The Ultimate Brand Blueprint: How Design Your Brand to Attract Your Ideal Customer
One of the biggest mistakes fitness businesses make (particularly small ones) is that they don’t spend enough time designing and strengthening their brand. Before we get started, humor me for a minute. Do a quick Google image search for “fitness” in your area. What do you see?
[Really do it. I’m secretly watching you through your computer camera.]
When I search for “fitness in NYC” Google shows me a giant sea of boring, generic fitness images. I see ridiculously sculpted models looking super “hard core,” images of empty fitness facilities with endless rows of bikes and treadmills, and obvious stock images of models training their already fit model trainees. I gotta admit, it kinda ticks me off. As a consumer, where would I even begin to make sense of this homogenous cluster-f*ck of sameness? It’s easy to see how consumers find it daunting to choose the right place for their fitness journey — and why so many give up before even starting. I’m talking about the tens of millions of Americans who don’t have a gym membership, many of whom desperately need our help. I think we should make it easier for them, don’t you?
I’m not naive enough to think that this article will completely solve that dilemma, but I am absolutely positive that companies who have a strong and compelling brand identity will stand out from the crowd and attract their ideal clients.
The best brands give consumers an immediate and accurate view of who they are and what they do. Ideally your brand identity is an authentic reflection of your business’s values, personality, and approach to fitness. Consumers who share your values and admire your approach will be your most qualified prospects — but you don’t stand a chance of attracting those clients if your brand identity is crap.
You and your team deserve a business with a stellar brand identity. And your future clients, who really need you to help improve their lives, need you to have a brand that speaks to them. The strategies I’ll share below will help you create a new brand or overhaul your existing brand to start attracting and helping more of your ideal clients, growing your business, and making more money.
Still don’t give a shit about branding? Here’s another 200 words in an attempt to convince you.
Acclaimed graphic designer Paul Rand once said “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” A well designed brand speaks for your business when you aren’t paying attention or when you aren’t present to speak for yourself. When a possible lead is strolling through Facebook and sees a photo you posted, that’s a reflection of your brand. When you have a staff member who gets asked about where they work at a party, that’s a reflection of your brand. When someone sitting next to you on a plane compliments you on the t-shirt you’re wearing because it has a unicorn on it (and it’s a piece of merchandise from your business because your company is insane and chose a unicorn as its mascot), that is a reflection of your brand. (<— That one happens to me all the time!)
Seth Godin put it like this: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” Every interaction a consumer has with your company’s iconography, graphics, people, technology, physical spaces, merchandise and marketing inform that customer’s opinion of your business. Every choice you make about your brand is an opportunity to bring that customer closer to you or push them farther away.
Here is a simple and effective blueprint to create or reinvent your business brand identity to start attracting your ideal clients. Let’s dive in!
Lead with a strong first impression.
Often the first impression customers have of your business comes from the holy trinity of your company’s name, logo and tagline. These three items introduce your company to the world in a single glance and can make a powerful impact. Choosing your company’s name is a very personal decision, but there are some basic DOs and DON’Ts that everyone should consider.
When picking your company’s name…
- Keep it simple. Your name should be easy to spell, pronounce and remember.
- Reflect your values. Make sure your name speaks to the kind of clients you want to attract by reflecting the ideals of your brand and culture.
- Consider your domain name. Check to make sure your name (or some memorable version of your name) is available.
- Be a copycat. Sounding like a another company is just silly. It can lend to confusion and if that other company fails you could be dragged down with them.
- Use puns or trendy words. You want your brand to be timeless, so stick to words that will stand the test of time. “Bernie Sanders Fitness” probably won’t mean much in 5 years. #SorryBernie
- Be too specific. Avoid the temptation to include your services in your business name. “John’s Personal Training Club” is cool until John decides to start doing group training instead of one-on-one training.
Logos are tough. They require a designer with a true understanding or your business and a keen sense of your ideal customer. Maybe someday I’ll write a whole article on logo design, but for now let’s take a look at a few recent logo redesigns to examine the trends in visual branding.
