We Built Our 9-Ts Formula To Help You Effortlessly Remember The 9 Pillars Of Great Brand Building
Brand building, especially if you follow the standard advice, can be unwieldy and cumbersome for solopreneurs or small businesses.
At Solohacks Academy, we have developed a system we follow, that shows you some simple steps you need to get your brand building right. We’ve outlined it for you below.
Having a strategy helps you do things in a structured way for best cost-efficiency, easy manageability and reliable results. Without a good brand building strategy, most solopreneurs would flounder, not knowing what to do before what, and what should be the priority at each stage of activity. With a good structure, though, your workload will get streamlined and productive.
Why did we name it the 9-T Method of Brand Building? Many of our clients have asked us that. The answer: it’s easy and fun to remember the key brand building blocks by the nomenclatures of each stage – all beginning with T. Any program becomes do-able for a solopreneur if it’s easy and fun to learn – and once learned, can become semi-automatic too. That’s what this 9-T’s model is all about.
1. The First Three Ts Relate To Defining What Your Brand Will Be All About
In brand building terms, this is the stage when you do your “homework”. You decipher what your brand is going to be about. You focus on your Brand Truth, your Brand Topic and your Brand Targeting.
Let’s take these steps, one at a time, to see how best to start your brand building on these three counts.
Well before you start anything else in brand building, you have to set your’s brands non-negotiable principles. Among the most important non-negotiables is “Truth”. What is Truth in terms of brand building? It stands for three things – Authenticity, Credibility and Transparency.
We’ll get to those in a moment, but first, let’s see what Truth is not. Stephen Colbert, the American television comedian, coined a word similar to “truthfulness” but he called it “truthiness”. There’s a chasm of difference in meaning between truthfulness and truthiness.
Truthiness has been defined as, “The quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.” In other words, it’s a bending of real truth and facts, so that dubious information is spouted by a brand, which has the sound of truth, but is not the actual truth.
Authenticity according to the dictionary, is “genuineness”. It means “telling it as it is” and it also means not being defensive when you’re telling it as it is. A brand stands proud when it tells the world, “Hey, guess what, I know I’m small. But I’m earnest and sincere and mean well. I want to genuinely help my customers solve their problems. I don’t want to sound big and act mean.”
Being of genuine intent is also about being true to your self, not embroidering facts about yourself for public impact, and having earnestness to go the extra mile for all your stakeholders.
Credibility means having “believability”. Your brand’s word is as good as gold. People can rely on your brand. You don’t make tall claims and promises you can’t keep. You have character and integrity – and you are trustworthy. When people read your rules of engagement, for example, you put it all out, and then live by it. You don’t try to be clever-and-a-half and leave loopholes you can escape through.
Transparency is the “absence of hidden agendas”. You don’t play low and dirty games in the market against competition or with customers. Your brand is clean and clear on what it stands for and what it stands against, what rules it plays by, what it feels okay with, and what guarantees it will give and guard.
Why is Brand Truth the first building block of a brand, when you are planning your brand? It’s because very often marketers don’t tell themselves where they are going to draw the red lines around their brands. Later, when the market gets too fiercely competitive, or when business is frustratingly slow, desperation creeps in. The brand may get tempted to cross into no-go areas that sound good as shortcuts, but in the long term will harm the brand’s reputation.
The second step you need to firm up on is your Brand Topic, to be seen as an expert in that topic. You could have a Brand Topic (or niche), based on your own areas of experience or passion, or both. You should first focus on building an audience. You can later research the potential to introduce products and services that your reading audience would like, and you could then plan to supply their needs.
What are the steps to finding your Brand Topic or exclusive niche? And how do you know you’ve got a profitable one? To find your niche you have to do a four-way exploration.
Look at this diagram below to see if you can find that “sweet spot” in yourself which is an intersection of what you are good at and what you are passionate about. Chances are that if you’re good at something, and also passionate about it, you have more than a 50% chance of sustaining your business effort long enough till it produces results.
Next add in the most likely target audience for your brand. Your audience is those people who have problems your brand can solve for them. “Problems” in audience segments are “opportunities” for your brand. But the problems have to be dire problems because you want people to buy now – not far into the future. Look at the groups of people you want to target who have dire problems that your intersection of “what I am good at doing” and “what I’d love to be doing” can solve.
Now, we’re going to add one more layer to this diagram. Ask yourself: “How many customers from among this buying target audience do I need to make the money I have set as a goal?” Assuming that about X numbers of the target audience would translate into your desired customer base to give you the earnings you desire, you’ll then have to aim to target at least 100X of people in that target audience, to strain out at least X number of potential buyers.
