What Owners Need to Know About Branding – Emily Brackett

What goes into the branding of a growing business? Is it your logo? Your colors? Your business cards or trucks? In today’s episode we talk to branding expert Emily Brackett on what goes into a successful company brand and what impact it has on your bottom line.

Rich: My guest today is president of Visible Logic and founder of Branding Compass. As a business owner herself, she shares a certain kinship with the entrepreneurs and innovators who make up Visible Logic’s roster of clients. Her innate ability to bring clarity to complex brands through words and visuals has earned her numerous awards from Graphic Design USA, a spot on Goldman Sachs prestigious 10,000 Small Business program, and the Portland winner of the Top Gun Pitch-Off in 2016.

She loves the challenge of taking a new or unique product or service and molding it into a tangible brand. Who better then, to dive into what you need to know about branding a company, than Emily Brackett. Emily, welcome to the podcast.

Emily: Thanks, Rich. It’s great to be here.

Rich: So Emily, looking back on your long career, what was your very first job?

Emily: In my career or anywhere? My first job was in the recreation department at Lexington, MA. Every Saturday morning I got up at about like 8:00 AM and did these sort of like gym classes with about three to ten-year-olds and I made minimum wage. I remember getting that paycheck, it was like $12.

Rich: All right. But you know, it was right where the shot heard round the world was. So I guess there’s something exciting about that, right?

Emily: That’s right. Lexington.

Rich: So we’re going to talk about branding. And branding seems to mean different things to different people. So how do you define it, especially in the way you work with Maine businesses?

Emily: Sure. I think that, especially when people hire me to work on their brand, I think it is actively crafting how you want to represent your company or product or service. So it’s a combination of visuals and messaging together, and how you represent your brand. There are a lot of external forces like what people think of you and your reputation, but those aren’t all things that you can actively participate in. So I think of it more on the side that you can promote about your company or service, and positioning it exactly how you want it to be in the eyes of your customers and prospects.

Rich: I’m sure there are a lot of small business owners and entrepreneurs who are listening to today’s episode and saying, you know, I’m sure branding is great if you’re Apple or Nike or LL Bean, but I’m too small and I just have too many other things to worry about. What do you say when you hear complaints or concerns like that?

Emily: Sure. I think that I begin by saying, don’t use Apple and LL Bean and Nike as your role models, because those are companies that are international in scope, they have huge marketing budgets. But think about some of the local brands that you know and love, you know, Coffee by Design, Holy Donut. These are all people who have crafted a great brand and you probably are choosing them because of that to some extent, whether you realize it or not.

I think other things for small businesses to look at are, when you’re thinking about a contractor for your house, do they look put together? Is their brand professional with the way maybe their logo is, their trucks, their uniforms, their paperwork? Those are things that you’re probably making an assessment of them based on that. And so as a small business owner, flip that over and think about the judgements people are making about your business based on the level of professionalism of your brand image.

Rich: Well, I certainly can think back to the days before flyte, when I was doing medical sales and traveling all the time. And very often, if I was stopping somewhere for lunch, I was doing that. This was well before Yelp or TripAdvisor or anything, just based on the vibe that the restaurant was giving off. And very much that might’ve been signage, or name, or how clean the place looked. So are those all elements of branding?

Emily: Absolutely. And restaurants are a great example, Rich, because you think, like you said, the sign, the menu, the décor. And then it gets into how are the staff dressed? How do they greet you? Are they more formal? Are they more casual? Those are all things that are registering in your mind, and they’re building up an expectation of how much money you’re going to pay for a meal there and what type of experience you’re going to have at that establishment. You’re not going to expect to get really fancy waitstaff, then sit down at a plastic diner table. So they all go hand in hand, for sure.

Rich: So it sounds like this is something we should be very intentional about. But I’m sure there are a lot of businesses out there – the local plumber, the painting contractor – who’s like, well, I just want to do my business and get paid for it. What are some of the first steps for a company that’s never really considered branding, to be intentional about how they want to be seen or the visage they want to put forward out there?

Emily: Sure. I think that it may be surprising, but I suggest people think about who would their ideal client be. You’re the plumber, the painter. A painter is a great example. Are you trying to get into apartment buildings where there’s a large scale? Are you trying to do interiors, exteriors? You want to do everything yourself so you need small jobs. You’ve got a big crew and you’re looking for the bigger job that better. So when you start about, how would you like to be perceived, is the best way to start. And so that usually begins with who would my ideal client be? What kind of takeaway do I want them to have when they hear about my company or they go to my website?