What do these three logo redesigns have in common? All three of these huge brands (probably) spend tens of thousands of dollars on consultants to make their logos SUPER DUPER SIMPLE. They got rid of curvy fonts and complicated graphics, opting for streamlined two-color designs that are modern and bold. This trend has been happening for the last ten years. As businesses have become more and more digital, company logos have had to become more scalable and easier to consume on tiny screens.
A few MUSTS when creating a new logo: One font that is easily legible, simple graphics without any shadows, gradient or layering, and no more than 3 colors. If you hit those targets, you’ll be well on your way to powerful, impactful logo.
Last but not least is your tagline. You can also call this your branding statement or slogan. It should speak directly to your customer’s aspirations and inspire them with your unique perspective. Some stellar examples…
- Think differently. – Apple
- Just do it. – Nike
- Where’s the beef? – Wendy’s (<— Personal favorite)
- Good to the last drop. – Maxwell House
- Ridiculous Humans. Serious Fitness. – Mark Fisher Fitness (<— Okay, also a favorite)
With a short phrase, these companies tell you what they’re all about — revealing insight into their worldview, services or products. You read those taglines and either think “hell yeah!” or “who cares?!” Most people have an immediate reactions to taglines that either draw them in or push them away.
Design your tagline to draw in your ideal customers by speaking to them about what is truly unique about your business.
Create standards for how your brand looks and sounds.
If you’re like most fitness business owners, I know you’re a one-man (or woman) band doing a little bit of everything, every day. You probably post all of your social media yourself, spend some money on advertising when there is extra money each month, and your company’s voice is your voice. And that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that when you’re just getting started. The challenge is that is not very sustainable. At some point you’ll want to ask for help with all of those things and you won’t know where to start.
This is where you start — you create a branding style guide. Most small business owners I talk to have heard of a brand style guide but put it somewhere on their To Do list labeled “Stuff I’ll Do Someday…Maybe.” Well, let’s make that someday today my friends.
A branding style guide is a short(ish) document that outlines all of the standards for how your business looks, sounds and feels. It ensures that everyone who is responsible for representing your brand is singing from the same song book. Style guides can be as specific or all-encompassing as you’d like. At the very least, your style guide should create a consistent visual vocabulary and guidelines for your brand’s voice.
I’ll make it easy for you. Just answer these 10 questions and BOOM you’ll have a style guide!
1. What are the guidelines for how your logo should appear? On a white background? Surrounded by empty space? Is there a black and white option
2. What colors are most associated with your brand? Are they your logo colors? Complimentary colors? What about textures?
3. What images or icons are most associated with your brand? Example: MFF puts a unicorn on every gosh-darn thing we make!
4. What fonts and font sizes do you use for what purposes? What fonts do you use on your website? Your business cards? Your emails?
5. What basic grammar rules do you want to adopt? How do you use bolds and italics? Do you give a crap about the oxford comma?
6. What terminology do you use that is specific to your company? Define each. Example: At MFF we call our clients Ninjas and it’s always capitalized.
7. What do you call your products and services and how do you describe them? Example: At MFF our intro session is called a Health & Hotness Strategy Session, which can be abbreviated to Strategy Session when needed. Everyone on the team can describe what it is and its unique value to potential Ninjas.
8. What quality of photos and videos is acceptable? Are shaky hand-made iPhone videos okay? What about blurry pictures?
9. What is the writing style of your company’s voice? Writing style can include point of view, tone, word choice, and more. Example: MFF’s tone is friendly, casual, quirky and sometimes crass.
10. Who is responsible for enforcing the standards in this Style Guide and keep it up-to-date? This question speaks for itself. While many people might contribute to executing your brand, it is essential to have one personal responsible for enforcing and updating the standards in the Style Guide.
See, that’s not so hard right?! I bet that if you set your alarm for one hour you can bang out the answers to these questions and have a badass outline to your very own branding style guide. Having clarity on these key brand elements will allow others to help you create content that is on brand, and scale your business by establishing a consistent brand image. Both of those benefits lead to attracting more of your ideal clients and making more money.
Integrate your brand into every facet of your business.
So far, I’ve focused primarily on visual branding, and I’m not done driving that home yet. But, it is also important to recognize that your brand is not exclusively a visual experience. Your brand should be fully integrated into all aspects of your business from the way your physical environment looks to how your staff interact with clients, and more.