Does your Brand Topic or niche have that many people with a dire problem you can solve? Are they willing to look at product pricing of the kind you have in mind? You need to do a bit of actual testing here to know whether there is this demand level you are seeking. This can be desk research. But it’s also good to wear those “grey sneakers” as Edward De Bono says, and go out into the market and talk to people with similar problems and get a fix on their actual price/demand sensitivities.
In the diagram below, notice the small area where all four circles intersect. That is the area that meets all the criteria to make it a viable, do-able Brand Topic or niche for you.
Once you’ve decided on your best topic for your brand to shine in, you need to explore who your Brand Targeting should aim at. It would help to do a bit of competitive research at this stage to see what kind of target audiences your competition is addressing.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say you are an eco-consultant who wants to do sell your knowledge on “green buildings”. You need to see if any competitive eco-consultant or business is in the same topic area as you want to be – and if yes, what their target audience profile is. For instance, you may find a competitor who addresses “architects of green buildings”, while another addresses “green office buildings”. You may then try to see if you could focus on “green residential buildings”, and thus target the current and potential owners of homes of this kind. You’re looking for under-served targets.
While identifying your broad target audience helps you aim in their direction, micro targeting is an even smarter form of brand targeting. It is ideal for solopreneurs to try, because it calls for extremely narrowed but extremely intensive focus on small groups of highly targeted audiences.
It is based on the idea that if you break down your already tight niche into smaller and smaller segments of specific audiences to target, you can hit the sales threshold faster than otherwise.
Why does micro targeting, as specific brand strategy, work faster? The primary reason is that when you address small groups of people whose pain points you can understand deeply, and focus on with great detail, your blog posts and other marketing communication can be very concentrated to their needs. Your words can resonate with audiences better and at an emotional and empathetic level.
Your audiences instinctively begin to feel that you know them and their issues very well, and they feel as if you are writing for them, almost on a one-to-one basis. Trust bonds develop faster when people feel “understood” … and as trust builds, so does sales.
When you decide to micro target, you should actually decide not just to go small in your focus, but your objective should be to corner a part of the market quickly, as your own. You should decide to capture a certain section of the total market segment and serve it in a way that competitors can’t get a toe in. You should then aim to saturate and arrogate this particular subset of the total target audience.
If you fail to do this, your hard work in cultivating the market will actually help other competitors enter your territory and piggyback off your efforts, if they are more fleet-footed than you.
2. The Second Three Ts Relate To How Your Brand Will Plan To Project Itself
Once you have decided what your brand will stand for and what its focus will be, you need to then see how best your brand should present itself in the noisy marketplace. You need to be seen and heard – and do so in a distinctive way.
The three areas where a brand needs to plan for its self-projection are Tilt, Tone and Trajectory.
Your Brand Tilt – sometimes referred to as “slant” – is the angle of approach you want to take towards your topic. One area of opportunity most marketers miss in considering Brand Tilt is “emotional branding”. It’s a smarter way of differentiating yourself from competition. But what is emotional branding about?
You may have noticed this. Apart from a brand name being a symbol of repute of a business and its products, some emotional strings get attached to certain brand names, when more and more people start associating the brand with some life-happiness-elements. For example, when you say “Ferrari cars” you get a different emotional cue than when you say “Mercedes cars”, don’t you? Why and how does this happen?
It happens when you, as a customer, mentally complete the sentence “This car is reputed for (what)?” When you try to say what the reputation of the car symbolizes to you, you may see the reputation of one car as different from another, because you start associating the value of each car with different emotions in yourself. Thus Ferrari makes you feel the emotions of “energetic and sporty”, while Mercedes makes you feel the emotions of “luxury and richness”. This is how brands become emotional things.
After that, as a consumer, you start feeling you, personally, have acquired a particular reputation because you are using one particular type of car. You feel its brand tilt has rubbed off on you – and you like that.
Does all this happen by accident? Do consumers give brands their emotional tilt? Or do marketers deliberately do that? These days, so much psychology of consumers has been studied, that businesses are deliberately able to associate their brands with certain emotions. They then sell these emotional highs to consumers. So, for example, a business may tell you (overtly or subtly): “If you buy this brand, you will be seen as an intelligent person, because this brand offers emotional cues of being in the intellectual bracket”.
What happens is that the brand actually cleverly repositions you in your own mind, as a different and better person now after you have bought the brand. This is the ultimate secret to brand marketing.
The moral of this whole story is that brands can use the idea of emotional tilt cleverly. They can make their users feel extra-special and privileged in some emotional way, as a result of buying and owning the brand. All this is apart from also enjoying the physical benefits of the brand.
