5 Things I’ve Learned About Brand Identity (Working For A Fortune 500 Corporation)

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Designing products for 13 years for a large Fortune 500 Corporation, you’re bound to learn a few things. And I’ll be the first to admit, I learned way more working for Stanley Black & Decker than I ever did in school. There’s so much you learn with real-world experience you just can’t be taught.

As a Product Designer, I not only learned how to design products for their specific brands, but learned some key brand information that will help any business get their brand on the right track.

1. Brand Identity is more than logos and colors.

The clean and sweet way to say it is Brand Identity is the visual part of what makes you recognizable to your customers. It’s the message and feel they get from your product, service, or experience. This is why the consistency of your brand identity is so important, (but more on that below).

A brand identity includes so many different components. There’s your business name, logo, typefaces, and tagline. There’s your color palette, packaging and print, social media, advertising, and website. And then there’s shape, textures and patterns, imagery, and graphics. But even those aren’t the entire list. A brand identity encompasses all of the touch points and applications. How many of those touch points and applications depends on how widely the brand is seen.

Strong businesses with recognizable brands make sure the brand is appropriately covered on all aspects seen outside (and even inside) the corporate walls. Wearing a branded T-shirt? The color yellow should be as close to the brand yellow as possible. Selling a high-end and expensive product? The customer service should be right up there with other high-end brands, treating the customer like the big spender they want to be treated like.

2. You can have multiple brands selling similar products.

It’s no surprise that large companies own multiple brands. It can be an incredibly lucrative and smart move on a business’ part, as long as it’s done correctly and the brands are created and run specifically to their own identity.

You’re familiar with the brands PANTENE and Herbal Essences for hair care right? They are both brands that sell shampoo, conditioner, and other hair products. You can buy them both in pretty much any drug store, supermarket, Walmart and Target around.

But did you know they’re also both sold by the parents corporation Proctor & Gamble? P&G also sells the brands Aussie, Head & Shoulders, and Old Spice in the hair categories. You may ask “Why would they sell the same type of products in the same locations under different brands?”

Well, the products, although very similar, and some (although I have no proof) may be exactly the same, are marketed to different customers. Taking a guess here, but based on the brand identities for each brand, PANTENE seems to be marketed to more adult women who are looking for a higher feeling, but cheaper drug store product, while Herbal Essences is typically cheaper, and has a more fun and laid back vibe, catching the eyes of teens and college aged girls. Even the smell is marketed that way.

The benefit for P&G is the ease of selling more product to a larger range of customers. This = more $$$. But the key it to make sure they have a clear brand identity for each one.

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3. The best brands have consistent brand identity and follow clear brand guidelines.

Think about the best brands you know. The most popular. Maybe Coca-Cola? Nike? Apple? What do all these brands have in common? They’re always consistent in their appearance, use, size, scope, color, feel, etc. Unless they’re purposefully going outside their own guidelines (think a new product, or changing the logo guidelines to allow the NIKE Swoosh to be broken up on a new shoe design), they’re always recognizable.

The best brands are one you can recolonize even when OUT of context.

Have you ever played that game, maybe online or on your phone, where you see a logo and guess what it is? Maybe the logo is mostly covered? Or maybe the logo is there, but all the colors are gone? Even harder, when the product is there, but the logo is gone? Can you tell what brand it is now?

You can probably at least guess the big brands because they’re strong, and have always been so consistent, that when parts are missing your brain automatically fills them in. Didn’t think those ads were getting to you, did you?

Brands are made to be kept consistent. Don’t let yours get too sloppy.

4.  You must educate all your employees on your brands and the consistency needed to reinforce those brand identities.

You can be the biggest advocate of your brand and follow all the rules, but at the end of the day, if your employees cannot be consistent with your brand, you’re going to loose brand strength. I’ve sadly had experience where designers, and those who should be the largest advocates for the brand, weren’t following the guides correctly.

But even the lowest gal or guy on the totem pole should know how to use the brand correctly for the job they do. If that means training, then so be it. But treating the brand like it’s not as valuable as it is should be taken seriously. Educate not only how, but educate as to why it’s so important. Make them understand so that they’ll want to be just as much as an advocate as you are.

5. Listen to your customers.

You get to decide what you want your brand to be. BUT, and that’s a big BUT, your customers give some of the best insight of your brand could be.

Here’s and example:

Sildenafil was a pharmaceutical drug created by the labs at Pfizer to reduce hypertension, or high blood pressure. During research the drug didn’t do as well as they had hoped. However, one of the side effects patients were getting was penile erections. Yep - the drug known as Sildenafil turned out to be the early marketing of what we know as Viagra today. The drug became the first oral treatment approved to treat erectile dysfunction in the United States. But had the company not listened to what the patients (customers) were telling them, they may have continued on their path trying to come up with another hypertension drug. By listening to their customers, they sold the same product, but decided to change branding and marketing course, making millions in revenue.

Sure, you may love your brand, but it doesn’t mean people will buy it. Make sure you get in tune with the customers who buy your product, and continue to stay in tune. Don’t stop researching. There’s always something your customers can tell you.

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So, knowing all this now, do you feel like your brand identity is up to snuff? Or maybe your own brand needs a boost?

I’ve created a completely FREE 12-day Branding Boosting Challenge for small business owners who needs a little help refocusing on their brand.

This isn’t a step-by-step PDF on how to create a brand board. No. This is a daily guide sent directly to you with a short challenge you can do that gives you more insight and understanding of your own brand. Think you know your brand now? Just wait.

