What Is a Brand and How to Tell If You Have One or Not

Jan 17, 20170 comments

A brand is more than a pretty logo. Here's what it means to have a personal brand and why you need one if you want to make an impact.
What do you imagine when you hear the word “brand”?

If you’re like many people, the first thing that comes to your mind is a logo and maybe a color palette. But a brand is much more than that.

Here’s the best definition of a brand I know:

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Seth Godin, define: Brand

Seth, right?

Anyway, what does it mean for you as an online teacher/coach/trainer? And do you need a brand, anyway?

My belief is that hell yes, you do need a brand. Here’s why:

Without a brand, your expertise = commodity

If you’re a designer without your own brand, you work for other brands – freelancing websites that connect you with your clients (Freelancer, 99designs, or even, yes, Fiverr). If you’re a brandless online teacher, you work for iTalki or its alternative. And so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against freelancing websites. They’re a great place to get started working online, learn about customer care, and practice your craft without having to mess with marketing.

If you’re side-hustling or just getting started, the financial risk and the time investment is lower than managing your own brand. But if you want to build a sustainable online business, and if you want to make an impact, you need a brand.

Let me explain why.

On freelancing websites, your service will always be treated as a commodity.

What is a commodity? According to Wikipedia, “a commodity good or service has full or partial but substantial fungibility; that is, the market treats its instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them.”

In other words, on a freelancing website, you’re just one of many. The perceived value is low. Your prices, the way your customers value your time and expertise, the way you value your skills – it all reflects the commodity mindset.

I mean, you spent years mastering your subject and growing into the expert you are today. Growing into the person you are today.

Your expertise, experience, and personality are not fungible.

There are people somewhere in the world who need to hear what you have to say, and they need to hear it from you.

That’s why you need a brand.

How to tell if you have a brand or not

The fact that you have your own website with a logo and pretty design still doesn’t have to mean that you have a personal brand.

And the fact that you don’t have a website doesn’t have to mean that you don’t have a brand.

Your website is just the place where your brand lives – or not. Your web layout, logo, color palette, fonts, graphics, and other design elements, are the surface of your brand, the shell that may or may not be empty.

Here’s a simple test to tell you if you have a brand or not:

If you took your (business) name and all your visual branding (logos, colors, images) out of your website, would it still be clear that it’s yours? From the tone of your voice, your blog categories and topics, your copy, your products and packages? Or, would it just be a text that could be copied and pasted on any other website in your industry?

 

What do you think?

I know it’s not easy to answer. But think about your favorite bloggers for instance – would you recognize their work, taken out of the context of their websites? Or, do they have interchangeable voices, vague opinions, and dull products? I don’t think they do.

If they were like everyone else, you wouldn’t think of them now. You wouldn’t admire them, and most likely you wouldn’t even know them.

What to do before you spend money on branding

Before you spend $$$ on your logo and a cute website, think about your core message.

Stop stressing about finding a perfect niche or a unique business name. Too many people get stuck because of that, and it takes them months to start putting themselves out there and doing work that matters. Sadly, some of them never start.

I’ve been there, too. Just one year ago, I was lost in research. I wanted to be prepared. Prepared for what? I don’t know. It just seemed to me that everyone else had everything sorted out. Their niches, their business plans, their editorial calendars… everything.

Well, now I know that:

1. It wasn’t true. Everyone is learning everything along the way. Some people are just further – they’ve been doing it for some time – and you can’t compare yourself to them.

2. Your brand and your business are always subjects to change. Your niche will change (narrow down, shift, whatever), your goals will change, your topics will change. Because that’s what learning and growing are all about. And that’s okay.

3. The only thing that doesn’t change is your core message. That’s why I believe it’s the only thing you *really* need to have sorted out.

How do you define your core message? In my coaching program, I guide my clients through the process using a series of writing prompts and powerful questions.

 

Here’s one of my favorite ones. It’s a simple formula stolen from Jeff Goins:

Every [BLANK] can/should [BLANK].

For example:

  • Every blogger should learn to code.
  • Every non-native English speaking entrepreneur should be judged based on their skills, not their accent.
  • Every American expat in France should be familiar with French culture.
  • Every teacher should learn Design Thinking.
  • Everyone can draw.

And so on. What’s your version?

In his article, Jeff calls it a worldview – but the terminology doesn’t matter. You can call it a “why,” philosophy, position statement, core message, or whatever you want. The formula is just the beginning, but it’s a good place to start getting into the core of what you do.

 

Once you capture and articulate your core message, you can inject it into your copy and your design, let it shine through your social media presence, your blog posts, your products, and everything you do.

And that’s what it means to have a brand.

P. S. Here’s the second part of this article, How (Not) to Create a Personal Brand.

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