How to Build Influence and Manage Perceptions
Branding is a popular discussion topic in my circles, and in the course of those conversations I gain a lot of insight into the perceptions we have about it. One widely-held understanding is that branding means having a logo and using it in your marketing efforts. On the surface, that is a correct perception. But there is a bigger picture that is often unnoticed, and because it’s unnoticed, it’s neglected.
Branding is reputation and influence. We do not really create a brand. Instead, we create the visual assets and experiences upon which a brand is built. For meeting suppliers and planners, the work of managing our brands for ourselves, our businesses and the events we create is that of managing others’ perceptions. To do that, we carefully choose how we dress, act, respond and communicate, in a figurative sense. We decide how we want to be known, and do what’s necessary to become known in that manner, but at the end of the day, it’s up to our customers and guests to understand us correctly.
Where design and business, or design and events, meet is in the facilitation of good reputations and the growth of influence. Great care needs to be taken to craft the graphic environments — an email blast, a print ad, a slide deck, a website, an invitation — that will accurately represent businesses to their customers or engage an audience at a conference. Some of what I keep top-of-mind during my creative process include:
Building a brand is not immediately achieved. Branding is the process of demonstrating who you are. It’s your reputation, which is earned over time. There are first impressions, but there are no instantaneous successes.
You don’t need to convince everyone. You just need to convince the right ones. The entire world is not your audience. A narrowly-targeted audience is necessary for branding success. The targeted audience should be specifically defined based on who you are and what benefits you offer. You can’t sell to everyone, because not everyone wants or needs your services. Any design created for branding purposes needs to appeal specifically to those people you are targeting.
Your values are the basis of your branding decisions. An enterprise is built and functions on a set of standards. Those standards – values – need to be defined and consistently upheld internally and externally. In order for a designer to create your brand assets, she need to be informed of your values. These values will inform your graphics.
Invest in your brand. Building your brand requires time, strategy, tweaking, and readjustment. Commit the necessary time and funding to do it right. Graphics are just the beginning of public brand building, and they should be of the highest quality you can afford. Your logo and related visual assets require the appropriate amount of time for proper development in order to function effectively once they’re put to use. Rushing the design process, crowdsourcing, holding a competition, or buying a ready-made graphic on the cheap may prove to be very detrimental to your brand.
Do not update just to follow a trend.
Once you send your graphics out into the marketplace, you will need to manage perceptions. Allowing things to simply float out there without steering and adjusting your course can bring unfavorable results. In fact, the greatest effort begins once the brand is launched. You will spend far more on managing your brand than you did on its visual development.
The success of your brand is up to you. Once the designer has created those amazing graphic assets, your work really begins. It’s no longer up to the designer. You are now at the helm. Ways in which planners and suppliers can manage a brand include:
Use and enforce visual guidelines. The most basic aspect of brand management is to ensure that the visual components are being used consistently and appropriately across all platforms. The larger your enterprise is and the more people you have working with those components, the more you will need to make sure the graphic guidelines are being upheld. If you did not ask your designer to create a graphic standards manual for your brand, go back to him or her and have them create one. Then, be sure to provide the guidelines to those who will handle your graphics.
Build trust. Trust is a core value of branding. A successful brand is well-defined and authentic. It is not a copy of another, but emerges from a unique story. Beyond the quality of your visual communications, you will need to address the intangibles such your customer service, your voice, your attitude, how you manage and train your staff, how you work with subs, and the consistency of your message compared to your actions.
Stay relevant. To be successful over the long term, your brand must remain valuable to your audience. How many businesses have launched a product or service that flared and fizzled as culture, technology or systems changed? Constant monitoring of the marketplace is necessary, as well as the ability to anticipate the direction things will take. To remain relevant, connect with your audience through email marketing, social media, web sites, and print. Ask questions. Conduct surveys. Launch apps. Listen to the feedback your customers provide. Take note of the questions your attendees ask, and tweak your visual communications to address those questions. Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing. Take the lead in updating and innovating new products and services.
Update strategically. A change of values or a change of audience requires a brand update. When the vision of your enterprise changes, your brand assets need to evolve as well.
Don’t update just to follow a trend. Branding is based on values and vision, not popularity. Update based on your core values. Updating any visual pieces to follow trends means that they will no longer be on trend once the trend fizzles.
Be patient. Reputations are not built overnight. A successful brand establishes value through strategic choices and implementations over time. Staying-power, adaptabilty and consistency are necessary. A well-managed brand is inherently meaningful and becomes powerful in time, and that’s what you need to sustain and grow your enterprise.
Your brand is what your audience experiences it to be. An enduring brand is meaningful, visual and actionable. It represents something that people want to attach to. Grow your brand well, and your business will grow.
Alvalyn Lundgren is owner of Alvalyn Creative, an independent design practice focusing on visual branding for businesses, events and non-profits. Alvalyn is a part time instructor in Design Communications and Interior Architecture programs at UCLA Extension. She is Editor and Creative Director of MPISCC’s InterCom.