 
 

Subscribe to the Challenge here and each day you’ll receive a new 15-minute task you can do to take your brand to the next level! We’ll cover everything from your competition to positioning, and everything in between. You can’t afford not to try it out. And who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Viagra.

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How To Go Full-Time With A Side-Hustle

A majority of small business owners will tell you their business first started as a small side hustle, or maybe even just a hobby at the beginning. They enjoyed doing X, Y, and Z for others, made a decent income from it or knew they could, and decided the idea of freedom from being an employee for someone else sound like a great idea. But what they don’t explain is how to make that jump - from hobby to full-time. It’s a piece of the story that many, like me, wanted to hear from those who had done it successfully. I figured the more I knew, the less risk there would be, and I wanted to be as prepared as I could to avoid failure. 

Over 50% of small businesses fail in the first four years. And not surprisingly, 82% off those that fail do so because of cash-flow problems (source). If you can’t stay in the green, it’s not going to work out. And I certainly did not want to spend time working hard and apply myself, and have all that time and effort to go to waste. So I took my time, planned it out, and although I’m only 9 months into my “side hustle”, I’d say so far I’ve been successful.

All my preparation, planning, and full transition are still fresh in my mind, and I’m able to take a wider look back with better perspective to give you insight in how to go full time.

Just Start

It’s simple. Like NIKE, "Just Do It.” You can talk all you want about becoming a legit business, but talking isn’t going to help you get there. My biggest piece of advice for any one who wants to start their own business it to just start. Start by getting a free website. Start by finding your first clients or customers - maybe they’re family or friends. Start by making your first product to sell on Etsy. If you don’t start, you’re no better off than you were yesterday.

Get Official

Whether you want to be an LLC or S-Corp (do some research on what’s best for you), you gotta get official with the government. Not only do you need to for tax purposes but it tells your clients and customers your professional. The process is pretty easy. I just Googled “Register A Business In Maryland” (where I reside) and found a Maryland government website that is for exactly that. There’s some small fees, but the process is pretty simple and all said and done was under $200, which includes your EIN number. You’ll need this to pay taxes.

Sure, maybe your Aunt Mildred knits gloves and only sells a few pairs at a Christmas Craft Fair, and doesn’t officially have to register as an actual business because she makes a such a small income on those few pairs each season. But you know what? She still has to pay the IRS taxes on any income she makes. Yes, there are plenty of people that run their self-made businesses off the books and don’t pay taxes, but it’s illegal, and it can catch up with you. Before you start bringing in the income, get legit.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

It’s a very romantic notion to just pick up and quit your cushy full-time job and focus full time into your passion, with the goal of achieving greatness doing what you love. But it’s not realistic. There’s bills to be paid. And if you’re like me, a family to help support. You can’t tell what the future will hold, and starting from scratch before you’re bringing in cash from your new venture is a big gamble. Unless you have a large savings cushion it’s just not wise. And even then, why would you want to chance having to tap into your savings when there’s a smarter, safer way?

First piece of advice - keep your side-hustle just that, a side-hustle. A very busy, hard-working side-hustle. Work as much as you can in your “free-time”. Make that money in the evenings, weekends, and even lunchtime! Ask any small business owner and they’ll tell you that starting a business is hard work and take a lot of time. By keeping your day job you’ll still be bringing in a steady paycheck and making extra cash in your “free-time”. Work until your new business is doing so well that you’re over-loaded. Even then, it may be wise to hire help from a few employees before actually quitting your day-job and going full-time.

Do The Calculations

When it comes down to it, it’s all about the numbers.

So you’ve been doing this side hustle thing for a while, you’re “free time” hours are completely filled up with client work or production on products. You’re bringing in the cash and your business bank account is filling up. Now what? Get a piece of paper and your calculator out, and start running the numbers. 

First, calculate how much you need to pay yourself to live the way you want to live. Maybe you don’t want to quit your day job until you side-hustle is bringing in the same amount, or maybe you’re able to take a little hit, and live on a tighter budget as long as you’re doing what you love. Make sure you take all your existing benefits into account (i.e. health, 401k, etc.) and plan ahead! If you’re lucky, maybe you can switch to your spouses insurance instead. Unfortunately, my health insurance was with my previous day-job, and my husband owns his own business too, so we had to get private health insurance - and it’s not cheap!

Also, just because you’re able to make say, $6000 in net revenue or net sales, doesn’t mean that’s how much you get to pay yourself. After you account for all your business expenses (supplies, bills, etc.), taxes (my accountant has suggested to save 50% to be safe), plus any you want to continue to invest back in your business, you’re left with net profit or net income. That’s how much you can pay yourself.

Yep - that’s the downfall of small business ownership. It’s expensive to own a business. But when you charge the right amount, and when it’s calculated and budgeted right, you can grow, invest back in your company, and get to reap the benefits of small business ownership.

Make The Jump

So you know how much you need to make, you’re pulling the money, everything’s going great, but you just don’t have enough hours in the day to grow. So now what?

It’s time to make the jump to full-time small business ownership!

First, it’s probably a good idea to have a cushion on money in you bank account, just in case your 40-hours a week doesn’t quite fill up - with client hours, or products selling - right away. And if you can book those hours in advance, or have sales prior to making them, that’s great too!

Now it’s time to put in your 2-week notice with your job, schedule your new health insurance starting, and get to work! It’s scary, but one of the best things you can do is talk to someone who’s been successful in doing it. Not only will they be able to help you with any questions you may have, but knowing they’re been successful in making the jump should give you motivation to do it too.

So, are you just thinking about starting a side hustle? Are you considering making the jump to full-time soon, or have you done it successfully? Share your story in the comments! The more small business owners help other small business owners, the more chance we can all become successful!

 
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