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I'm Ali Rae and I love building brands.
So let's build that business one blog post at a time.
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let's whip that brand into shape
Yay for growth and adding an additional piece to my brand’s puzzle…practicing what I preach here, y’all! Click here to listen to the FIRST EVER episode of the Ali Rae Haney Show!
This podcast is all about branding, but believe it or not, I didn’t go to school to be a brand developer or marketer or business owner…I am an English teacher by trade. This is weird because I am using air quotes and you can’t see me. But once I realized the traditional classroom wasn’t for me, I packed up my school supplies and started a photography business with zero background in photography…or business.
I learned a lot of lessons along the way, including how to pivot an entire business and brand to make it fit my lifestyle. My business has seen so many iterations from wedding photographer to online educator to branding photographer to wedding venue owner for a brief time before finally settling my business into its current state of brand development and photography.
My love for working with small business owners is what is keeping me going on a daily basis. Helping others to build the business and brand of their dreams that serves their lives, families, and dreams…man, that is irreplaceable and such an honor.
It’s really my goal to feel like your business best friend who is going to give you the hard truths while picking you up and cheering you on. Entrepreneurship is NOT for the faint of heart and if you’ve made it here, then I wanna be your friend. I wanna be your cheerleader.
Because I am honoring the season of life that I am in as a mom of three young children, juggling a few businesses and an impending move, I want to keep it real with y’all. I would absolutely love to be able to commit to a weekly podcast routine, but that’s just not feasible…or maybe it’s feasible, but certainly not desirable to me in this season. I have decided to release the Ali Rae Haney Show in seasons. Each season will be eight episodes, most directly related to branding, but I am known to trail off on topics when my inspiration leads me there. Between each season, we will have a break of five weeks before we pick back up with the next season. I hope you all understand and hey, they say anticipation is everything right? Rest assured, however, you’ll be hearing from me.
Okay, now on to the branding stuff!
I call myself a brand developer…but what the heck does that even mean? It means that I take a small business owner’s brand, I ask them their goals about how they want to grow their business, and I then create a consistent brand across allllll client touch points, both online and in person, in order to help them achieve those business goals.
Okay, let’s be clear—a business and a brand are not the same things. A business is the product or service you sell. Branding is how your potential and current clients or customers FEEL about your business. Branding and marketing are also not the same things. Marketing is the action you take to to sell your product or service. It’s letting people know that it exists and what it does. Branding, again, is how potential and current customers feel about your business. They often get confused because with marketing you ARE trying to get clients to FEEL something. But the something they feel is because of your branding.
This leads me to my next point: Branding feels so intangible. Why does it feel intangible? Well, because it…is. It’s a lot of different factors that come together to create a brand.
Many of us solopreneurs start our business and we have this checklist in front of us…okay, I need to choose a business structure, I need to apply for an EIN, I need to set up my website, I need branding, like a logo and a color palette.
But the branding often stops there. Why? Because a logo and a color palette and typography…that is all technical branding. It is easy to check off a list because it is tangible, you can see it on a screen or a business card. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think technical branding is important, but the companies that you can’t get enough of, the ones that grab your attention, but you don’t exactly know why, the ones that you’re willing to pay a premium for…THOSE businesses don’t stop their branding at a logo and color palette. They push deeper past the surface level stuff!
So let’s talk about three different concepts that often feel intangible, but will take your branding to the next level, and how you can break them down to actual action items to enact within your business.
First, is defining your ideal client. Okay, and before you sign off because you feel like you’ve heard this a thousand times, just hang with me for the next couple of minutes because I promise to try and deliver you something you haven’t heard before amidst a very saturated topic.
Answer these questions about your ideal audience:
What does their everyday life look like? You may have done an exercise before where you’re asked where they shop, what do they do in their free time. And that’s not bad information to have perse, but it actually a bunch a small pieces that fit into a bigger picture.
