gentlemen – that IS your brand.

What they think of IS who you are.

If they think of professional, clever, witty, interesting, exciting or any one of a hundred other positive terms, you’re doing well.

But I doubt any of you want to be thought of as untrustworthy, unprofessional, low-quality, dull, forgettable, samey… bland or anything else of the sort.

So, first things first, decide what it is you want to be known for. What words you want people to associate with your business. If you’re an electrician’s firm you’ll want words like reliable, safe, efficient, reasonable etc. to be associated with you. It’s unlikely that words like exiting, fun or quirky (though generally positive) are ones that will work for you.

If you however are a company that specialises in business teambuilding days, then fun, engaging, energizing, zany, exhilarating and so on will be right for you.

Living your Brand

Ok, so you’ve decided how you want people to think of you. now you’ve got to project that in such a way as to make sure that is what they think.

Making people think of your brand in the way you want them to requires work. It isn’t quick, it isn’t easy, and it won’t just happen. You need to inject that personality into your brand (remember that your brand is every touchpoint you have with your customers).

This means that you have to set a brand voice. A way that you communicate with your clients that is set in stone. If you have staff who will deal with clients too, they need to know what this is. They need to be trained to communicate in your way.

Your social media posts, your website, your videos, your emails all of it should feel like it comes from the same voice. The same choice of language, the same tone of voice, the same overriding message HAS to come across. Otherwise you confuse people.

You’ll probably have experienced the odd feeling of speaking with one person at a company for a while then, for whatever reason you need to speak to someone else and their communication style is so dramatically different that you feel quite taken aback, even put off. That undermines their brand, and it’ll do the same to yours if your customers experience something similar.

In order to give your brand the personality you want it to have it has to be lived.

Everyone needs to be on board, everyone needs to be on the same page and everything that you do needs to be built around the brand identity.

Give me some specifics!

I hate articles that are full of theory and conjecture, but give you no real specifics, so don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one.

Think about some of the things that form a personality – use someone you know as an example if you like.

These will include:

  • Actions
  • Language
  • Thoughts
  • Opinions
  • Ideas
  • Emotions

So, you need to decide what kind of actions, language, thoughts, opinions, ideas and emotions your brand will have.

This will mean that, as a brand, you can have an opinion.

This means you can involve your brand in an opinion-based conversation topic. So long as your opinion (and it can be controversial, depending on how brave your brand is) tends to mirror that of your key customers then that opinion is only going to generate more brand identification between you and them.

A great example of a company with a good brand personality is Innocent – the drinks company.

They’re quirky, human, personable, fun, identifiable and thus they generate a stronger and more intrinsic bond with their customers. Most people like their brand, they like their bottles, they like their colours and they’ll see it on the shelf and notice it – event if they’ve never drunk an Innocent smoothie in their entire life.

Take lessons from brands that are great at creating customer loyalty:

  • Apple
  • Coca Cola
  • Starbucks
  • Innocent
  • Amazon
  • Netflix

Look at what they do, how they do it, what they say and how they say it and, all of a sudden you’re being given a step-by-step how-to guide on your own brand.

Bland to Brand

The simple fact remains that if you copy your competitors (who often aren’t doing a great job themselves) you’re going to be in a hard slog across the beige desert.

You need to start thinking more about the connection point with your customer. Understand WHY they might buy from you as opposed to someone else doing the same thing you do.

This can be difficult when you’re “in it” by which I mean; you’re already deeply involved in your company, so you understand what you do to the nth degree. From such a standpoint actually knowing why your customer buys from you can be very difficult to identify.

No matter who you are, outside perspective in this process can be invaluable. Make sure you seek it out.

Generate your brand identity, live it, breathe it, believe it and make sure everyone who works for you does too – suddenly your company becomes more than the sum of its parts.

I recommend reading my blog about The Power of a Marketing Centric Business for a slightly different perspective on this same issue.

Whatever your business, you can stand out from your competition by simply being a better, more interesting, more engaging and more loyalty-inspiring brand. Get that right, and you’re well beyond half way there!

  • October 19, 2019
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