Tom Albrighton, in an article, explains Brand Tone Of Voice beautifully – with this passage from a blog post outsourcing company:
ABC Copywriting delivers professional, premium-quality business writing services to corporations and organizations throughout the UK. We’re a cheerful lot and we’re always chuffed to chinwag, so if you want to chat about your project, grab the rap-rod and give us a tinkle. With ten years’ experience of developing content for clients of all types, we are ideally placed to meet your copywriting needs. Our copy’s too bootylicious for ya baby!”
How can someone who writes this way deliver professional, premium-quality business writing services? Is there not a glaring dissonance between the very first sentence and the rest of the copy?
This is why a brand needs to plan upfront what language and tone of voice it is going to use that will resonate the most with its target audiences. If your audience is millennials you could get away with feeling “chuffed to chinwag” but if your audience is other business owners, you’d better sound more business-like and serious, and drop the slang.
A good question marketers often ask is: “Should Brand Tone of Voice always be consistent, no matter which medium they are on? Or should it change with the medium?” For example, should your blog posts sound serious, while your social posts can be a bit casual?
The answer to this is: Your tone of voice should ideally match the audience you are speaking to. So it can change “a bit” from one communication channel to another. So, don’t look for “consistency of tone of voice” in a rigid way, and instead, focus on “coherence of tone of voice”. It should ultimately sound like one brand showing its different personality facets, but not end up sounding like many different brands.
These days you also have to pay a lot of attention to Brand Tone Of Voice in both written and spoken formats. There has to be coherence between these two forms of communication as well. You may be writing blog posts, or doing video tutorials or podcasts. You can’t let one form of content sound too different from another form of content, even if spoken language is often a bit more casual than written language.
So many newbie marketers brim with the excitement of launching new brands, that they fail to plan how their brands may evolve over time and how their Brand Trajectories will be. No brand remains exciting and fresh forever. When the first flush of the launch wanes, what next? Then what after that? And after that?
If you’ve never thought about planning the future trajectory for your brand, are you planning to wing it? What will you do when the brand reaches the maximum it can grow – do you have a plan for new ways to reinfuse life into it or give it a new trajectory?
There is a very interesting model from Brad Van Auken of BrandingStrategySource.com on how brands can plan to evolve their personalities during various stages of their lifecycles. Brad Van Auken doesn’t talk of old-fashioned terms like Brand Infancy, Brand Maturity or Brand Decline – he looks at trajectory through a new prism of brand personality evolution through growth. Here is Brad’s diagram:
Image courtesy: BrandingStrategySource
The whole idea behind this model is that a brand can mature as it grows, but its freshness needn’t be lost if it finds different ways to continue to be exciting to its customers. It’s rather like a marriage. As partners grow, they have to continue to find new ways to keep the relationship alive and tingling, or the adage of “familiarity breeds contempt” will creep in.
No brand can afford to let its customers take it for granted as “that old hat”. It’s got to keep finding new ways to enliven its relationships with customers. Notice in the Brad Van Auken model how a brand can mature via a Trajectory it plans, that takes it from “exciting to responsive to charming to unexpected”.
3. The Third Three Ts Relate To What Your Brand Will Plan To Get From Customers
There are three more things that brands should plan to build once engagement with potential customers begins – like Brand Traffic, a Brand Tribe and Brand Trust.
What are the ways brands can prepare themselves for these? Let’s see …
The first thing to do here is to ensure you get adequate Brand Traffic flowing into your brand website or blog, because without traffic your brand can’t get too much further with your business, than making plans. Traffic is oxygen to brands.
Traffic sources need to be planned, but there’s no one correct way to do this. It takes trial and error to know which sources work best for you in bringing traffic to your doorstep. You may plan some sources of traffic, but find that something else entirely actually works to bring that traffic to you.
It helps to begin with a few traffic generation steps that are easier to implement than others. For instance, you can optimize your blog posts for search engines, to give Google a try for attaining some rankings and visibility.
Simultaneously, you can seed the social media with updates at a regular frequency, and also increase your followers on these social channels (if you follow them, some of them will follow you back). A third avenue that sometimes works well for starter-bloggers is guest-posting on other high-traffic blogs with backlinks to your own blog.
Most of us are tempted to initially look for organic traffic from search engines like Google, because it’s free traffic. But these days there’s something important for brands to know about organic search engine traffic acquisition. Till recently, brand marketers were looking for “what” keywords searchers were using. Now, it appears, we have to look for “why” users are using their specific search keywords. We have to unearth the “search intent” behind the searches of our audiences.
- Are they searching because they have a question and want an answer?
- Are they searching for a specific website or page?
- Are they searching because they are looking to take some actions online?
- Or, are they searching because they want to buy something?
For example, let’s say someone has searched in Google for “content creator”. Is the person looking for a content creator? Does he want to become one? Does he want to know what it takes to become one? Or is he looking for a tool that helps in content creation?
