‘Unsafe’, ‘risky’, ‘dangerous’, ‘uncommon’ and ‘unadvisable’ were some of the words that people used to describe hitchhiking in a recent straw poll I conducted.
Okay, it wasn’t scientific research. Nevertheless, I’m fairly sure these negative feelings (or brand perceptions in business speak) are relatively commonplace. Whether it’s justified or not, hitchhiking in the UK has got itself a bad name and it’s perhaps no surprise to see far fewer people on the roads now compared to 20 years ago.
What can budding entrepreneurs learn from hitchhiking’s misfortune?
Brands are like personalities. A key driver of human behaviour is the need to be liked by others; so we shape how we look and come across accordingly. The same principles apply when branding a business.
So the first tip is not to fall into the trap of the ‘me first’ process when creating a brand. It’s too easy to create a name, choose colours, fonts and materials etc. that are based solely around what you as the business owner likes. You need to take into consideration how the target audience will respond and feel.
If you think about and consult your potential customers when considering and developing a brand, your product or service offering is far more likely to appeal to prospective buyers.
More haste less speed
The second lesson is not to rush the process. The brand identity is your eternal shop window; and if the detail is not thought through at the beginning it will look wrong, date quickly and adversely affect trade. The only solution will then be to re-brand and in effect start again which of course costs money and time.
Finally, some people confuse brands with logos. Whilst the creation of a logo typically needs careful thought and attention, it is only a visual representation of your overall brand and thus a small part of the whole branding exercise.
For more information on brand principles take a look at Branding Strategy Insider and Brand Identity Essentials. You are bound to find some great ideas that will help you to build your business brand.
Developing a brand that performs
As mentioned at the start of this article, the two words ‘Hitch’ ‘Hiking’ when used together evoke strong feelings in peoples’ minds. Unfortunately they tend to be negative feelings. Only two days ago a friend said he thought I was crazy when I suggested I’d hitchhike again later this year; there is no evidence to show hitching has become a more dangerous method of travelling. It is all perception, but perception is everything.
So when creating a brand, you are creating a personality for your business. You will naturally want people to react in a positive way to it. For example, if you are developing a hi-tech business you will probably want your brand to evoke the following feelings: cutting edge; reliable; professional; dynamic etc.
Alternatively, if you are looking to start a courier company you will probably want your brand to convey: reliability; speed; no hassle; ease of use etc. And all of this has to be wrapped up in the name, design, use of colours, strap-line, materials; in-fact everything that is customer facing and thus communicates the brand values.
Getting the message absolutely right takes time and money; so there is a good argument for keeping things as simple as possible to start, rather than worrying about too much detail. As your business progresses so the brand can be developed and enhanced in line with feedback and your personal aspirations.
Finally, the brands that perform best are ruthlessly consistent – that word again. Think of people’s personalities that you really like and you realise that you enjoy their company because you know where you stand with them – they are completely consistent; unlike people whose behaviour is erratic, leaving you and others on eggshells or at a distance.
Throughout my hitchhiking ‘career’ the brand personality I conveyed at the roadside remained consistent. I always wanted people to see me as a non-threatening, easygoing individual who was travelling with a purpose. Given the chance, I would always look at the driver and if eye contact was gained (regardless of the Anglo Saxon expressions and gestures I occasionally received) I would smile.
It worked for me and when I go hitching later this year all those principles will be applied again. I look forward to thumbing lifts and travelling far this year…
Key Learning Points: Treat your business brand as a personality and shape it so that prospects and customers see you in a positive light. Being ruthlessly consistent with the brand means your customers won’t be confused about what you do and offer.