One of the greatest compliments we get from Ninjas at MFF is when we create something new (a new product or service) and they respond by saying “that is so MFF.” They can feel right away that what we’ve created is an obvious reflection of our brand and culture. From time to time, we also get the opposite from Ninjas “that’s not very MFF.” They also know when we are out of alignment with the best version of ourselves and will call out that brand misstep right away!
How great is that? When your brand is strong enough that clients will tell you when you’re heading in the right or wrong direction. You might not always agree, but in my experience most of the time your clients are right. It’s your choice to make adjustments based on their feedback or bring them along with you in a new direction.
Here are a few areas where your brand should be a palpable presence in how your business looks and feels, and some examples of how we do this at MFF.
Marketing & Advertising. This is a no-brainer. If you want to attract your ideal clients, the messages you create to attract them should be reflective of your brand. Below is a paid Facebook ad that uses the word “bunghole,” perhaps in a way MFF could only do. Haha.
Staffing & Ninja Experience. Every experience created between your clients and your staff contributes to your brand identity. Every story that gets told about your business adds to your overall brand reputation.
One of the ways the MFF Team enforces our brand to create a memorable Ninja experience is through theme days. Here some pics from our pirate theme day in July 2016! Sad you missed it, aren’t you?
A Brief Sidebar: When talking about integrating your brand into the actions of your staff and the experience of your clients I often find myself thinking, “Isn’t this what we call culture?” I’ll admit, sometimes I have a hard time unpacking the difference between brand and culture. They overlap so much that many people will say they are one in the same. Culture feeds brand and brands create the culture. It’s a very “chicken or the egg” dilemma. For me, culture is the broad set of ideals and actions that that illustrate the way we do things at our business — a set of principles that inspire us to do the things that most reflect our collective values. Brand is the list of rules and standards that attempt to keep that culture in check — a roadmap for maintaining a culture strong. The two are in an intimate dance with one another — which is probably fodder for another article some day (stay tuned!).
The Environment. The physical space in which your business exists is a HUUUGE (read like Donald Trump) aspect of creating your fitness brand. How the space looks, feels, smells, functions, and sounds, all contributes to a client’s memory of your brand. If you are lucky enough to get a prospect into your space, this is where you get to show them your brand in action. It goes without saying that fitness facilities must be operating-room-level-clean. That’s non-negotiable. Beyond that your space must reflect what’s most important to your brand.
At MFF, we aim for our space to look like a preschooler was on acid when he designed the place. (Disclaimer: preschoolers shouldn’t take acid until they are adults.) Here are a few pics of our Snatched is Six Weeks space that illustrate our ridiculous aesthetic.
Merchandise. This can be some great icing on your branding cake. Certainly not every fitness studio can afford to produce as much merchandise as we do MFF, and I’m not suggesting that you should. I will say however that a thoughtfully-designed t-shirt or hat can be an incredibly powerful tool for spreading awareness of your brand to faraway lands.
Our most popular item to date has been the hoodie pictured below. We even made a version for babies! It seems to capture our brand in a way that few others items have. We’ve sold hundreds and hundreds over the past few years and shipped them all around the globe. How cool is it that someone in Australia is wearing the logo of a small fitness studio in NYC? That’s the power of a strong brand.
Never sacrifice authenticity.
I’ll keep this short. Your clients can smell bullsh*t ten miles away. They know when you’re not being authentic, or trying to bamboozle them. They know when you’re not at your best and they’ll remember it for much longer that they remember all the good stuff you do.
Jeff Bezos says “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Damn that’s good. And it’s so stinkin’ true. The reputation of your business is created by customers over the course of countless impressions you make — online and in person, intended and unintended.
When done well, your brand should feel effortless and organic. Famous Graphic Designer Joe Sparano said, “Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” When you’ve created a clear reflection of your brand, it becomes essential. It just feels right.
Your job as a business owner or leader is to design your brand to be a strong and consistent representation of your business at its best. Only then will you attract and keep your ideal customers, grow you business and make more money.
What are you waiting for? Go get started!
I’m here to help. Comment below with your greatest brand successes and challenges. What have you done that has strengthened or weakened your brand?