What is a brand? A brand is the PERCEPTION potential customers have of your business. It is the CUMULATIVE effect of everything you do. Everything impacts your brand, and everything you do needs to reflect the brand you hope to project.

Branding starts the day you open your doors. Every impression a customer has of your business builds their perception of your business. It starts with the first contact with you the business owner. Does your appearance reflect the brand you are trying to project? It continues with your logo, your letterhead, your web site, your email signature, the interior of your gallery, the neighborhood of your location, your exterior signage, your booth at art fairs, your business cards, and your advertising.

The reason advertising is often thought of as the key impact element of a brand is because advertising is, more often than not, the face the community sees more frequently. Every part of your advertising must project the image you want people to believe about your business. (It’s up to your business to BE what you are projecting. Pretending will only damage your brand.) Brand-savvy marketers understand that where you advertise is as important as what you advertise. They understand that the wrong colors, the wrong type, the wrong design, and the wrong copy will instantly change the perception of the brand.

Every contact a customer or potential customer has is a reinforcement of who you are. Advertising is a significant contact. The other frequently seen contact is often your storefront and signage, if your target customer is in a position to walk or drive by your location frequently.

Brands are about TRUST. Do I as a potential customer trust you? Do I perceive that you are worthy of my time, my money? Brands are also about SELF IMAGE. Do I as a potential customer identify with you? Do the works of art you carry appeal to me? Are they priced to my self image? (Pricing is another discussion for another time, but many people think low price is better than high price. This is not true of brands projecting affluence).

TIME is one of the most important elements of brand building. Think about your own life? You meet someone for the first time. How long before you’ve developed trust? Does your trust grow as you see them more frequently? How long before you bring that person into your inner circle? The same is true in BRANDING with potential customers. They want to know they can trust you, especially if you’re selling something expensive which could be fraudulent or stolen. Reputation is a critical part of the brand and reputations are built over time (among other things).

Several years ago I met a woman who shared her branding story with me. She was trying to establish herself as an artist and had formerly been in the advertising world. In spite of her short supply of financial resources she told herself that to build her brand she must advertise consistently for several years. She was committed to her long term plan. She contacted a prominent art magazine, purchased an ad in every issue in a size she could afford. (FYI Size impacts brand perception. Again, we will address this in the future). In the first six months she saw no results. Though her instinct was to stop advertising she knew, from her advertising background that this continuing was important. She was not getting any phone calls and not selling any paintings through her ad. But she continued. About a year later she started getting invited as an invited guest at juried art shows. Over time she started receiving calls from collectors wanting to buy her work. Eventually galleries started calling to represent her work. Eventually she was asked to judge juried shows, speak at events, offer workshops, etc. Over the course of about three years she went from being unknown to being a well-known brand.

Her next step was to expand her advertising. She said that the first principle (which I agree with) is to dominate what you can afford to dominate. Her first goal was to get known by the audience of a single publication. She was in every issue and though she was getting results and could have stopped she continued (and is still in that publication). She believes the constant reinforcement of her work, her brand continues to build her prominence and her sales. Rather than increasing her ad size she opted to build her reputation with another magazine. She ran different ads with different artworks so she could track results. She got no results with the second magazine. Even though she suspected some duplication of audience, she did not feel the second magazine gave her any results. Again she considered dropping out but understood that the same principal applied… she needed to build her brand with this audience as well. By so doing she would increase the number of people aware of her brand, knowing that every magazine has some shared audience and some exclusive audience (a subject for a future blog). Over time she saw another increase in her business. So now she had a brand with two magazine audiences and maintains both. When we came along she signed on with us and is doing the same thing… building a brand with our audience. Again, she had moments of considering cancellation due to slow results, but with time she began to see results. What she learned in our case was that she was hearing from a new level of buyers who were less sensitive to price and who had a tendency over time to collect her work rather than buy a single piece. Each publication she uses has a different audience personality and response. Some are read more by artists, which reinforces her workshop and judging business. Others reach collectors in a particular region, while others reach higher affluence. Each plays an important role to her.

TIME is the key to building a brand. The more messages your potential customers see the more your reputation is reinforced. (Bad messages reinforce bad image too!)Repetition is critical. The more impressions the see in the shorter amount of time, the more your brand is built. One advertiser opted to not do full pages but instead decided to do two half pages in the same issue for an extra impression each issue, thus speeding the process. It’s important to remember, however, that it is a process not a single event. People who advertise with a single event action in mind are often disappointed. There are techniques which can be employed to boost single action advertising, however, smart marketers understand that a single ad which is seeking an immediate response is much more effective if launching from a high base of awareness. (Another blog entry at another time).