Back in my corporate days, my team and I would often be dubbed the ‘Brand Police’ or the ‘Comms Police’.
Because we were generally those who ‘owned’ the messages. So when people in a large organisation were planning a communication (internal or external), it needed to be run past us – the ‘Comms police’. That way we could make sure that it was ‘on message’. That the tone of voice was right, and that it was clear and simple enough for the audience to understand.
And although there were some brand guidelines that dealt with brand style and brand voice, applying that to your communication when it’s not your day job can be quite tricky.
Which is why large organisations have teams of brand and comms professionals to help. They partner with other areas of the business to make sure that communication is on point.
But when it comes to small businesses, especially if it’s just you running the show, there’s no ‘Brand Police’. So what happens then? This is where Brand Guidelines come in.
So why do you, as a small business owner, need Brand Guidelines?
To get clarity on your mission and vision
When it comes to small businesses, issuing communication that’s ‘on point’ or ‘on brand’ may seem like a much easier task, considering you don’t have as many cats to herd as big organisations do.
After all, you’re Chief Cat, aren’t you? But this is where I see small business owners wrongly assume that they don’t need to do any work. On their vision and their mission, but also on their values, their why, and their story.
Of course, when you’ve had an idea for a business or you’ve left your corporate job, you want to get that business of yours up and running pronto. In fact, yesterday would be great!
And this is why many small business owners often neglect to do the thinking and preparation that’s needed to get clarity around their business vision and mission.
After all, it’s your business. So you know your own values, your purpose, and your story, don’t you? So no need to spend any time on that? And instead, you may find yourself focusing on your business name, your website, your logo, and some colour palettes to stick to.
But what would actually be really valuable for you to do first is to work on clarity of Brand and Message.
What is the difference between mission and vision?
Getting clarity on your mission and vision (and coming up with a statement for each), is a really useful exercise when you start your own business. It acts as a guide for your business in itself. But what’s the difference between the two?
Your mission defines what you want to do now and how you’re going to achieve that. It’s what you’re here to do every day and who for. It’s sharing the reason your business exists.
Your vision, on the other hand, is more aspirational. It looks at what you want to be in the future – it focuses on tomorrow and on what you want to become or the change you wish to see in the world.
Starbucks’ mission statement is:
“To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
This is what they’re on a mission to do every day.
When it comes to Vision – you can see the aspiration and sense of direction that guides Patagonia:
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” – Patagonia
Or, to bring it a little closer to home, here’s the vision statement that I helped one of my clients create. Emmie Faust is a Marketing Consultant, and her vision statement positions her as:
“Where you go to grow your health and wellness business.
Inspiring, enabling and connecting purpose-led Founders so they can make their difference to the health and wellbeing of the world.”
Pretty powerful, right? Can you see how helpful this statement is going be for Emmie in driving the decisions she needs to make in her business?
So how exactly do you get clarity on your mission and vision?
Getting clarity on your mission, your vision, and your values
Here are a few questions taken from my Brand Guidelines template to help get your thinking in the right place.
- Thinking about the vision you have for your business, what is the change you wish to see in the world? Think of the aspirational view of where you want your business to be in the future. This is Big picture thinking.
- When it comes to defining your mission, why does your business exist? What do you strive to do each day? How and who for?
Values are a decision-making tool – not just words on a wall or in a brand guidelines document. Values are at the core of your brand. They guide how you do things. Doing work on your values will give you so much brand clarity.
- What are your values? What do you stand for and believe in, and how do you like to do business? What will you not compromise on? And how do your values translate in the way you say things?
It’s also useful to think about:
What’s your story? And why are you sharing it?
- Why do you do what you do (your motivation)?
- Why do you do what you do for your customers?
- And why does that matter to them?
Clarity leads to communication that’s always ‘on brand’
Once you are able to articulate these answers with clarity and consistency, you can start to produce communication that’s ‘on brand’.
Every. Single. Time.
And with this information at hand, you’ll also be in a much better position to hand over or outsource tasks to others should you need to. Because you’ll know that they understand you and your business and have a guide to keep them on brand.
Your Brand Guidelines don’t just act as your go-to place of direction, consistency and clear messaging, but they can also become someone else’s go-to place for direction, consistency and clear messaging. And that makes outsourcing tasks (and growing your business!) much easier for you.