Why is search intent becoming so important to content marketing? One reason is that we’d all like to write good answers that match searcher queries. That’s when they will click on our Google listings to visit our sites and read.
Search intent is most clear to us, and to Google, when searches are made as questions. For example, if someone searched for “apple jobs” we’d have less clarity on the intent. But if the query was “How to apply for jobs at Apple?” there would be no ambiguity. Questions are thus the clearest form of search intent. A smart brand marketer should, therefore, plan to go after every search query phrased as a question which his brand can answer – instead of doing old-style “keyword research”. This is fail-proof for quicker traffic.
Once you start getting traffic, you then focus on building your Brand Tribe. Your tribe is your brand’s loyal community of followers and fans. You do this by having a system on your website to capture email addresses of those who visit, so that you can then put them on your subscriber list, and make sure they are alerted to visit your site again and again, when you add new blog posts.
The more touches you have with people, the more they recall you with positive vibes – so long as you are not seen as overtly trying to sell them something in the guise of keeping up communications. An ideal frequency of emailing would be about once a week. Don’t get overzealous.
Capturing email addresses requires that you give away something valuable in return – for free. Usually, it’s an ebook – or better still a multi-part email course. The email course idea works better simply because it gives you a reason to email people with their permission, for seven or ten consecutive days, while you and your blog are still fresh in their minds.
Remember one thing, when you build your community or tribe. You also have to figure in another secondary tribe of people who have influence, and can get more people into your primary tribe. So building a network of influential people who can recommend you, your brand and your community, to others who have not yet joined you, must be part of your effort.
One sobering thought about tribes comes from Seth Godin the ultimate marketing guru. In his own inimitable style, he says “It’s Not Your Tribe”. What does he mean?
- While our brands may “have” a tribe, more often than not, we simply have the privilege to talk to a community, to connect a community and perhaps to lead them for a while. But it’s a mistake to believe that they are ours to do with as we choose.
- The tribe of people who follow a brand is not actually aligned with the brand itself. Instead, they’re more aligned with each other, with the way it feels to be part of this movement. Therefore, over time, the tribe and the brand can drift apart.
- Brands must aim to continually see what its tribe believes and fears, and to help tribe-members get to where they hope to go. The realization that the tribe is already there, just waiting for you to contribute, is energizing. But while the tribe is open to hearing from you, you don’t own them.
In other words, don’t take your brand’s tribe or its loyalty for granted. The tribe will stay with you only as long as its needs are met. As many marketers find out, when brand disenchantment sets in, people don’t leave in ones and twos. You often find the exodus can be en masse. This is because tribes have a way of bonding with each other not just through your brand, but even outside your brand’s ambit.
On Brand Trust, the points I’m elaborating on below are not about wearing trust badges, providing online transactional security or offering product guarantees. I am going to write here about small things that a brand can do online that can make a big difference to trust.
The first thing to do … if possible, get the definition of trust from your audiences. This is probably the fastest way to escalate the trust your audiences have in you. Shed what you think “trust” is … and listen instead to what people who matter to your business think “trust” is. To some trust is “reliability”, to others it could be “honesty” – and to yet some others it may be about “your being able to read my mind and understand my needs without my spelling it out”.
Trust is generically a great word, but you still must take the trouble to figure out what exactly it means to the people who can become stakeholders in your success. Trust is a very elusive word and can be totally misconstrued if you don’t take care to ask the key people in your life what exactly it means to them.
If you’re not yet sure what your audience sees as “trust”, here a few general things to know and do to be on the right side of trust.
People online tend to trust a brand that is communicative. The responsiveness of a brand is gauged as an indicator of its trustworthiness. A short but quick response to a consumer query, comment or opinion is better than a long but delayed reply. Topics of discussion online wait for no one. People move swiftly on from topic to topic, so unless a brand’s response is “to-the-point” and “to-the moment”, it is a wasted response. Research shows that waiting too long to reply online is considered as being “unhelpful”.
Also, there is a hierarchy of trusted brand message formats, and most brands do not realize this. For establishing trust, video is considered better than audio (with no video). Audio, in turn, is better than an online chat window. And a chat is still better than just written updates. Why is this so? The logic appears intuitive. People listen to what is said, but they tend to place greater trust in their judgment of how it is said.
In Summary …
- Our 9-Ts formula was created to help you effortlessly remember the 9 pillars of great brand building.
- With a good brand building strategy, your implementation workload will get streamlined and prioritized.
- The first three Ts relate to defining what your brand will be all about via Truth, Topic and Targeting.
- The second three Ts relate to how your brand will plan to project itself via Tilt, Tone and Trajectory.
- The third three Ts relate to what your brand will plan to get from customers via Traffic, Tribe and Trust.
- We named it the 9-T Method to make it an easy and fun way to remember what the key brand building blocks are.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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