It’s easier than ever to start a creative small business—yay!—but now branding is one of the most important facets of your business to set you apart from someone who does the same thing. Today we are talking about how to kick off your brand strategy process.
Quit worrying so much about finding your brand voice and focus on this instead—because if you can’t tell me WHY you do what you do the way you do it differently or better than somebody that does the very same thing, especially if they’re charging less, than we need to stop there and figure it out.
Whether you are just starting to get paid for your creativity or you’re working on building your authority and doing a little bit of a brand strategy refresh, you need to know these tips to build an unforgettable, bingeable brand.
This is part two to a three part video series I’m doing, basically called, “what I do if I woke up and had lost it all, if I had to start my business all over from scratch, this is the plan I’d follow”. Be sure to watch last week’s video if you haven’t yet so you can catch up.
Let’s hit it!
Tip 1: Define a very clear value proposition for your overall brand.
A guy named Rosser Reeves is the one who coined this phrase “unique selling proposition” back in the day, but basically, this means you need to figure out what makes you different.
Okay, let’s have a little heart to heart, all the great digital marketing tools that are out there, from paid marketing and ads to social media marketing, speaking on stages, all that’s great, it’s just going to take a microphone and hold it up to what you’re already doing and what your brand already is.
So if you look at my business—or have been around—you’ve probably heard some very clear key messaging promises, or “value props.” You may have heard me say “I help creatives like you make more money with your words so you can work from a place of rest, not hustle.” If you’ve heard me talk about my signature program, you’ve heard me say “CfC teaches you how to master your message and write your site in 60 days.” That’s a product-specific value prop. Copywriters call this a big idea when you’re working on a specific product, but I’m zooming out here to talk about your brand in general.
How do you figure out what to say here so you can really double down on that and claim it as your brand promise?
My students know we call this your onlyness factor and we work ~soooo~ hard on figuring this out as part of the brand messaging piece of Copywriting for Creatives.
A really quick way that you can start to figure this out in your own business is by leaning into your own quirks, story, or personality, and matching that with your system, your process, or your product/service itself. Say you’re the only photographer on the Eastern seaboard that services weddings at horse estate weddings—that’s very distinct.
Maybe the audience you serve makes you unique.
You can see how all this is bleeding into niching—we’re going to talk about that in a sec—but I want to bring it into a place where you can really figure out that brand promise, UVP, USP.
Another idea I’ve given students to help pull themselves out and figure out why they’re different from other people. Maybe it’s your process. Can you name your process? Do you have a certain way of working through things? It’s your IP, it’s something that you’ve developed and you’ve honed and you’ve tested. It was a hypothesis that is now all-clear systems-go and you provide it for your clients—that could absolutely be your UVP.
<< Related: How to Improve Your Brand Messaging >>
Tip No. 2| Find your niche.
Now here’s the thing: what do you do when you have that big idea or value proposition developed? Once you have this figured out, you want to double down and find your niche: you want to put a stake in the ground and decide who you’re for (and who you’re not for.)
I shared a video where I talked at length specifically about niching vertically and horizontally—I made it for people who want to start their own writing businesses, but niching will help anyone starting any kind of business.
This is how you can start to dominate in a category—and also helps you get really specific in your copy and content marketing. Another bonus? Conferences were a lot easier to book, because when you’re the only one talking specifically about your niche, people find you faster.
Finally, it makes you referrable. It is so hard to refer someone business if you can’t really think exactly what they do or they do a lot of things and then there’s somebody over here who does just this and that’s all they focus on. That person becomes a little bit easier to refer leads to. So think about it from a partnership standpoint too. You don’t have to hang out there forever, but the whole niche down to blow up was absolutely true for me.
<< Related: How to Become a Copywriter & Own Your Niche >>
If you find yourself serving a pool or clientele like you like, that can be your niche. And if you’re new in business and don’t have clients yet to look at, here’s the thing to do: Start looking at where your passions overlap with a gap in the market. “Cherchez le creneau” is a French term for the marketing concept of “find the hole”—it’s like I tell my students, find the YOU sized gap in the market and go fill it.
Tip No. 3| Figure out your go-to brand stories.
Now if all this—your onlyness factor and your niche— is interesting, but the story isn’t good, people aren’t interested, right? So tip number 3 in the brand strategy process? Figure out your 3 brand stories. This is one of the easiest things you can do to build a brand and create those captivating touchpoints. It’s just simply nailing 3 specific brand stories: your origin story, your a-ha moment, and your transformation story.
Think of it this way—>OAT
O: Your origin story, why it is that you picked up a paintbrush or wanted to work in florals for a living.
A: Your aha moment. That moment when the skies parted and you realized, oh my gosh, this is a business idea, people want to pay me for it, I can’t wait, I’m starting a business.
T: A great transformational story. It might be your transformational journey, but it’s likely another client or customers’ that you’ve worked with.
