Most common response when I wrote about branding a couple of months ago was: “I’m not really sure what my brand is.”

There’s a lot to explore – it’s a huge topic. For openers, a few thoughts from Spell-Bind Brand Strategist Paige Rolfe.

“Branding,” Paige says, is a culmination of everything your business does – from the language and aesthetic elements on your website to marketing materials to the level of support you provide your clients and prospects and the quality of your products and services.”

You know me. I asked, “Can you make that short and snappy?”

Here it is. “Your brand is everything you do and how it’s being interpreted in the minds of your prospects.”

Well that covers a lot of ground, doesn’t it? Suppose you want to up-level your brand. Where would you even begin?

Paige’s advice: “Start with assessment … what are you doing now? Look at where you want to be and the caliber of client you want to work with. How does that person interpret value? Then make sure everything you do is in alignment with that.”

Sometimes, “it’s just a tweak – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Just refresh the elements, tidy up language.”

The language is important. Paige says “language can tell you a lot about the level a business is operating on. People always say ‘done is better than perfect.’ But when you’re dealing with high-level clients, they will notice misspellings, poor grammar, and odd word usage. Those seemingly small mistakes send a signal that you’re rushing, doing things at the last minute.” And that makes a person wonder whether they want to do business with you.”

Other ways people get tripped up:

  • Business owners sometimes underestimate the intelligence of their audience,” Paige says. “There’s something to be said for ambiguity. Don’t stifle your creativity because you think you have to be blatant about everything.”
  • And then there’s that alignment thing. Paige told me about a business attorney handing out condoms at a conference, with an exhortation to “protect yourself.” It was meant in fun, as the lawyer’s team explained; it was all to get attention.So how many leads did the condom campaign bring in? A big fat zero.Paige says it’s no wonder. “I don’t want a lawyer to be fun. He can be the most boring man on the planet. I want him to be GOOD and diligent.”“The brand should always lead,” Paige says. And if your brand is business attorney, it shouldn’t lead you down the path of silliness so you can be “fun.”

Of course fun is pretty popular. But Paige told me what’s popular doesn’t always work. “You want to differentiate yourself right? If you partake in too much groupthink you’re going to be just like the group. The whole point of branding is to separate yourself from the group so that people can find you more easily.”

I did my first sponsorship last fall – the booth, the banner and the candy on the table. Dove Chocolates to be exact, wrapped in my brand colors. Then I heard Paige say, “Don’t have candy at your booth.”

That’s sacrilege in the world of expos and conferences, isn’t it? Why would I skip the sugary bait?

“Because then you have people coming over just for a piece of candy … not because they’re interested in you and what you do,” she explained. “You’re spending money on candy and time on those people that you could be spending in other ways. Do you think a Snickers bar is really going to attract me?”

At least I’m not alone in swallowing the conventional wisdom (along with the chocolate). “A lot of people struggle because they’re trying to conform and do it like everybody else. There are fundamentals, but you don’t have to do everything exactly like anyone else.”

Branding may turn out to be a don’t-try-this-at-home kind of thing. “One of the great things about working with a brand strategist is that they are often idea generators by nature,” Paige explains. “They tend to have a good understanding of competitive landscapes so they can help you identify new markets and different ways to generate revenue.”

And how to choose the brand expert for you? “Notice how they see the world. Are they talking about things that every other brander is saying? The really good ones won’t waste your time by repeating the same stuff you will see on every one of their competitor’s website. Someone who knows what they’re doing says the right the things for you.”

Have you clarified your brand since the last time I asked? Share in the comments: what is your brand?