Think about your own life, do you consciously say, “I go hiking as a pasttime” or do you just go hiking because it makes you feel free and adventurous? Probably the latter. To me, the words “free” and “adventurous” are far more valuable to latch onto in terms of branding than the actual act of hiking.
Alright, so walk through an average day in the life of your ideal client. As you do that, what nagging problems do they have? What question is surfacing in their mind on an everyday basis? What to do list item is continuously getting pushed to the bottom?
Then let’s look at the symptoms of that problem. Are they feeling stressed? Are they feeling overwhelmed because they can’t complete that to do list item because more immediate fires pop up that need to be put out? Often feelings are attached to problems, and we want to take that negative feeling away from them and replace it with a solution and thus, a happy feeling.
Finally, where will they be looking for the solution to either fix the problem or alleviate the symptoms? We want to know where your ideal audience hangs out because that is where and how we will access them.
For the sake of being thorough, I am going to give an example using a previous business of mine that I will run through all of these elements of brand foundation.
It is a wedding photography business. Let’s perform this series of questions on this business to identify its ideal client.
Their everyday life looks like a trip to Orange Theory fitness early in the morning to get some serotonin flowing before taking a quick shower, possibly listening to a podcast or her favorite Spotify mix. Then she hops out, eats a quick breakfast and makes coffee before heading to work. Fridays she treats herself to grabbing coffee and a pastry on her way to work. Work likely looks like a job where she is in service to others, maybe a teacher or someone in the healthcare industry.
She spends most of the day pouring into others and often feeling unseen or undervalued, but still somehow feels like she’s living in her purpose. During her lunch break and directly after work, she’s planning her dream wedding where SHE can be the star of the show.
While still being practical, she is willing to splurge on certain things, both for her wedding and within her everyday life.
In her free time, she enjoys collecting experiences instead of material things. So she and her fiancee visit local wineries and enjoy going to live music with the occasional bigger travel trip.
She also loves spending time with her immediate family and her fiancee’s immediate family because she realizes that they are an integral part of who they have grown to be and part of the reason she and her fiancee are such a great match. This legacy is important to her.
She has 3-4 really close friends that she speaks to on a weekly, if not daily basis.
At night, before bed, she checks her email and does her final social media scroll.
The problem she is trying to solve is being practical while also finding a way to justify splurging on her “big day.” She acknowledges that the wedding is just one day, but also wants to cherish the fact that her marriage will last a lifetime and her wedding day is the start to that lifetime story.
The symptoms of that problem could be guilt for taking the spotlight or demanding certain things. She needs to feel confident in the decision in her photographer to be able to justify it in her mind and in the mind of anyone else making financial decisions in regards to the wedding. This confidence will come from knowing more about the photographer than just the technical talent behind the lens. She wants to feel like she knows her vendors on a personal level.
Finally, she will be looking for the solution to her problem likely on Google and/or Instagram. Because she is a millennial or very early Gen Z and that’s where she scrolls. This tells me where I need to focus my marketing efforts, which is SEO and content creation.
Okay, now that we know who we are talking to and where we are going to encounter them…let’s dive into the second intangible concept of branding—your UVP, or unique value proposition. This is also sometimes referred to as a USP or unique sales proposition. For the sake of this episode and this podcast, I am going to use UVP. That is a fancy way of saying—what makes you different than the next person, the next business, the next brand selling a comparable product or service to yours? A UVP is a concise and clear statement that communicates distinct benefits, advantages, and value that a product/service offers to its target.
It is imperative that you know this! Otherwise, your message will blend in with your competition’s.
If you are a product-based business owner, the UVP will often lie within the product you sell, but it can also lie within the service and experience you deliver when fulfilling that product.
If you are a service-based business owner, your UVP may be part of your client experience. It may be in the service itself.
Regardless of your business or what you sell, however, you HAVE to know your UVP in order to stand out from the crowd. We want to attract our ideal client, and repel those that are not a good fit. Defining your UVP and shouting it from the rooftops is a great way to do that!
