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Branding for creatives – with Julie Stephens

So, what is a brand anyway?  And why do you need one for your creative business?

We’ve asked Julie Stephens, one of our cubers who is also a PR professional to give us the low-down on branding for creative businesses!

So, you’ve finally taken the plunge:  you’ve tossed in your full-time job, backed yourself in and started your own creative business.  Whether it’s children’s wear, creating unique ceramic items, jewellery design or turning your art into greeting cards, heaven knows it’s a risk, but one you’re more than ready to take. You know it’ll be worth it in the end. It’s your destiny and you feel it in your bones. This is meant to be.

You’ve set up your studio space (your spare room, dining room table, whatever), decided on a name for your business and registered it, sorted your suppliers/supplies and started doing what you love – making those beautiful handmade items. You’ve even worked out how you’ll sell your gear; you’ve maybe set up a website, applied for some markets and you’ve organised your cube at incube8r! 

At this point, you know you’re good at what you create/make/do and you figure the branding side of things will take care of itself in time. It’s not really necessary at this point, when your business is so new and small, right? And what is a brand anyway? Isn’t it just a logo, and you already have that? 

Think again …

A brand is so much more than just a logo, and you need to think about it and get a few brand basics in place as soon as possible.

When you think of the Nike swoosh or the McDonalds golden arches, you’re thinking of brands that have very strong recognition and awareness. These are obviously well-known brands. You know the quality of the products they offer and you know what the companies behind them stand for. Because they’ve been around for so long, doing what they do, there’s an emotional connection between you and the company, based on what they tell you about themselves and, more importantly, how they behave and how that makes you feel when you interact with them.

Sure, they are international brands with huge marketing budgets, and their brands have been built up over many years. But the principles of branding apply to any business, of any size, handmade, art or craft businesses included. Basically, a brand is the way the outside world perceives your product. It’s a combination of the tangible (your products or services), and the intangible (all those other touchpoints such as customer service, after-sales service – ie. the experience of buying from you) – that makes a brand. It’s a symbol of values and reputation

Use every touchpoint as an opportunity

I see brand as, firstly, every touchpoint with your customer that gives you an opportunity to reinforce your brand values, from the first time you hand out a business card, your website style and photography, your socials and your market display materials, to your packaging and even your shipping terms. Every touchpoint should reinforce your brand – it should gel with customers and make sense.

For example, if your product is at a higher price point than your competitors, customers will expect higher-end product quality and more sophisticated packaging – they just go together. If you’re pitching sustainable materials in your products, support that with recyclable packaging as well. Use every opportunity to develop and reinforce your brand positioning.

Secondly, branding is about letting customers know of your place in the bigger world – how you see yourself and your impact, which might be how you address the sustainability of your products, recycling, issues of importance in your local community or support for organisations that mean something to you. Each and every one of these value statements help to reinforce your brand values and, ultimately, help customers identify with you, trust you and want to buy from you.

Don’t forget – branding is a long-term game and no-one is suggesting you need to have all this sorted right from the start. Brands can take years to develop and establish. Which is why companies spend so much money investing in, and protecting, their brands. Sadly, years of brand development and reputation-building can be demolished in a heartbeat too.

Branding for Julie Stephens Designs

Develop a brand deck

I suggest you start off by developing a style guide or ‘brand deck’. Your brand deck will include details about your logo, yes, but also it will include some key aspects of your business philosophy that set you apart from your competitors.  

This includes your mission, vision and values – how do you want the world to see you and your products, what’s your intent or purpose, and what is important to you?

For example, you might want to produce unisex clothing that speaks to your personal values, or you might want to create a sustainable line of keep cups that represents your passion for sustainable living. Maybe you just want to create colourful, fun homewares that people love and that match your outgoing personality. Your brand deck will set out your unique philosophy and guide how you market yourself.

Your brand deck should include:

YOUR BRAND STATEMENT – This sets out your Mission and Vision, or your Purpose – whatever you want to call it!  It’s a few simple words that set out your intent. Do you have a tagline for your business – a simple statement (usually just a few words), that says what you do? If so, include it here.

