Freelancers typically struggle with branding. They think great charisma and good skills with a nice, zen-white site are all they need in the ocean of competition out there. And sometimes, that works. Charm and skills goes a long way in business.
But to think that this is all it takes, especially in an online environment… well, you’d be wrong.
Branding goes a long, long way in the great big world of business. The right look, the right image, the right promise… and you have a winner. Sure, your skills and reputation count, but in most cases, it’s the brand packaging that sells.
Yes, people really are that shallow. Don’t believe me? Join me as I tell you the story about branding.
Oh, the best part? It involves beer.
Once Upon a Time…
… I was having a great day. It was beautiful outside, the sun was shining and life was fantastic. But I had to grab fixings for supper at my local grocery store, so I headed over and started my shopping.
Everyone was smiling. No one was rude. The whole store felt like one big happy family. A hungry family too, because cheese slices and hamburger buns and relish were going fast. Seemed like we all had the same idea that day:
Now, I don’t know about you, but I figure that nothing goes better with a hot barbecue than a cold beer, so I headed over to pick up a six-pack. That would be the perfect top-off for my private little backyard cookout.
Except when I got to the piles of cases and rows of cans, I slowed down. We Canadians are known for liking beer, and the slew of choices before me was a good indication we liked it a lot. The only problem was that I don’t drink beer that often, and I didn’t know what to choose.
Cans? Bottles? Pale ale? Dark lager? Moosehead? Molson? It was option paralysis.
That kind of option paralysis is what your potential customers face. They might need a designer or a writer, but they aren’t that accustomed to knowing the difference between good and bad, between “right” and “not so great,” between this person or that business.
So they blink at the masses of you and think, “Who the hell should I hire for the job?”
That’s about the same feeling I was having while I stood there gaping wondering which beer I should buy for the barbecue. Then I spotted it: Bud Lime.
I’d seen Bud Lime before. My friends drank that brand, so it must be alright. There’d been television commercials showing pretty people having fun at parties. I wanted a party. I was pretty people. So I reached for the six-pack.
But then something else caught my eye: Miller Chill.
And I was back to square one. My options had narrowed down to two brands (just like your clients narrow down their options to two potential hires), and I had to find a way to pick between them.
Well, good luck with that! They were both light beer, both came with lime flavour, both were in six packs, and both were sold at the same price.
Looks like I had to get picky about it. Miller Chill had clear glass bottles and a silver and green label. Bud Lime came in sleek silver cans stamped with green accents. Miller Chill wasn’t sleek – in fact, the labels and bottles reminded me a little of a Mexican fiesta.
And then a whole bunch of mental images came to mind. Mexico was sunny; it was sunny here. A fiesta was fun; I could have my own barbecue fiesta. Fiestas made me think of music; I’d put music on!
The Bud Lime cans weren’t bringing me the same emotional impact. They made me think of urban clubs and thumping disco music and high-fashion clothing. I didn’t feel urban or thumping–I felt like relaxing and chilling.
Same beer. Same product. Same features.
What Finally Sold Me?
But it was the brand image sold me. And brand image is what sells you as well, when your clients are trying to decide between you and your competition. They look at the type of site you have, the message in your copy, the colors you’ve used, and the way you communicate.
Then they build up an image in their mind thanks to the emotional impact you’ve created. They’ll decide if you’re friendly or sharp or smart or fast or qualified, all from looking at your packaging, and how you present it.
Shallow? You betcha. Does it work? Sure does.
Branding creates an emotional pull that draws in the right clients. They “fit” with your image and relate to it, personally. They buy into not just what you sell, but the feeling they get from working with you. And if the feeling you’re giving is common old charismatic zen-white?
Well, you might as well be a no-name brand.
Think about how you stand out from your competition. What makes you special? What makes you different? What makes someone think you’re worth hiring over the competition?
You’re probably going to have to dig deep to find the answer, too. Your first ones are probably going to be words that you share with your competition, like “best,” “expert,” and “skilled.” That’s no help. That’s like saying “beer,” “light,” “six pack.” You need more than that.
You need to find what makes you catch someone’s eye and what makes them put down the cans they’re holding. You need to stand out from the crowd like a Mexican fiesta on a hot summer day. And that’s the way you’ll get thirsty clients coming to you like you’re a drink of cool water.
Or beer. You choose :)
What About You?
Does your marketing catch the eye of your prospective clients? Do you stand out?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
Image by tibchris