The beginning of a new year or new quarter is the perfect time for entrepreneurs to reflect on the growth of their businesses—to evaluate their work, and to use that information to develop a strategy for the year ahead. But while evaluating marketing efforts is relatively straightforward, evaluating branding is a more elusive task.
The qualitative nature of branding makes it difficult to get a sense of whether your branding investments are paying off. This leaves many entrepreneurs in a state of stress, questioning whether they’re wasting their valuable time, money, and resources. If you’re one of those entrepreneurs, read on for an end-of-year blog post full of support and strategy.
“Pushing the Flywheel” to a Better Brand
Entrepreneurship is inherently risky. Maybe this was the year you finally left your day job (and its steady paycheck) to focus on your business full-time. Or maybe you’ve had an established business for a while, but decided this year to devote a heftier percentage of your overall budget to branding. No matter what developmental stage your brand is in, it’s only natural to want to know whether your decisions have been worth the risk.
Before we can discuss how to measure your branding efforts, however, we need to establish what those branding efforts were. Here are some of the most common areas in which entrepreneurs invest to strengthen their brand:
- Brand strategy + image. Putting in the initial work to define your brand’s identity, positioning, and goals is crucial to creating a strong foundation for your business. If your brand is in its early stages, you may have worked with a consultant to map out a long-term plan for your business or to design your brand’s identity. Or, if you needed a brand refresh, you may have spent time and money pivoting in a new direction.
- New branded assets + collateral. A thoughtful brand design can make or break your marketing efforts. Maybe you developed or updated your brand’s name, logo, or colors, and spent your budget on updating your website, signage, and printed materials to reflect those changes.
- Branded content marketing. Churning out content won’t help you reach your marketing goals if your audience can’t draw the content back to your brand. Maybe this year you revamped your brand’s messaging guide to better align your content with your brand. You may have hired a copywriter or SEO expert to create regular blog posts —or spent hours writing them yourself. Or, perhaps you launched a brand podcast with the goal of reaching a wider audience.
- Email marketing. You may have invested in an advanced email marketing platform to better connect with your audience and create brand recognition. Or, you may have developed a new email marketing strategy more aligned with your brand’s standards and values.
- Organic social media. In an effort to optimize your brand across platforms, you may have hired a social media manager or sunk many hours of personal time into managing your accounts—a major investment. Or perhaps you spent resources on developing a fresh persona for your brand’s social media, as Wendy’s so famously did back in 2017.
No matter which areas of branding you invested in this year, the same rule applies: seeing the ROI of your branding efforts takes time and consistency.
To illustrate this, let’s consider the flywheel metaphor (popularized in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great). Think of your brand as a flywheel—an enormous metal disk stuck on an axle that creates energy. To get your business where you want it, you need to push the flywheel so that it’s moving as quickly and as often as possible. At first, it takes hours of strenuous effort to get even a single rotation out of the flywheel. Eventually, though, you see it spinning effortlessly before your eyes, fast enough to take flight.
The most important takeaway here is that there was no single push that caused the flywheel to get off the ground. Instead, it was the long-term, cumulative effort of all your hard work that made you achieve your goal.
The same is true for your brand. Building a strong brand takes time, consistency, and most of all, patience—and there will be times when you feel more like Sisyphus than a successful entrepreneur. But the longer you stick with it, the faster and easier your progress will be.
How Long Will it Take for my Branding to Work?
The flywheel metaphor is an inspiring and validating anecdote, but if you’re reading this blog, it may well be because you’re in search of more practical guidance—namely, you may be wondering exactly how long it will take before you start seeing a return on your branding investment.
Like many aspects of the ephemeral world of branding, the answer is: it depends. The answer to the question, “How do I know if my branding is paying off?” is determined by several factors, including:
- Your audience—their average income, demographic profile, and purchasing cycle.
- Your product or service—a program you only offer once a year, for instance, will take longer to produce an ROI than a service you offer year-round.
- Your resources—how much time and money you’re spending on your branding efforts.
