Brand is so much more than your logo or business card. Those visual elements are important, but your visual identity is only a part of what makes your brand. The other elements are “intangibles,” things you can point to, but can’t really touch or see. These intangible elements are even more vital to your brand than your visual identity, because they affect how your customers perceive your business. A brand’s intangibles should inform the visual elements, not the other way around.
Growing up, I don’t know how many times I got in trouble, not for what I said, but for “how I said it”. It took me a long time to realize how important tone can be in conveying attitude, good or bad. But once I did, the sarcasm could not be stopped.
Figuring out your brand’s personality goes a long way toward determining the “tone” of your brand. This tone is used in everything from your website, to social media, to catalog content, and everything in between. Is your business tone buttoned-up and uber-professional? Or, is it more classy, sassy, and hella smart assy, like yours truly? There is no wrong answer. It really is about what feels right for you and your business.
Tone also affects the language you use. It will determine if your business’s copy with have nary an F-bomb in sight, or if you add a little salt to the language pot. Again, there is no “right” way. If you think it is highly unprofessional to use unsavory language, and that your ideal client would balk at it, don’t use it. However, if you’re comfortable with four-letter words and attract the same type of clientele, then bombs away!
Customer service is both tangible and intangible. As consumers, we can often point out what makes for a good or bad customer service experience, but usually only after we have experienced it. Sure, we go in with certain expectations — to be treated courteously, for example — but we never know what kind of obstacles we’ll encounter in a business transaction. How your business responds in that situation will have a huge impact on the perception of your brand.
Obviously, offering good customer service doesn’t mean your business has to be a pushover. You’ll never be able to please all of the people all of the time, and you certainly can’t run a successful business if you’re constantly kowtowing to anyone with a complaint. However, by treating your customers and clients respectfully, in a timely manner, goes a long way to establishing you as someone to do business with — while the opposite establishes you as someone to avoid.
In fact, large corporations often include instructions on how to handle certain situations in their brand guidelines to help employees toe the brand line. For example, Chik-fil-a employees never say “you’re welcome.” It’s always “my pleasure.” In the CFA handbook, that is how employees engage with customers who say “thank you.” (Disclaimer: I’ve never read a CFA handbook, but I do know veteran CFA employees.)
Oh how I love adjectives! In my first collegiate life, I was an English major, and I have always harbored a love of language. Adjectives are crucial because they are how you describe your business, but also how customers describe your business. And the latter is the more important.
There are three sets of adjectives you need to consider: How you describe your business. How your customers describe your business. And, how you want your customers to describe your business. These last two should have at least some overlap, and if they don’t, you may have one of the following problems.
- You misidentified your target market/ideal client.
- You misidentified your ideal client’s pain point, or their major want or need.
- The way your business is run does not mesh with how you describe your business. (IE, you describe your business as “personable” but customers don’t feel a connection.)
- Your business is not the business you thought it was. You’re offering the wrong service or focusing on the wrong product.
Entrepreneurship is a learning experience. Your business will constantly evolve as you learn more about who you are, who you want to serve, and how you want to serve them. It is similar to how artists’ styles change over the course of their career. They are exposed to new techniques, new ideas, and new people, all of which influence their art. If the adjectives you’re using don’t line up with the ones used by your customers, you might need to take a step back and reevaluate.
Ask yourself if your particular expertise clicks better with a different market. Did you misinterpret what you thought your ideal client was asking for? It is entirely possible to shift your focus to a business more in line with your brand’s adjectives, making you both happier and more successful.