Classroom 101: An Introduction To Branding

Take a look at these two photos. What things come to mind?Before you start rolling your eyes, and thinking that this is another blog post by somebody in the handmade community saying how awful big-box stores are, let me assure you that it’s not. What I’m talking about today are some of my thoughts on branding. What is branding anyway, and why is it important to us as people in the business of selling arts and crafts? In a nutshell, branding is a combination of the ideas you express about yourself, and the way the public interprets those things. This is really where these two store fronts come into the picture. At the end of the day, what you can find in either of these buildings is the same. What is different about them is the way we perceive them, what they sell and the people who shop there.

When we think of brands in our day to day life, often it’s in relation to products. For example, General Mills is a brand of cereal that makes Captain Crunch. Pretty straight forward on both counts, if we see the General Mills logo we expect to find cereal, and Captain Crunch will have those sugary, yellow, razor-sharp nuggets in it’s box. There are less straight forward applications of branding though, and I’m going to have to ask you to bear with me on this because it really does relate, I promise. Over the course of 50 years, the Doctor in the “Doctor Who” series has been played by 11 people. Normally when shows do this kind of thing, like when Aunt Vivian was replaced in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, it’s jarring. That’s because it’s breaking the brand of the show, giving us something that we don’t expect and doesn’t really make sense. In the case of the Doctor however, he’s a time-traveling immortal, who “regenerates” into a new body when the old one dies or is killed. The changes of actors is actually built into the entire concept of the show, adds variety and longevity to the story and remains internally consistent. So what does all of this have to do with us? Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about stories, and how important they are for engaging our audience?

Each and every one of us as artisans and craftspeople, in the business of  selling our work should be aware of our brand. This is how our customers and fans know us. It starts out with what we make and why, carries over to our logo, then to our business cards and signage, our website/blog, facebook posts and comments, and finally to how you look and act at shows. Doing things that break our brand in a way that doesn’t make sense or doesn’t seem genuine, can make a customer falter when purchasing or referring others to your business. Many of us get to know each other through what we see and read on the internet. We develop a relationship with the persona before we ever actually meet the person. For example, all of my profiles mention that I’m a stay-at-h0me dad, graphic designer and illustrator. Often I mention urban homesteading, baking, and my children. I work hard to make sure that my photos and comments reflect these things as well as some of my other interests. The sum of these things paint a pretty clear picture of who I am, so if I were to show up to my booth with a Jerry Maguire persona, exploiting this character I’d created to sell something it would raise questions about how honest I am about the rest of my products and ultimately my brand. This is all important because relationships are what drive this business. Our relationship with our customers and the quality of our handmade work is the added value that enable us to compete with mass produced goods.

Over the next week or two I’m planning on talking about branding a little bit more, as well as product photography and how it relates to our brand. The photography post will be a two parter with Melissa Villadiego of Villa Design, and will offer some thoughts on themes, props and composition as well as some of the more technical aspects including processing your photos. In the meantime, we’d love to hear some of your branding stories!

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