Done well, this humanizes your brand and gives your audience something to relate to.
Having these dialed in gives you so many opportunities to pull people into the “why” behind your brand. Don’t you worry—I teach exactly how to tell these stories in this video.
Tip No. 4| Get visual with your brand.
As important as your brand message and copy are, if they’re not presented in a way that’s visually appealing, people really won’t want to read the message or figure out how to get the goods.
I’ve learned so, SO much from my clients on this, because I am NOT a designer or a photographer, but I know they both matter. One of my recent clients, Sandra Chau, says you don’t have an option—as the CEO of your small business, you are also the creative director. I love this!
Investing in solid photography or spending time learning your way around styling is key. Even if you don’t want to take the pictures, you need to be able to communicate the mood, style, and visual story of your brand.
I touched on it slightly in the first video in this series, but to go into it a little bit more in-depth, when I started my business, I did take some of my own stock imagery for my website, took me about a month to realize that is not my skillset. I purchased one $79 full, huge, massive image that I could cut and crop and use. I got it from my friend Shea at SC Stock Shop. She now has social squares, which is a great tool too, but there are plenty of stock imagery options out there that don’t look like robots. You can also buy brand boards from people and you’ll know I love website templates.
I started my website on a template. I’m five years in business. I now have a seven figure business. I’m now investing in a custom big website. I love custom work. We do custom work on the copywriting side of my business, but when you’re first getting started, you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall, and it is a heck of a lot to invest in a custom website or custom design strategy when you’re not quite sure if everything is going to take sale.
<< Related: 5 Secrets to Choosing the Best Website Template >>
Again, build the business, then build the brand.
As I grew and had more money to invest back in my business, I was told once that you have to be willing to buy your own services. That is if you’re charging 4 figures or more for your service, be willing to invest 4 figures or more in the services you need to support your business. That’ll preach! I found the art director I wanted to work with and saved and saved (and saved some more) until I was able to hire her and invest in my own business with visuals that helped tell the story of my brand.
Tip No. 5| Listen to what people say about you.
Listen to what people say about your business, that’s your brand, that’s the perception that people have about you.
As Jeff Bezos said, Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room. That’s the perception you’re putting out there. You hear me talk about doing the research a LOT—this is key research.
So, ask people what they’d say to describe your brand or business, or if it’s built on you—YOU. Maybe it’s family, but maybe it’s your clients, customers, partners, business best friends, followers. Ask them, and pay attention to what they say.
Tip No. 6| Add in Mascot moments.
Alright, next up in the brand strategy process is what I like to call “mascot moments”. This is a little thing that can make a big difference and may come with time. Let me explain. I love Emily Ley’s products, but she has an understated icon that quietly rides along and is woven throughout her brand—pineapples, the icon of southern hospitality. Now, when I see them, I think of her.
I’ve always loved champagne, and specifically, the brand Veuve Clicquot, because I love the story behind Madame Clicquot becoming one of the first female entrepreneurs. A brand photographer wove it into my imagery one time (producing an orange and blue theme that I really loved as an Auburn fan) but it also enabled me to start using champagne as a metaphor for teaching about welcome sequences and launch funnels. Now? I get tagged in champagne stuff constantly from followers and friends all the time because people have begun to associate champagne and Ashlyn. (Don’t mind if I do.)
What is a kind of weird moment or a thing that your audience could see and think of you and your brand? These come best if they’re not forced. You want to ideally tune into moments that are in your life naturally. Build a brand that’s hard to mimic—I’ve found that this little tip is one thing that can definitely make it pretty obvious if somebody is trying to, shall we say, get a little too much inspiration from what you do. 😉
Tip 7: Define a clear brand voice.
Congratulations, you made it through all the other tips so we can now talk about voice because we’ve laid the foundation. I’ve done a lot of videos on finding your voice, so I’ll link some of those, but I’ll leave it at this. When you’re starting out, trust that you’ll refine your brand voice in time.
It’s a writing habit that you will develop because you have to write a lot as an entrepreneur.
You have to experiment, try different things, and let this develop. Trust that it will refine over time. If you’re having a hard time figuring out where to start with getting your voice clear and distinct, I have a quiz that will help you get on the right track and figure out how your personality correlates with the type of words that you need to be using to market your business. Once you go through it, you’ll see your selling style, I think that will be helpful for you, but you’ll also get a little mini copy bank of some words that describe your brand voice, and that can be something you can pocket.
Ok, that was a lot! 😉 You made it through all 7 of my brand strategy process tips! Don’t forget, if you need a little extra help on defining your brand voice then make sure to click here or down below to take my brand voice quiz!
Now, if you want to see that crash course one month plan on how I would start my business over from scratch, be sure to watch this video on my YouTube channel where I’m telling you what I do if I woke up, lost it all, and had to start over.
If you found this helpful, make sure you hit that like button, subscribe so you don’t miss the next series coming up, and be sure to comment below with any questions that you may have.