Someone once shouted at me across a room that I was all fur coat and no knickers.
I know. Rude.
I was 17 and it was my drama teacher. His point was that my performance was all about the presentation with nothing underneath it. I was all shiny jazz hands with nothing to back it up.
Style over substance. Superficial.
The same thing applies with brands.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that you’ve got a super sexy visual identity. Brilliant that your trendy website literally oozes style and if it were a person it would probably have a beard and tattoos, live in a warehouse in Hoxton and drink tea out of a glass mug.
But what if beardy Hoxton guy looks the part but can’t hold a conversation? Exactly. Move along.
Because all that good visual stuff isn’t going to stand up to much if it isn’t backed up by some well thought through brand communication. Something which puts some meat on your stylish bones, so to speak.
But what exactly do we mean by brand communication, I hear you ask. Excellent question – ten points to you.
It isn’t a single activity, a box you can tick.
It’s a combination of all the touchpoints someone has with you and your product or service: what your website and marketing literature says; what you’re saying and doing on social; your email to a potential lead; the conversation a customer has with your sales and service teams.
Good brand communication helps people understand who you are, what you’re about and what you stand for. It’s what gives your brand substance, taking you from a ‘thing’ to something human, relatable and meaningful.
Ultimately, good brand communication helps build your reputation.
And we all know that a good reputation is the bedrock of a successful brand.
Many a business has tried – and failed – by jumping straight into the doing without thinking through the full brand communication strategy. That’s a sure fire way to communication that is confusing and doesn’t do what you want: make you real.
So how do you get it right? Follow a few fundamental rules and you’ll be well on your way…
Obvious to the point of sounding trite, but it really, really matters.
Can you articulate your purpose? Who you are and why you’re different? Your brand values? What do you represent? What is your USP?
If you can’t trot it out as easily and clearly as your date-of-birth, I’d put my money on nobody else getting it either. Many a brand has fallen down because they ran ahead and got on with the sexy stuff before they’d worked out who they are and what their brand stands for.
Nail your purpose and values and USP, and you’ve got the starting point of all your brand communication: the insight into your brand that is going to make you real and human and relevant.
The substance that gives your audience something to buy into.
There’s lots of handy tools to help you unpick your brand and what makes you unique – the internet, as ever, is your friend. But so am I, and I’d recommend you start with a read of our very own Bull-Free Guide to Brand Strategy e-book.
Know Your Audience
I hear you: you know who your audience is.
I mean, REALLY know them – get inside their head. Your communication with them needs to be based on a really deep understanding of them.
What makes them tick?
What are their values?
Who are their influencers?
What is their lifestyle like?
What are their aspirations and desires?
The more you know about them, the easier it is to make what you’re trying to say relevant and relatable.
And let’s be very blunt: if your communication isn’t relevant or relatable then it isn’t going to cut through the panoply of other messages trying to reach them.
Happily, gone are the days of needing to take on a fancy-pants market research agency to do it all for you. It’s easier (and therefore cheaper – hoorah) than ever to get underneath your target audience. There’s an interesting article here highlighting some of things you could do right now, without spending a penny.
Get Your Tone Right
Ok, so this one is particularly close to our heart. We like to think we know [cough, cough] a little bit about it.
A clear, consistent tone of voice helps people understand you. It sets you apart from the others. It gives you a personality.
It gives you a common thread across all of your communication which makes it stand out as uniquely YOU.
This blog post from yours truly is a really comprehensive starting point in thinking more about your tone of voice – and it almost certainly is something you need to think about. Suffice to say, it isn’t an overnight job and not something to start with until you’ve really pinned your brand down.
Integrate and Be Consistent
Ever worked for someone who was a different person over email to what you got in the flesh? Gave you different in direction by phone to what came in writing? Would only talk to you by IM?
Confusing, no? Made you question their authority and possibly their sanity? For sure.
And so it applies to your brand communication. If you want your communications to be greater than the sum of their parts, there a simple but winning formula:
- choose a good mix of channels
- integrate everything
- be consistent.
In simple terms, that means putting your communications in all the places they’ll be picked up and making sure they are carefully linked and complementary.
So you might have adverts supported by press, underpinned by social, driving traffic to your website, in turn looked after by first class SEO which is related to those adverts we started with. As this article explains, the approach might be slightly different but the basic message across channels should be the same.
While we’re on consistency, let’s also talk tone of voice. (Yes, we bang on about this a bit. It’s important.) You’ve gone to the bother of pinning it down. Use it. Always.
Your unique voice needs to come across in every piece of communication you produce. From your web content and marketing literature right through to email to a potential lead and what your sales team are saying.
Put simply: don’t confuse your audience!
Don’t Talk at Them
You know that bloke who talks and talks and talks? Who barely lets you speak and when he accidentally does, definitely isn’t listening? Yeah, him.
Don’t be the brand version of him.
There’s a reason it’s called brand communication and not brand monologuing. It’s a two-way process. LISTEN!
You never know, you might even learn something along the way. And that something might be the nugget that takes your brand from mediocre to mega.
Which brings us neatly onto…
Keep the Cycle Going
Your brand communication (ergo: your brand) will be most successful if you treat it as an ongoing process or cycle, rather than a linear A-B exercise.
That hallowed two-way conversation you’re aiming for isn’t the end. It’s the start.
It’s not just about listening, although that’s vital. It’s acting on what people are saying. It’s learning about yourself and your audience, and how your communication is landing.
Using it to continually refine not just your communication but the brand itself.
That’s not to say who you are and your intrinsic brand values ought to shift as trends come and go – being authentically you is what makes you unique. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen, learn and evolve.
Because let’s face it, the world is littered with failed brands that didn’t keep up.
And that’s the point about brand communication being two-way: it’s not just about you helping people understand your brand, it’s about them helping you be a better brand.
And if I’ve not convinced you of the value of an ongoing cycle of brand communication, read this, which puts the success of some of the world’s leading brands (Google, anyone?) down to their ability to listen, respond, refine.
That’s a whistlestop tour of brand communication. Making sure you’ve got some substance to back-up the important, but on its own superficial, aesthetic stuff. Or as that drama teacher would have it, getting some knickers on underneath your fur coat.
We think it pretty much covers the basics, but not everyone has the same take. What do you think? Have we missed something? Are we overthinking it? Let us know below.
As for me, Mr Mills was bang on – I failed my drama A Level. Thankfully for me, I’m a better writer than I am actor. But given his novel approach to highlighting concerns about pupil performance, he was probably a better actor than he was teacher.
Good luck. Get your knickers on.