Speaking very generally, well-planned branding strategies can start seeing revenue within a year. But depending on the stage your business is in, you may begin to see positive signs even sooner.
For instance, if you invested in a rebrand for an existing business, look to your returning clients for the first inklings of success. Their positive comments, feedback, and general excitement can serve as a great early indicator of your investment paying off. Likewise, the development of new brand assets gives you an opportunity to reach out to these existing clients in the first place.
On the other hand, if your business is in its earliest stages, it may take longer for you to see a return on your branding investment. After all, it’s difficult to determine your audience’s reaction to your branding if you haven’t spent time building up an audience in the first place! In this case, exercise patience, and keep pushing that flywheel.
Evaluating Your Branding Efforts
Of course, the best way to be sure your branding efforts are paying off is to be strategic about them from day one. Without a logical plan based on your individual business’s needs, you won’t have any point of reference when evaluating your efforts, regardless of how large your budget is.
Think of it this way: Imagine you, like so many others, start off the new year with a resolution to get in shape. So, you invest in a membership for an upscale gym and make a commitment to go to the gym three times a week. You’re proud of yourself, knowing you just took the first step to achieving your goal.
But after a few months, you realize you haven’t hit any of your fitness goals. You’re confused and frustrated—after all, you’ve invested both your time and money into this new resolution. Shouldn’t it have begun to pay off?
Here’s the problem: When you purchased your gym membership, you didn’t know how to use any of the machines, or how to best pace yourself through lifting weights. And instead of trying to learn by asking for support from one of the fitness coaches employed there, or even by doing your own research, you’ve been mimicking what you see others doing at the gym. But if the person working out beside you doesn’t have the same body type or fitness goals as you, then doing exactly what they’re doing won’t get you where you want to go.
This scenario applies itself to many entrepreneurs in the process of branding their businesses. Instead of learning about the tools available to them and making a strategic decision about which to use and how to use them, entrepreneurs may fall into the trap of blindly copying what others in their field are doing. And just as one workout won’t create the same results for all body types, one branding strategy won’t create the same results for all entrepreneurs.
To see the return on your investment, you’ll need to set goals based on your brand’s individual needs, work consistently towards achieving them, and keep track of your progress. Just as you might evaluate your progress toward your fitness goals by keeping track of how much weight you lift or how far you run each day, you can evaluate your progress toward your branding goals by keeping track of certain metrics.
Here, we’ve gathered some of the most common metrics used to track major categories of branding goals.
Brand Awareness Metrics
- Organic site traffic
- Content reach (how many people have viewed your content)
- Number of social media followers
- Social media engagement: likes, mentions, shares, and comments
Brand Loyalty Metrics
- Client retention
- Client reviews
Lead Generation Metrics
- Site traffic
- Direct messages and inquiries
- New email subscribers
Keep in mind that in order to accurately track your progress, you’ll need to have a sense of where you’ve been. So, once you decide which metrics you’ll focus on in your branding strategy for the new year, look at your brand’s current and past numbers. If your marketing has been irregular in the past, you might be surprised at how quickly your numbers rise with a few months of consistent, strategic work.
Trust in Your Branding Process
Reid Hoffman once said that “An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.” I agree with Hoffman that there is inherent risk in entrepreneurship—many stages of running a business, from that initial push to major investments, can feel like a blind leap of faith.
But in my opinion, the entrepreneur of a strong brand doesn’t build the airplane on the way down. Instead, they land as gracefully as possible, and then build their airplane with both feet firmly on the ground, focusing on putting in the necessary time and consistency. They’re willing to slow down, revise, and even pivot direction if need be. It may take a while, but when they take off for the first time, they’re able to fly higher than they ever dreamed possible.
I hope this blog post has inspired you to keep pushing your flywheel, to keep building your airplane, and to keep designing your brand towards excellence.
If you’re ready for even more support, take a look at my Branding + Design Services. I’d be honored to help you strategize and strengthen your brand in the new year and beyond.
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