And then start thinking about, well how would I show that, what exudes that type of brand traits to them, and what kind of messaging would I use to make myself appear to fill that idea of what they want from a painter?

Rich: Emily, I agree with you that I love the idea of the ideal client or the ideal customer. But certainly you’ve had conversations with business owners that are like, I will paint any house,

I will plumb any plumbing, I will see any patient, I just want business. What is your response in that situation?

Emily: Well, okay. So I could challenge it, but the other side of that would be, well then thinking about your brand, the most important thing is consistency because it takes, for years we always quoted it takes eight brand touchpoints for somebody to typically remember your business. Now I’m hearing with shorter attention stance spans that can be even like a dozen times or more. It depends a lot on the product or service you’re selling. But we all tend to trust things that are more familiar to us, especially if there’s a positive connotation.

So that’s where having your truck, your signs, your ads, all be consistent. You’re building up that reputation and trust, even when you’re not directly estimating a job for somebody. So long before you show up to do that for somebody, they already have this sense of like, yeah, you know what, I think I pretty much trust this person. I’ve seen their signs around town. Other people clearly trust them enough to use them.

So that’s going to be done with really consistent visuals. Choosing a type face, colors, imagery. And just repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. Even if it feels boring to you, it’s not getting boring to the rest of the world.

Rich: So when somebody comes to you and says, “Look, I know I need help with my brand.” What does that exercise look like? Where do you start with that company, Emily?

Emily: Sure. So I do like to find out who their ideal customer is, what would be their dream situation of how they’re viewed in the marketplace. We also want to look at who their competitors are. So for example, with the painters. That’s a tough one, right? There’s a lot of people trying to use a paintbrush and a can of paint for their logo. And so how can you stand out? Maybe you do something very unusual. Maybe you are in a more conservative field like you’re an accountant. Well, you don’t want to look like you’re out in left field ,so it’s finding that sweet spot of how can I look distinct, yet also part of the pack sometimes. So you want to look at your clients, you want to look at the marketplace, and then you want to find ways to figure out really what makes you special.

So you might do that by asking some of your existing customers, “Why did you choose us?”,  or “Now that you’ve used us, what was really great about us?” And you just want to start elevating those ideas and bringing those to the forefront, and then thinking about visuals or messages that bring that to mind.

So for example, if you’re, “Oh, we’re really fast.” Well, that’s where you might have topography that looks like it’s italicized and moving forward. You know, those types of things. If you’re a perfectionist, maybe there’s something that suggests attention to detail in the style of your logo. So you want to connect those visually with what those really core brand traits are.

Rich: So you mentioned a few things. So we talked about logo and typography. What are some of the other elements that, it sounds like the first step is identify your ideal customer and why they find you so good, why they chose you, why they stuck with you, why they might recommend you to friends and, and continue to build on that once you know that piece. You touched on this, but where are you putting your brand into these different brand elements?

Emily: Yeah, ideally you’re going to have some standards that you use everywhere. So again, consistency is so important. So you want to know your fonts, your colors, your imagery style, and then you’re going to apply it absolutely to your website. If you’re active on social media, you want to use it there. If you have any printed marketing materials, it should be there. If you’re giving estimates, maybe there’s some paperwork involved, you would want it there. If you have a retail location, absolutely something with the signage and decor, it all should be connected together. So really start thinking about any time you have to do something that represents your business, it should always reflect the same visual standards.

Rich: Let’s talk about something a little less tangible. You mentioned earlier on with the restaurants and how the staff greets you at the door. Once you’ve kind of figured out this is the brand that we’re going to be, this is kind of where we are, and this is the best version of us, and this is where we’re going, whatever it might be for you. How do you get your team on board? Whether we’re talking about servers, or customer service reps, or sales reps, or any frontline employee, how do we really get them to embody this brand that we’re trying to put out there in the world?

Emily: So Rich, that’s a great question because first of all, getting some standards in place and communicating it to your team, those are the things that are going to move you successfully from say a one person solopreneur business to a successful bigger business. And so you do you want to train them just like you would on anything else. You probably have processes that are more about delivering the skill or expertise or product to the client. Well, you want to talk about that in terms of, “Hey, these are our values. This is how we say things.” You can be literal, word for word, and have scripts. Or you could have some more benchmarks of, we always greet people very politely, we always use their first name, we never say, “Hey guys”, or we do say, “Hey guys”, um, it’s you start having these maybe some guideposts of yes’s and no’s, examples of it, perhaps complete scripts. But if people understand the persona they’re trying to embody when they’re in that position, that will help them use the right words.