YOUR VALUES – What’s important to you? Will you support a cause or issue in your business? Obviously if you’re just starting out and your profit margins are tight, this might be something you aspire to down the track but it’s worth building in the ideal scenario at this point. For example, take a look at Bondi Boost. They make hair care and skin care products that their website states are, “Australian made, free from parabens, free from sulphates, free from DEA & cruelty-free”. Interestingly, their blog includes some great information about all sorts of issues such as healthy recipes. They are making a philosophy statement about responsible product development but support that with stories on healthy living and healthy hair and skin.

YOUR PROFILE – Tell your story. It’s important to start story-telling – people like to connect with people not businesses, especially in the handmade space. So don’t be afraid to tell your personal story – how you started and why, what inspires you, what motivates you. Doing this work at the start makes it easier down the track as you can use these words in your socials, any publicity you might score and on your website.

LOOK. FEEL. VOICE – What words would you use to describe yourself and your business? What style of language would you use – funny, classy, inclusive, formal? A word of advice – avoid industry jargon and being too formal. 

LOGO – Include your logo, any colour or style variations (such as vertical and horizontal, colour, black and white or transparent versions), and what format they are available in eg. jpeg, png, eps etc.

CORPORATE COLOUR PALETTE – What colours will you use (include your primary colour ie. the main colour that your logo should appear in, and any secondary colours that support it and can be used with it).

TYPEFACE – What font will you use – on your website and in your printed material (business cards, letterhead etc.)? You may use a couple of different fonts depending on whether it’s for print or digital and what fonts you have available, but make sure they look similar and support each other. For example, if you decide that your brand deck will stipulate a modern sans serif font such as Calibri (without the little tails on the letters), stick with sans serif across all your platforms. 

You’ll find that, as your business grows and develops, so too your brand deck will change and evolve with you, and that’s okay. It’s a living document that should evolve. But make sure you do stick with it and don’t change it too often or ignore its basic guiding principles on a day-to-day basis – it’s there to keep you on track and consistent in your messaging and brand look.

What should you do?

What tools do you need to have in place to start the ‘brand ball’ rolling? 
Ask yourself if you have these things in place:

  1. Do you have a logo for your business? If your business is your name, your logo can be as simple as your name in a nice font and colour. Or you can go the whole hog and have a graphic designer create a logo for you that is unique to your business. This is obviously a more costly exercise. If you want a middle-of-the-road solution, there are also online programs available such as wix.com where you can create a logo yourself, for minimal cost. The aim is to make sure you use your logo consistently across all your marketing platforms.
  1. This might seem outdated, but business cards are still useful, especially if you’re attending markets. Leave a bundle on your table and people who may be interested to see more of your work can view your products on your website or get in touch with you later for a special order. Don’t forget to make sure your cards are on the door of your cube too!
  1. Use your logo in your socials, on branded memes, on your Instagram story highlights, even your profile pic.  
  1. Make sure you have a good email signature. So much of our comms is done via email these days so use this as an opportunity to brand your emails with your logo and contact details. You know how annoying it is when you get an email from someone that has no contact details at the bottom – if your customers have to hunt for your phone number they may not bother. And on the subject of emails – make sure they follow your style in tone and language. If your brand tone is funky and fun, you can still be professional.
  1. If you’re attending markets, is your display on-point? Does it reflect your brand style and colours?
  2. Is your packaging in line with your brand?  Maybe you’re offering bespoke boxes for your high-end jewellery pieces or handmade brown paper bags with raffia ribbon for your sustainably-made children’s bibs. Whatever you sell, make sure your packaging reinforces your brand style and values.

In summary, branding is critical for any business, big or small, creative or not, but takes time to develop. Start as soon as possible with the basics – get your brand deck sorted then stick with it, work with it and use it consistently and get your basic marketing tools in place. This will go a long way towards good, strong recognition by your customers about who you are and what you stand for.


About Julie Stephens

Julie is a Public Relations professional, with a 30-year career in the industry, who has helped many organisations with brand development and reputation management.  She also runs Julie Stephens Designs, a handmade jewellery design business, and is a cuber at in.cube8r Fitzroy.

www.juliestephensdesigns.com.au

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