Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Growing your own brand

When I first talked with Pash about doing an AIGA Shop Talk event, we were both excited about the topic of growing your own brand, or as Pash also put it, “the cobbler’s kids have no shoes”. Pash is the successful head cobbler (aka Creative Director) at Trunk LTD, a lifestyle brand that creates vintage concert apparel. Last week AIGA members gathered for an unforgettable evening at Trunk’s Culver City HQ, complete with a mini bronze elephant (the company icon), bubble gum machine and checkered taxi in the lobby.

Whether you’re a one person show or principal of a large firm, we all find ourselves “without shoes” at times. Why? Because it’s hard to see our business objectively and present it succinctly. Pash was brilliant at getting to the heart of the challenge - knowing who you are, how to communicate it, and who to tell your story to. He talked about the 5 must haves every designer/firm needs to grow their brand:

1. The courage (and personality) to talk about what you do to everyone you meet.
2. A short blurb or summary of what you do and who you do it for. Don’t be vague, like some clients can be. We help clients not be vague.
3. A business card that’s with you at all times. Make it as memorable as you want to be.
4. Examples of your work. Not just a web site or portfolio, but a mini samples that are with you all the time.
5. A marketing strategy (not a business plan). Simply put - the way that you’re going to regularly connect with your network.

Sounds easy? It’s not. Most people have the business cards, portfolio and web site. They may even carry around work samples and send email newsletters or direct mail when things aren’t so busy around the office. But how many can describe what they do and who they do it for in a sentence? Without using the same banal jargon as everyone else? Can you? I’ve found 2 reasons why this is so challenging. First, designers are so much more than visual creators. We're also marketers, content developers, project managers, team leaders and business advisors. As Pash put it so well, “clients look to me for my opinion on what will help them accomplish their goals.” Second, many designers avoid specializing in an industry or discipline because we enjoy diversity and fear that specializing will limit our opportunities. The truth is that specializing not only helps potential clients identify you, it helps you find and prequalify them. It’s noteworthy that Pash placed courage and clarity before anything else. That's the source of answers to all the essential questions about you and your business.

What are the benefits of defining your own brand? Pash explained that a clear brand is a badge of credibility. It establishes and supports people’s perception of you - the one you want them to have. It’s the ultimate case study - a perfect example of your ability to build a complete communication message. Think of how effective you'll be as a cobbler with a unique pair of shoes for the whole family that is your brand.

Here's some resources that have helped me grow my brand:
- Now, Discover your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham
- Marketing Mentor helps you create your marketing plan and stick to it.
- Practical tips and teleclasses on cold calling
- A handy online tool that helps you sketch out your 15 second pitch
- Excellent articles on how to position your services and price your work
- A flickr collection of inspiring business card design

I welcome you to continue the conversation and share your thoughts here. What's your biggest challenge growing your brand?