Rich: And what if we have employees or team members who are like, “That’s just ridiculous. I can’t say that. That’s not what we do. That doesn’t sound natural.” Do we just say, this is the way it’s going to be, and you’re either on the team or not on the team or. Or what do you recommend in a situation when you do get a little bit of pushback from the “rank and file”?

Emily: Sure. I mean, we’re getting way outside branding here, but I would say that if you have a strong belief that your customer service and your tone of voice is integral to your brand, well, you’ve got to believe that and communicate that to your staff. And I’m guessing if you have people who are pushing a lot of resistance to that, I would be surprised to hear that it’s not one of those things like, you try to train them and if they’re not interested in it, they’re probably not an ideal team member. Right. That’s, I mean, I have to say as a business owner, that’s probably what you’re going to see six months in the future. Be like, that was a red flag when that person was not interested in embracing what our brand is all about.

Rich: Well, let’s bring this back to branding then. Sorry to put you on the spot there. If you already have a brand for your company, intentional or not, sometimes we get a brand because we’re not paying attention or being intentional about it. How can you change your brand when it might already set in the mind of your customer or prospects? And are there any red flags or signposts that let us know our brand is tired or needs an overhaul?

Emily: Yeah. I see the biggest mistake small business owners make is ignoring their brand. And so it’s built by default, and then they have gotten this advice that really applies more to say Fortune 500 companies about, “Oh my goodness, you’ve got to be really careful. You’ve got all this brand equity built up in this brand, and to make a pivot is really risky as a small business owner.” I mean, almost 100% of the time to show to the marketplace, “Hey, I’ve gotten clarity about where I’m going with my business, and who I am, and who I can help. And I’m showing that visibly with an upgraded brand.” I mean, it’s almost always a positive return. People are going to say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you finally redid that ugly logo”, or “ I always wondered why you had that name or that image. It didn’t match with what we saw you doing.” So when you actually bring those things together, especially as a small business, it’s almost always a positive. It’s really saying to the world, “Hey, we’re taking ourselves seriously. I want you to take us seriously.”

Rich: You mentioned earlier about using our brand in social media, and seemingly anywhere online. How much branding should go into a typical Facebook post or tweet, or LinkedIn, a lot of us create graphics that go into social media. Should we be branding all these, whether it’s a logo or a color scheme, or what have you? How important is that in the ongoing branding process?

Emily: It’s going to make those channels more effective, most likely. I mean, if you’re going to create a graphic, either you choose some stock image that just glazes by people as it goes by in their timeline, or you do something really unique. And again, those are the brand touchpoints. So it’s okay if you’re using Canva or whatever to be creating this imagery. Go ahead and create some standards, like we always use this font, we try to use this type of colors. That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be some variation there. It doesn’t have to be absolutely 100%. But if you were to see a board of all your recent posts, there should start to be themes there with your visuals. And it’s just going to be more powerful and more impactful when people get that consistency from you, it’s going to be more memorable.

Rich: I think a lot of people when they hear the word ‘brand’ or ‘branding’, they think a lot around the visuals. And we’ve certainly talked about some visuals today. But how do things like copy, voice, audio, and video, fit into all of these different elements?

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. We definitely want all of our clients to be thinking about tone of voice. And that can be the way you write a headline, or your style with your… I know you Rich, you have a very informal, you try to be humorous, et cetera.

Rich: I TRY and be funny? I thought I was.

Emily: You are, you are, yes. And so that becomes distinct, and that becomes connected to you. And other people want to have a more professional demeanor, that’s okay. You can be more casual, you can be more formal. But absolutely nowadays the written word as well as, like you said, the audio. Whether that’s a podcast like this, or just one-on-one conversation, if you are doing video. Absolutely. You want to be thinking about the scripting of that. Do you tend to do long lengthy, in depth things? Are you doing really short, fast things? Those are all part of your brand experience for sure.

Rich: All right. Now a lot of us started a business, and maybe it was just us or it was very small, and then it continues to grow. And you mentioned, you know, I like to think of myself as being funny or irreverent in the way that I teach. How do we go, if we’ve been the main voice for the company, as we start to grow and bring on other people, any suggestions on how we make sure that there still is a consistent voice for the company? Or is that something that we just have to give up as we bring on more writers and content creators to a team?

Emily: Yeah. You want to think about that for sure. And I think there’s two ways you can do that. So first, I would start by documenting what is your style. You may not have really thought about it in a very clear way. So you might start saying, I am irreverent. That was a great word. It’s a little bit more specific than just funny, right? That’s how you are funny. So you might start saying, labeling that with some adjectives, giving some examples of written or verbal usage of how that’s done and how therefore you want somebody to match that.