Alright, and finally…the third intangible brand concept is brand messaging.
There’s a lot of intuition sprinkled into this part, so let me break it down into some actionable steps though, which I believe will make it more manageable.
First, determine what your ideal clients’ frustrations are. These will come directly from that audience exercise we did before. Pull those frustrations out and boil them down to 2-3 key phrases.
The primary frustrations of an ARHP client were:
1. They wanted to get the best value for their investment.
2. They wanted to ensure their images would be timeless and have the ability to become an heirloom that document the start of their legacy.
3. They wanted to be seen and heard throughout the process.
Then find a way to solve those that are in line with your brand values.
My values spoke directly to all of their concerns. My values were service, professionalism, and efficiency.
Service, primarily, covered all of those frustrations. I made a commitment to go above and beyond to provide service to all my clients in terms of communication, anticipating their needs, and being efficient with gallery delivery.
My professionalism instilled confidence in them that I would be able to aptly deliver images that would document their legacy for future generations. Furthermore, I provided a timeline that very clearly displayed that the images they wanted to be a priority would be accounted for within the wedding day timeline.
Finally, determine a brand vocabulary of words that can be used repetitively throughout your messaging. I’m not joking, sit down and write words and/or phrases you want to repeat. One of the words I made it a point to always use for ARHP was “image” instead of “photo” or “picture.” It felt more sophisticated and timeless. I used “legacy” instead of “story.” I used “heirloom” instead of “detail.” Think of the words “image,” “legacy,” and “heirloom” consistently used alongside one another, as opposed to “photo,” “story,” and “detail.” It evokes a different feeling, for sure!
This “messaging” can be done through any type of copy you may write–social media captions, TikTok videos, blog posts, website copy, email templates, literally any time a potential customer might encounter your business.
So now we have your ideal client or the audience you’re attracting. We have your UVP that makes you different than everyone else doing the same thing you’re doing. We have your messaging and vocabulary now.
But I am here to tell you that your brand is not a one and done type of deal. Your branding, all these pieces, they’re the blood running through the entire body of your business, touching every major organ and keeping it alive. But what’s more is that you have to stay consistent with this branding! You can’t set it and forget, it has to be an active part of your business in order for it to be an effective part of your business.
You can’t say your UVP once and expect everyone to know what differentiates you. You can’t just decide to switch up the messaging you’re using because then there will be something that feels justttt a little off to your audience. Each part of branding affects your business as it comes together as a whole.
Consistency is KEY. If you’ve heard about the like, know, and trust factor…consistency is what gets your ideal client to like, know, and trust you. When you are showing up consistently, you will start to feel familiar to them. There’s this statistic that is floating around that says a potential client or customer has to interact with your brand SEVEN OR MORE times before they buy from you. So please, please, please do not just say your UVP once, do not just tell your story once, do not just make a point once and expect your whole audience to see it, digest it, and act on it. They need to encounter it time and time again in order to take that first step.
Finally, regardless of whether you have been in business for a year or for ten years, your brand is a living document…and what I mean by that is, you should constantly be updating your branding as you learn more about your ideal client or if you pivot your service or product offering or if your ideal client changes. There are subtle changes that can be made that have large impacts. So don’t feel like you are stuck with a brand that doesn’t feel quite right. And don’t feel the pressure to do a complete overhaul and rebrand …that’s another buzzword I am not going to get started on this episode, but small tweaks can go a long way, especially when they’re slowly and methodically made.
I hope you gleaned something beneficial from this time and can use it to make your brand one that is irresistible to your ideal client! Cheers everybody!
If you found this helpful and want to work together, here are a few ways we can keep the conversation going:
Brand Strategy Framework Course | DIY Brand Analysis Mini-Course
Ali Rae Haney Brand Development Program Info | Work together 1:1 for a Brand Analysis & Marketing Plan
Ali Rae Haney Show Insiders Facebook Group | Come hang out!
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