Understand your ideal clients or customers
How long did you spend creating your Ideal Client Avatar when you first started your business? Did you focus on details such as what car your ideal clients drive and what type of magazines they read? Honestly, I don’t think you need to know what they eat for breakfast or what car they drive. (Not unless you are marketing something that specifically relates to this!).
I find those parts of the Avatar a bit superficial. Really, you need to go deeper. It’s more useful to understand your ideal clients as people, with needs and feelings, in the context of their lives.
You want to know what they’re thinking and feeling to make the messaging really speak to them.
You’ll want to get inside their heads, not their car!
Getting clarity on your ideal clients
So here are some questions that will help you get the clarity you’re after.
- Who are you for?
- Who are you NOT for?
(It’s very powerful to be clear on this)
- Why do your ideal customers or clients want what you do or what you sell?
- What are they struggling with? And why are they finding it hard to fix it by themselves?
- What’s in it for them?
- What would you like them to believe or say about you and your products or services?
- What’s the impact that you could have on their lives?
- Why should they care?
- What’s the transformation (before and after) they will experience through working with you or buying and using your product?
- Why do they need this right now?
Can you see how different this is from trying to work out what car make and model your ideal customers drive?
The questions that I recommend you ask yourself first are more high-level. And yet, they are much deeper.
Because they help you achieve a level of clarity that will make your messaging (and your marketing) work.
And the great news is that you can find all these questions in my Brand Guidelines template.
Clarity and consistency help you become the obvious choice for your customers and clients
With clarity and consistent messaging comes trust. When you are able to articulate what you do and who you help in a way that speaks to your ideal customers and clients at an emotional level, you become the obvious choice for them. The go-to person they’ll trust to solve their problems.
When your prospective customers can see how well you understand and relate to them at a deep level, they’ll trust you. Especially if they’ve ever come across any competitors who may have not done this work and who sounded or looked more disorganised and confused in their messaging!
#BrandBeforeLogo Brand Guidelines
If you have a tendency to waffle on, or to jump from one idea to the next, confusing your customers, then brand guidelines will be a Godsend to you.
The Brand Guidelines help you articulate your Vision, Mission, Values, Brand Promise, Tone of Voice. Then the extra ‘brand script’ work within it helps develop messaging that works.
You’ll find that you’ll use your Brand guidelines and Brand Script framework again and again.
- When you’re writing a work proposal – so much of your key information will already be laid out for you.
- When writing a sales page, a social media post, your about page – all the work you put in upfront on this saves you so much time. And it keeps you consistently on message.
Spend time to save time by working on your brand scripts
I have created a framework or Messaging Matrix which essentially becomes your ‘Brand Script’. This proven framework is something my clients rave about. It’s absolutely brilliant at getting your message out of your head and onto a page. It helps you create messaging that totally speaks to your ideal client.
Once the work on it is done, you have a go-to place to pick and mix your consistent messaging from. It makes all the marketing communications you create so much simpler. And quicker to produce. And it also makes sure they work.
Because messaging underpins every good marketing strategy.
Get clarity by doing the Brand Script work
Once you’ve got your Brand Scripts done, these can form part of your Brand Guidelines, which become your go-to place for messaging, consistency and clarity.
Working on your brand scripts will give you clarity on:
- Your ideal clients (and what their problems and desires are).
- Why you’re the person with the solution. Why they should choose you (empathy, authority, expertise).
- Your solution. The How, the What, and the So What? And the emotional and practical benefits of it.
- The transformation – their Before and After.
- The resolution (their happy ending).
It will help explain what you do in a story that your clients can see themselves in.
And you get to come up with a Core Message for your business (made up by the Problem you solve, the Solution, and the Resolution), which helps you explain what you do and why it matters in a really clear and simple way.
Incorporate your brand scripts into your brand guidelines and never be stuck again when it comes to talking about your business.
If you’re not sure whether the #BrandBeforeLogo work may be for you, check out my post Can you afford NOT to invest in your brand messaging?
Would you like some help to create your own Brand Guidelines template?
I know that without a brand or comms professional in your business it can be hard to do this on your own. So I’m here to help! If you’d like my support in pulling together your brand guidelines, get in touch. You can DM me on LinkedIn or book a call via my website. I offer a FREE 40-minute consultation for all new clients.