I recently spoke with a business owner, I’ll call ‘Jim’. Jim really knows his stuff. He speaks with passion, he’s highly educated, and he’s got a punchy tonality that engages audiences when he’s on stage. I’ve seen him captivate audiences of hundreds.But when you look him up online and go to his website, he’s entirely boring.
His copy says the exact same thing that everyone in his industry is saying. He’s using the same type of graphics and identical design style down to the color (corporate dark blue, of course). And his intellectual, energetic (authentic) voice is entirely absent from any of the writing he does. It’s all completely disconnected from who he is in real life and what it is like to talk to and work with him. Because he’s two different people—one online and one off—he has no clear brand voice.
When I wrote and delivered Jim’s branding strategy, I told him as much, saying “When you’re in front of people, they are resonating with you. They’re excited about the prospect of working with you and all that power is coming from your authentic voice. We need to express that in everything you do online as well.”
Like many in this position, this was an “a-ha!” moment for Jim. He recognized that he’s unintentionally portraying two different personas, online and off. But translating his authentic voice to the written word, imagery and design is surprisingly hard (if it weren’t, our company would have a lot less reasons to exist!).
Then he asked me, “Can you give me a word, or maybe three words, or tagline that can explain all of that on my website? What’s a line that will show my authentic personality? That’s what I need, you know, a brand!”
Think about that.
Jim wanted me to translate all his high-level, complex knowledge, and unique personality into one perfect, snappy sentence to put on his website. He was sure that if only he had this word, words or line, his brand would be in order and get him more clients that pay more.
“That’s not a brand, and my sassiest writing in the world isn’t going to get you what you ultimately want” I said, and then let that hang in the air for a minute.
Your Tagline Is Not A Brand.
Herein lies a common mistake I see most small business owners make when it comes to branding their business.
“Jim” I said, “Do you know why people resonate with you when you’re on stage or when they interview you? Because of the whole picture you are painting for them. This includes the way you present yourself, the way you work, the way you talk about your work, it’s everything you do. I’m not making up some catchy phrase for you and letting you walk away thinking you’ve got a brand! Because that’s not going to move the needle the way you think it will. Pulling an entire brand out of you and infusing it into everything you say and do, online and off is not achieved by just creating a tagline. There are no magic words that will solve this problem.”
As I continued to explain to Jim, your brand—the whole package— is a message to everyone who comes in contact with it about what is inside and the type of experience and results that can be expected. If you’re looking for a magical tagline without a plan for how it’s essence is going to be an advantage to your business, and how to connect and infuse that core idea into all your copy, website, marketing and materials, then you’re asking a flimsy phrase to do all the heavy lifting for you. You’re hoping a flashing neon arrow above your storefront is enough to bring people in the door. Perfect for a Vegas casino; not so much for service providers.
You may be wondering “Hey! How can someone from a company named ‘Worstofall Design’ with the tagline ‘Bada** Brands without the B.S.’ tell me that a snazzy tagline isn’t good for business?!” Talk about a flashing neon sign, right?
Excellent question my diligent pupils! Yes, our company name and tagline use edgy, contrarian, attention-getting verbiage, but that makes sense because that is exactly what we sell. In a sea of sameness we help companies differentiate themselves through their brand so that they rise above the generic noise and get noticed, remembered and shared. So, if your expertise is in a similar arena, then by all means, get yourself some flashy writing.
But I can also assure you no one is hiring us simply because we’re called “The Worst”. Quite the opposite. Our bold, authentic voice and brand turns many people off. But those that resonate with our bold approach, and are excited by our brand’s voice, are exactly who we want to talk to because they want what we’re selling.
This is just one example of how our brand (what we do and who we are for) manifests in everything we say and do. The tagline we use embodies our authentic, non-corporate, gutsy attitude and philosophy, as well as the benefits we provide to potential customers.
Leading with something flashy with the sole purpose of getting attention is short-sighted and won’t build lasting relationships. Your brand should express whatever attracts people to you already, and the copy and tagline should be a representation of that idea. For Jim it was not only his confidence, depth of knowledge, and charismatic energy, it was his punchy tone and quick wit.
Don’t get lost in the woods trying to create a unicorn brand. The trick is to use whatever makes you you to separate yourself from the crowd. Don’t hide what makes your business different: flaunt it. Sometimes, that can be in the form of having a fresh or unique take on an all too common point-of-view, it can be an attitude in your speaking and writing, or your unique process.
In Jim’s case, all he had to do was embrace his real-life personality and actually let it show in his brand instead of hiding it under safe, lame, corporate-jargon like all his copy cat competitors. A clever tagline is not enough. And it is not a brand.
…but you can’t say THAT!
I run into “Jims” all the time. Their electric personality in person is the reason people like and hire them but it’s not being expressed through their website or brand. They think a killer one-liner is the answer when in reality it’s all of the copy on their website and materials that creates their brand voice and conveys their awesomeness.
So if you have a great personality, but are struggling to express it through your materials (in a way that doesn’t sound exactly like all of your competitors) what do you do?
One trick that Steve and I learned is to start exploring what you really think, deep down. Opinions you only share with friends behind closed doors, that you might never say out loud or, god forbid, in public! Those raw thoughts and feelings about your business and industry that might sound *gasp* unprofessional, uniformed or even worse, rude. That is often where authenticity is found. It is our own “appropriate/professional” filter that holds us back from being authentic and in turn, different.
So in the words of a favorite 90’s MTV reality show, it’s time to stop being polite (with your brand) and start getting real. Let loose, get unfiltered, write it all down and see what you find out. (If you’re still struggling to “get real,” take my training to find out what makes you different.)
The Jims of the world think the main line on our website ,“Bada** Brands without the BS”, is what gets us the business. They fail to realize it is just one touch point, a line that reflects everything else on our site, our articles, my book, and speeches. It works because all the other pieces exist. “Think Different” is a great line, but it’s not what makes Apple the successful brand that it is. That line only works because Apple had repeatedly demonstrated that they actually do think differently in everything that they do. I’ve seen a lot of small businesses try to use a version of “Think Different” for their business with little success because they were actually just another me-too brand and so it didn’t resonate.
A tagline is not a brand. Your copy is not your brand. A logo is not a brand. Your website is also not your brand. But when all of these touch points are consistently authentic to what’s awesome and unique about you and your benefits to clients, all while separating you from the pack, well then you have a brand. Not just a one-off zinger line or a flashy logo but a total brand that actually works for you by attracting more of the clients you want, and deterring the ones you don’t.
Once you understand there is no one magic phrase, name, image or color scheme that is going to single-handedly sum you and your business up, and the sooner you start getting real in all of your brand messaging—the more your brand will get you more of the business you want.