Better Branding: Choosing Your Ensembles

Branding, as a term, is thrown around a lot these days. It’s on the verge of becoming a meaningless snippet of jargon instead of a descriptor for one of the most important aspects of your projects.

In my experience talking with people who are working to build a business, a program, or even something low-key like a book club, people know they need to brand but aren’t sure what that’s supposed to look like.  And yet, most of us naturally perform our own natural branding everyday without even realizing it.

Let’s say you buy a cowboy hat while you’re on vacation in Mexico. It’s one of those straw numbers, with the wire brim so you can shape it as you please. You’re getting ready to go out to a concert at a pub one night, and you decide that this is one of those rare times when a straw cowboy hat will look totally cool instead of screaming, ‘I bought this after too many margaritas on the beach!’

Now that you’ve picked out the hat, you’re going to need an appropriate outfit to go with it. You opt for jeans, because they’re a casual staple and are pretty neutral. You pull on your vintage cowboy shirt, look in the mirror, and realize you’ve gone too far towards ‘dude ranch’, so you switch it up for a well-worn tee with a faded stallion on the front. Better. Now the message is, ‘I’m a hot young college kid with a sense of adventure who wears a cowboy hat ironically.’

Great, but what if we switched it up and put you in a full black suit? The cowboy hat would now appear to sit atop the head of a Johnny Cash fanatic, or a mobster who accidentally grabbed the wrong hat on his way out the door. A huge part of branding is finding a look/feel that represents what you’re offering/doing/making.

It’s more complicated than hats, of course, but the first steps are fairly simple. Choosing brand colors, for example, is like our cowboy friend deciding between a blue tee-shirt or a pink one. Setting standardized fonts that you’ll use on all your materials is like Cowboy choosing between a black tee, a black tank, or a black fishnet number: they’re all shirts, but they all send different messages.

It’s time to establish what your branding is going to say about you. Is your company a black skinny tie, or a pair of tap shoes? Whatever you figure out, start putting the whole ensemble together. if it ends up looking like the equivalent of a spandex-wearing gymnast sporting a cowboy hat while rocking’ a pair of black-and-white wing tips, you may need to regroup and try again. But give yourself some slack: we all have our fashion fail moments.

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