Building Your Brand

Over the years, the concept of a brand has changed significantly. Originally, a brand was simply a mark used to identify the source of a product. In time, that identifying mark came to be affiliated not just with the company behind the product, but with everything the company stood for and aspired to be.

Your brand is the emotional response an individual has to your business; it is the story she tells herself about whether your business can provide what she needs. Branding consists of all the actions you take to infuse your business with personality so you can elicit a specific emotional response from your ideal client. It is how you show her that your business can indeed provide exactly what she needs.

The Story of the Bountiful Yoga Brand

Let me introduce you to Suzie, the woman practicing yoga in the photograph above. Suzie wants to start a yoga studio in your hometown. Over the last ten years, she has developed a daily yoga practice, become a certified yoga instructor, and taught several classes at a studio geared towards advanced students. Suzie knows how beneficial a yoga practice is to a person’s overall health and wellbeing. She often says that yoga saved her life and helped her recover from a severe depression. Now that she’s ready to open her own studio, Suzie’s goal is to introduce yoga to women who do not have a strong self-care practice.

Bountiful Yoga is established in a beautiful space that is flooded with natural light. Walking by the studio, you can look in and see the bamboo floors, colorful yoga mats and women practicing yoga. Black and white photographs of young, fit women in advanced yoga poses line the walls. The elegant design of the studio is reflected on the website, which features even more photographs of advanced yoga poses. On the website, Suzie talks about how yoga changed her life. She shares the fact that she was severely depressed until she started her yoga practice and she lets the reader know that she wants to share this gift with other women who struggle with self-care. But instead of attracting beginners, Suzie’s clients are almost all advanced yoga students.

Suzie confides that, while she loves her current students, she was really hoping to attract those who are new to yoga. She feels called to serve women who struggle with self-care and to inspire them through her personal story. Suzie is constantly amazed by what she has accomplished since she first took to the mat ten years ago, and she is inspired by the photographs of her in advanced poses. It took a great deal of courage for her to share her story on her website, and she’s disappointed that it just doesn’t seem to resonate with anyone other than advanced students.

You do not define your brand

Your brand exists in the minds of those who are aware of your business. In this case, those who are aware of Bountiful Yoga see the business as serving advanced students—regardless of the intention behind the marketing message. The story people are hearing is quite different from the story Suzie believes she is telling. While Suzie’s marketing message may be on point, the other elements of her brand are not aligned with that message. In fact, the images appear to be telling a completely contradictory story. As a result, her brand is rather murky.

Don’t let your ideal clients get the wrong impression. Make it obvious. Show them what you do and how you do it, don’t just tell them. Make sure your entire message is on point and that every aspect of your business reinforces the message you want to get across.

It’s up to you to tell a business story that is clear, resonant, and memorable

It’s not always easy to tell a story that is clear, resonant, and memorable. You have to be willing to look at your business from the perspective of your ideal client. You have to be willing to go back to the place where they already are so you can give them exactly what they need in the way that they need it. You have to open yourself up to criticism and judgment. You have to give up your role as a people-pleaser and develop an unshakable faith in yourself. And you have to remember that it’s not about you.

Suzie’s story resonates most with those who have already gone through the struggle and come out the other side stronger and more confident. If she really wants to reach those who are still in the midst of the struggle, she’ll have to go to them. She’ll have to marshal her resources and bring everything she knows now back with her so she can reach those who are too embroiled in the struggle to see a clear way out.

Your brand is about being of service to your ideal client. It’s about meeting them where they are and giving them what they need in the exact way that they need it. Your brand is not about you. It’s not about your colleagues or mentors. It’s not about your family.

Your brand is about the people you are called to serve

To build your brand successfully, you need to know yourself, your business, and your ideal clients. You need to have the self-knowledge and awareness required to understand everything you bring to the table—including your biases and challenges. You need to embody your core values and marketing message. And you need to be able to examine every aspect of your business from the perspective of your ideal client.

The people you want to work with need to be able to see themselves working with you. In the case of Bountiful Yoga, people who did not have a yoga practice could not envision themselves working with Suzie. The photographs on the website and in the studio didn’t resonate with beginners, who probably found them rather intimidating. A better option would be to help those beginners visualize themselves in Suzie’s studio by incorporating photographs of beginners of all shapes and sizes practicing simple yoga poses. And while her story may be inspiring, it would resonate more strongly if she included pictures of where she was before she started the yoga practice, so people could really see the difference it made in her life.

This week, take some time to look at your business through the eyes of your ideal client. Is your business telling just one story, or is your message a little muddy? How do you want your ideal clients to feel when they encounter your business? Is there anything else you can do to evoke that feeling? Please share your questions, tips and experiences in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Photo Credit: Earl McGehee

About Erica Holthausen

Erica Holthausen is the Chief Instigator behind the Honest Marketing Revolution and creator of the 10 Steps to Honest Marketing. As a marketing mentor, she helps solopreneurs and microbusinesses fall in love with sales and marketing so they can help more people while building thriving, life-sustaining businesses. She believes marketing is an integral part of how you serve the world. Sound good? Sign up for her email newsletter and join the revolution!


  1. Erica - Yours is the best definition I’ve seen for “brand”: “the emotional response an individual has to your business”. Not to you, the business owner, but to your business. In the world of solopreneurs, that is a tricky balance. And when we add our egos as business owners, whew, it becomes even more difficult. Thanks for sorting out this issue!

    • Darlene, I’m so glad that definition resonates with you. The definition of branding has changed quite a bit over time and the concept can often feel a little vague, so I wanted something that really captured it simply. I love that you point out the distinction between us as business owners and our businesses. As solopreneurs, the line between our selves and our businesses is not always easy for us to see. But it’s a critically important one to keep in mind as we get out there and market our businesses and experience both successes and failures. It is especially important to remember that distinction during sales conversations, where another person’s decision not to work with our business can easily be taken as a personal rejection.

  2. I hadn’t really thought about how pictures might be interpreted by people looking to improve their health. Aren’t photos of what you aspire to be more inspirational?

    • That’s a great question, Jenny. Again, it depends on who your ideal clients are and how you want them to feel. I used the Yoga studio story above as an illustration because I am the perfect client for a studio catering to those who are new to the practice and who may be intimidated by the more advanced poses and the skinny, bendy bodies! While you certainly do what to show what is possible, it is also important to meet people where they are. And in the illustration above, if I’m the ideal client, photos of true beginners in simple poses let’s me see myself practicing at that studio. Add in a few case studies and I get to see how someone who is where I am now got to where she is and how that is possible for me too. So, it’s finding the right mix for your business of images that meet people where they are and that inspire them to reach for something more.

  3. Nice work!!!!!! Very clear and helpful. I have been struggling about branding and you certainly too the pain and mystery out of it. Thanks. Tom

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