Also, when you get into that phase of building out your brand, you do have to decide is somebody essentially ghost writing for you? If they’re ghost writing for you, then absolutely that tone has to be 100%. If you’re really instead saying, “Hey, we have Rich, but Rich has a team of people whose helping.” And then each of those certainly you want to have some themes or general style for flyte. But it’s okay if somebody takes a little more serious tone, let’s say you’re showcasing them as an expert that’s just part of your team.

Rich: Some people are obviously going to try and do branding by themselves. Even if they’re not necessarily calling it branding. They get a logo, whatever it may be, or they control the whole thing by pulling in some independent contractors. But for other people, they realize that this is something they really need professional help on, the same way they might hire an accountant. If we’re looking for a full on branding experience with an agency, whether it’s yours or somebody else, what kind of budget are we thinking? And I know the answer is, “it depends”, but if we’re just thinking about like general range, what are some of the numbers that people might expect?

Emily: Sure. So there are places out there to get what I call the ‘end deliverable’ of a logo or a website. And so you could go to fiverr or 99 Designs, and those people are charging around $99, certainly less than $500. What those people are expecting if you want a logo to be on target, then you need to tell them, “Hey, this is what I know about my client. This is how I want to portray myself.” You need to feed all that information to them.

So if you work with a branding firm, it’s probably going to start at say $1,500, might go to $5,000. But they’re going to do a lot of that, they’re going to walk you through that whole process. So that’s one reason I started Branding Compass, was if you need to get all that foundational work and $1,500 or $5,000 is just out of your price range, that’s a software that will walk you through that. Then you can more successfully work with some of those lower end people who are just, they can execute a clean logo, but it’s just not going to have that depth of all of that insight that came to it.

Rich: So I was going to ask you about the Branding Compass. Can you just give us a rundown of what that’s all about?

Emily: Sure, yeah. So Branding Compass is a web based software. And what it does is it helps you discover the best colors, fonts, and words for your branding. And so you answer questions about your business, probably ones that you’re pretty comfortable doing, and it’s going to kind of push you along the way. And along the way, you’ll discover really what your core brand traits are. It’ll help you build out an ideal client profile. it’ll help you write a unique value proposition. They’ll give you a lot of recommendations, very specifically about the tone of voice and the messaging you should use in your marketing as well.

So in the end, you get a report with Google fonts, colors, and visuals, the unique value proposition, the ideal client profile, in a report for you that you have. Then you could turn it over and work with a logo designer or web designer with it. It’s all really low cost. All the licenses, they start at $99 and go up to, everything’s less than $500.

Rich: All right. Good way for a lot of small businesses in Maine to get started. Now we’ve talked a little bit about money, and a lot of business owners always look at their top and bottom lines. Is there a way of measuring the KPIs that come from branding? I mean, it’s like I know that I like being able to put on a flyte new media trucker cap, and it’s just I love the logo and the feel and everything like that, but I don’t know that that’s helping me sell another website or SEO package. So what are some of the things that we might be able to measure to show that the branding is working for us?

Emily: So there has been research over the years that that has demonstrated that if a professional brand image helps you charge higher prices, right? You see that with Coke can charge more than RC, Sony can charge more than ASIS, those kinds of things. We pay more for something that just feels like it’s a trusted, known brand.

For a lot of service type businesses, it’s going to attract better clients. So I think that’s something a lot of small business owners in Maine can relate to. You don’t want the client who’s like, “Oh wait, can we save a little bit money here? What about this? What about that?” You want the customer who’s coming in and saying, “You look like a professional, I’m going to hire you to do the right thing. I’m planning to pay you. This is the expected workflow”. And you attract better clients with a professional brand image. Those customers tend to give more referrals when you have a good brand image, because not only did they probably have a great experience with you, but you have something that’s easy for them to recommend when you think about somebody who might be doing that on the side, I’m not really sure if he’s doing it right. That doesn’t feel like a recommendation, that feels very solid. Where yeah, this company has been doing this for this long, you can really expect quality work from them. That’s all tied together with that brand image.

Rich: I would absolutely agree. And there are definitely times I’ve caught myself choosing one person or one company over another, not for any specific reason other than one appeared more professional or easier to work with just based on maybe the logo or the fact that the service person showed up in a uniform or whatever the case might be. It really can.

It’s one of those things like networking, it’s very hard to track the KPI. Very rarely is someone going to say, “I saw your logo, I knew I had to do business with you.” Like that’s not going to happen.

