What’s in a Brand? Where to Start When Developing Your Business’s Brand Identity
By Peter Decoteau
Establishing your business’s brand is a vital part of your marketing strategy, as it should guide the majority of your marketing messaging, activities, and assets.
Before diving into brand development though, whether for a big business building out a large-scale brand strategy or a small operation looking to create some clarity and consistency in marketing activities, it’s important to first understand what we’re talking about when we talk about “branding,” and why it’s such an important part of your marketing strategy and success.
BRANDING IS NOT JUST AESTHETICS – IT IS EVERYTHING
Consider some of the biggest brands in the world – giants like Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola, or Tesla. What, if anything, do they have in common? The easy answer is that the biggest, most successful global brands have a few core, consistent elements: an instantly recognizable logo, a memorable slogan, and a distinct design aesthetic. It would be natural, then, to infer that branding is primarily based on visuals and language, but in reality those public-facing elements are only scratching the surface; a brand is much deeper and more significant than that.
In short, your brand is everything you do, and more specifically how that shapes how your customers feel about you. While the highly-visible elements, such as design and messaging, are representations of your brand-identity, they do not dictate the brand but are instead extensions of it. Your brand identity is first and foremost built out upon the essential components of your business, including tangible assets such as your employees, your physical locations, the core services you provide, and the people you serve, as well as more high-minded concepts like your values, mission, and driving philosophies.
A good brand distills all of these things into something memorable and evocative, and then conveys them clearly and concisely. The starting point when developing a brand-identity, then, is not coming up with an eye-catching logo or a clever slogan, but instead exploring the fundamental elements that define your business, both to you and to your patients, and finding the verbal and visual language that best expresses them.
BRANDS ARE DEFINED BY DIFFERENCES
In his excellent book, The Brand Gap: How To Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design, Marty Neumeier offers five disciplines of brand-building. It’s no accident that “differentiation” is the first discipline provided; the ability to pinpoint and communicate your key differentiators in ways that are meaningful to your audience is one of the most effective ways to establish a unique, memorable brand.1
The work you’ve already done to explore your defining attributes should also help you identify your differentiators. Neumeier implores readers to consider the following questions: Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter? After examining your business from an internal and external perspective, answers to these questions should be both clear and substantive in a way that clarifies your differentiators.
For example, you may initially answer:
- Who are you? A private practice physical therapy group in northwestern Oregon
- What do you do? Provide a wide range of physical therapy services for people of all ages
- Why does it matter? Because we help people heal and feel better
All of these answers may be true, but they oversimplify who you are and what makes you different and, for your target audience, better than any other physical therapy group in town. Look again at what you have identified as the essential attributes of your business, listen to feedback from your patients as to what the most important parts of their experience are, and bring that perspective to the same questions.
- Who are you? A private practice physical therapy group with 12 experienced clinicians in three state-of-the-art facilities located in and around Portland, Oregon.
- What do you do? Provide world-class physical therapy services with an emphasis on one-on-one therapy using industry-leading techniques.
- Why does it matter? Because offering cutting-edge physical therapy with experienced clinicians in an individualized setting is the best way to ensure excellent outcomes.
Neumeier stresses that focused messaging is key. In this case, it’s clear that the group’s approach to physical therapy—a combination of innovative techniques and highly personalized treatment—is the biggest selling point for patients, and likely the business’s biggest differentiator. Those messages and values should consistently be featured in their marketing; while they may not speak to individuals searching for a “quick-fix” style of physical therapy, they offer a clear and resonant brand identity that can be expanded across media and platforms.1
BRANDS DON’T “SELL” PRODUCTS AND/OR SERVICES
One of the most difficult concepts behind brand development is that you are not “selling” your services, at least not in a traditional sense, but instead expressing ideas, stories and experiences that represent your brand’s core identity. In discussing his fourth discipline, validation, Neumeier asserts that, due to technological and cultural advancements, communication between businesses and customers is no longer a monologue but a dialogue, wherein the customer must be an active participant in the messaging cycle.1
In the book, What Great Brands Do, Denise Lee Yohn expands upon that idea, emphasizing that the best brands build relationships with customers based on their interactions and experiences. This reciprocal approach to marketing leverages emotional connection into loyalty, retention and positive word-of-mouth.2 Regarding physical therapy, a similar approach can be taken to capture and share patient experiences—desired outcomes, successes, relationships with clinicians, testimonials—into a comprehensive picture of the type of experience a potential patient will likely have with you, and what that says about who you are and why your services matter. In this way, your brand may not be “selling” physical therapy as much as it’s selling a partnership in a healthy lifestyle, the ability to move without pain, return to sport, return to daily life, etc. There are many more concepts featured in both books that can help you define your brand identity, but if you can discover your business’s essential attributes, identify your differentiators and engage in a dialogue with your patients to distill these elements into evocative, clear messaging, you will be well on your way to establishing a strong brand.
1Neumeier M. The Brand Gap: How To Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design. San Francisco, CA: New Riders; 2006.
2Yohn D. What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-building Principles That Separate the Best From the Rest. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand; 2014.
Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.