5 Brand-Building Lessons From Two Self-Made Creative Entrepreneurs

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Brand-building isn't just a fad on Instagram.

It's a strategic tool for sustaining an identity and customer base for a business over time—and it has real value. The strength of a company's brand identity is a proven factor in customer loyalty and its ability to stand out among competitors. And, like anything that's worth something, creating a brand takes work.

Beyond a clear mission and purpose, brand-building requires some practical leg-work and leadership. You must be able to translate your business' look and feel across multiple marketing funnels, throughout product and partnership decisions and to your staff.

So, what does that look like? At last weekend's Edge of Texas, an annual conference produced by Texas Monthly and presented by Visit Dallas, southern creative entrepreneurs Holly Williams and Elizabeth Chambers Hammer dished on their social media tips and storytelling strategies for sustaining their projects and ventures. Williams spoke to her decades-long career as a successful singer/songwriter running a national chain of retail stores, White's Mercantile, while Chambers Hammer dished on what it took to open her San Antonio-based eatery and franchise, Bird Bakery.

Here are five takeaways both business owners offered for building a brand that lasts.

Elizabeth Chambers Hammer (right) and Holly Williams (center) chat in conversation with Texas Monthly's Executive Editor Kathy Blackwell at Edge of Texas in Dallas, Texas. @garymillershoots

1.) Tell your story, not someone else's.

It's easy to forget what makes your business special, if you're constantly comparing the identity and success of your business to other companies online. Building a brand comes down to doing the work. Focus on your products and services, and authentically tell the story of what you do. That's the best place to start. "You become a tastemaker by doing what you do and doing it well," Williams shared.


2.) You can't cheat at building an authentic brand and following, so don't fake it.

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), both Williams nor Chambers Hammer commented that neither have ever used planning apps or follower-boosting tools to generate buzz around their businesses' online personas. Instead, they center their efforts on ensuring that their companies' mission and goals are reflected throughout the customer experience—from their storefronts to their staff. “Hard work is always recognized," Chambers Hammer said.

3.) Don't over-think it. Your business' brand doesn't have to be perfect.

Although both entrepreneurs admitted that social media is often a highlight reel, Chambers Hammer and Williams stressed that getting personal with their customers—and being real about their struggles as business owners and mothers—has been an influential part of their decision-making as entrepreneurs. Since both of their businesses reflect personal, creative projects they're passionate about (each of the entrepreneurs' businesses are rooted in family history), Chambers Hammer and Williams said it's important that they strike a balance, especially when it comes to sharing aspects of their own lives as founders.

4.) Keep your audience in mind.

A strong brand allows customers to feel connected to a company's story. For both Chambers Hammer and Williams, creating high-quality customer experiences have been paramount to their businesses' growth. For example, Chambers Hammer's newest Bird Bakery location in Dallas was designed to be entirely Instagrammable and shareable. From custom prints to in-store murals, the eatery's design reflects the brand's values and history.

5.) A strong identity requires a strong sense of purpose—and a whole lot of discipline.

As a business owner, "you have to set boundaries and understand your limitations and the things you want in life," Williams said. The same thing applies to building your brand. It's easy to hop on trends and get distracted by new and exciting opportunities, but keeping it simple is a strategy. Understanding your brand's core values will help you make better decisions, create targeted messaging around your products and ultimately save you from chasing after things that won't meet your bottom line. "Brand-building also requires cutting things out. Something has to give if you’re pulled in a million directions," Chambers Hammer added.