Emily: Exactly. I mean, in terms of one thing that people ask me about a lot though, is how can I decide if this is a good logo? And we do have a process we recommend for that. Which is, rather than you’ve probably seen people do this on Facebook, “Hey, I have these two logos, or two book covers, or two whatever, which one do you like?” It doesn’t really matter which one somebody likes, you want your ideal customer to be drawn to it.

So you could rephrase that as, “Hey, I’m trying to sell to 20 year old women.” And you could, first of all, specifically say, “Do you know a 20 year old woman I could show this to?”, or if not, you could say, “Do you think this would appeal to a 20 year old woman?” The other way to do it is say, I really want to make sure that I look like highly accurate, precise, et cetera, and tell them the brand traits that you’re trying to express and ask them, which of those measure against that. So it’s not just like or dislike, its which one really represents your brand.

Rich: Right. And friends and family are never the best people to give you advice anyway, they’re your cheerleaders. It’s interesting that you say that because of course I’ve done the same thing. But of course, I do it because I know that it works well with the Facebook algorithm. If I ask people for a very easy opinion, they’ll give it to me, and suddenly Facebook is like, “This guy’s a genius, we should share more of his stuff.”

But as you talked about, my brand or my product is for 20 year old women, actually a smarter thing might be is just to buy some Facebook ads and target 20 year old women, your ideal customer, and say we’re doing some surveys, which do you think resonates with you better? And that might be actually a very inexpensive piece of customer feedback.

Emily: Yeah. If you’re willing to get out there. I do know, we’ve worked with clients who they went to where their ideal customer was. Like, for example, they think people who shop at Whole Foods would be a customer for them. They’re going to stand outside of Whole Foods and be like, would you mind my getting a little feedback from you? You know, if you can target where someone’s going to be physically, it doesn’t have to be digitally. It’s the same idea, though. Yeah.

Rich: Yeah, absolutely. So this is the Fast Forward Maine podcast, so I’m just wondering, we think of Maine as being a great brand here – both internally and externally – because people have this fantasy about Maine. Either they came here as a child and they have great memories, or they’ve always wanted to come here, but those are the two stories I hear when I’m out and about and mention I’m from Maine. How heavily should we lean into being from Maine in our branding? Or is that just something that, again, it depends, or it depends on your industry. What are your feelings about leveraging the Pine Tree State in your branding?

Emily: I think it does depend on what you’re selling. So you see it a lot in hospitality brands, food brands, because Portland has such an amazing food scene. I think it’s not as great at connection. So I’m a web designer, I do logos. I don’t think that there’s a connection there. You need to find the reason that it connects with your brand, and then absolutely I would leverage it if it does.

Rich: Awesome. Emily, we ask everybody here on the show, what one thing would you change if you could to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Emily: Yeah, I would love to see more business owners who are looking to really grow a business and not just replace their job. So what I mean by that is, I’ll talk to people who are sick of the 9-5, sick of working for somebody else, and so they say, “I need to make X amount of money, this amount per hour or salary or whatever, I’m going to replace that.” But they are only thinking about delivering the service and getting that money, they’re not thinking about so much that goes into running a successful business. Like you need to have time to invoice, you need to have time to train people, or market. I mean, you start realizing probably half of your time is billable. And I think some of that is a mindset of, well, I’ll just market as little as possible, really even take as do jobs as possible, so that I can just be doing billable hours. That’s not really a great business model. It’s very challenging.

And I think if, as an ecosystem, when there’s a lot of people doing that, that also means that a business owner would definitely hire a bookkeeper ,and an accountant, and a web designer, and a marketing firm. And somebody who’s just trying to skimp and skimp and scamp only to replace their salary doesn’t buy all those ancillary services that really helps the whole ecosystem grow.

Rich: All right. Definitely an interesting take and I agree that, first of all, if anybody thinks that they’re going to leave their job and work for themselves and only work 9-5, you’re crazy. I can tell you that even 24 years into my business, I find myself working way more than 9-5 most days.

Anyway, this has been great. Emily, if people want to learn more about the Brand Compass, about Visible Logic, if they want to connect with you, where can we send them online?

Emily: Yeah, so visiblelogic.com is the website for our branding and marketing firm. And that would be reaching out to me, getting an estimate for a project. brandingcompass.com is a DIY website. So you can just go right in, get started on a workbook, and you could in about an hour get your brand going.

Rich: Awesome. Emily, this has been great. Thank you so much for all this advice on our brand. And thanks for sharing your expertise with us.

Emily: Thanks for having me, Rich.