How Do I Brand My Business to Stand Out From The Competition?

Branding experts and most creative people in business Karl Heiselman and Maryam Banikarim give advice to a unique yoga business trying to find a way to tell its story.

Just because you love your business doesn't mean it's always easy to tell your company's story to the world. Good branding is part art, part science. For our second installment of our new advice column we tackle how to position a unique company to stand out from the competition.

This reader question comes from Jacob from Charlotte, NC, and is answered by CMO of Gannett Maryam Banikarim and CEO of Wolff Olins, Karl Heiselman:

My wife and I have a yoga business that is more oriented to public and behavioral health. We are critical of mainstream yoga, and we try to differentiate ourselves in terms of the types of programs we offer and how we run them, but it's an uphill battle because people have a certain perception of what yoga is.

We are thinking of changing our name to something like “integrative health” but that doesn't really capture what we do because we do implement many aspects of yoga traditions. Any suggestions for how to market and brand our business so we stand out among our competitors and the public can understand what we do?

—Jacob
Charlotte, NC


Dear Jacob,

What’s great is that you and your wife are challenging the norm of the yoga business. But before tackling the naming challenge, let’s take a step back and think about some fundamental things every brand needs to get right.

Great brands have a clear purpose

Because of the way that technology has affected people, brands and society the most critical thing you can do is define your purpose. Once you’ve nailed it, your purpose will provide a roadmap for the ride ahead.

So sit down with your wife and ask yourselves some tough questions. Why do we exist? What do we stand for? What role will we play in people’s lives? What impact do you want to have on the world? By answering these questions you should be able to start to define how people experience your business.

Customer experience is very important

Think about the last brand you recommended to a friend. The chances are it gave you the right level of service at the value you were looking for in that moment. This is what your new brand needs to do. Brands are defined by the experiences they create and curate. Better experiences help businesses attract new customers, keep them for longer, and stretch into new areas to create value for them.

Don’t forget to think big

Though I don’t know about yoga, I do know about businesses with ambition. I think you have a clear opportunity to think of yourselves less as a business and more as a health and wellness movement. Could you, for example, reimagine your business as a media business that creates content that educates, informs, and engages people with your philosophy on wellness, and offers yoga classes as part of that experience? Perhaps you can partner with other businesses to provide those extra services?

As for naming, a topic we’ve been thinking about lately, it’s often misunderstood that the name has to do all of the work. You have other tools to help you communicate your purpose other than your name. You could for example, have a name that is not descriptive but simply sounds good and include a descriptor that clarifies and excites people about your purpose.

Good luck!


Dear Jacob,

It sounds like you feel you have a niche that sets you apart from your competition, and making that clear to others, in a way that is easy and quick to grasp is the key to successful marketing. The most successful brands are the ones that can articulate their value proposition to a third grader or their grandmother and have them really understand what they mean.

To get some clarity—and to be honest you need some clarity—here are some steps you might want to take:

Discovery Phase

Who are you? Who is your target audience? How are you perceived in the marketplace? Who is your competition? It does seem like yoga is a crowded marketplace. You got to be crystal clear about what you are offering and how that’s different without being complicated.

When you say the word yoga I have an image. When you say the word integrative health I’m fuzzy. I don't know what the right word is because I don’t know enough about your business. But you do. So try to pick it all apart until its super clear—and focus on the benefits.

Remember you should have an elevator pitch: you have someone captive for 10 floors. They ask you about your business. Quick what would you say to get them to come in or want to learn more?

Articulate your brand positioning

To (target audience) I am (x) because (the reason why). Read it out loud. How does it feel when you say it? How right is it for your audience? Does it set you apart from the competition? Brands with clear positioning do not leave us lukewarm. Hate them or love them—either way you feel something for them. So try this exercise out multiple times, then test it. Would the third grader understand?

Now to the marketing:

  1. Develop and execute a marketing plan.
  2. Put a plan together that helps you reinforce your brand positioning.

Marketing Materials

What kind of materials do you need to let people know about your business? Think of everything—your business card, website, physical space. These things are all part of your marketing. Everything you do or say is saying something about your brand. So sweat the details and make every decision a conscious one.

Partnerships Strategy

Think of partners that you think would make sense to align yourselves with. Are there health professionals that believe in the same things as you, and if so should be you being part of a referral network? Who refers someone to you is key and vice versa. If you trust someone, then his or her word of mouth is worth a great deal. So make sure you align yourselves with the right people.

Event Strategy

What kind of events should you hold? And what do you want people who come to these events to say about the experience when they leave? While I don’t know a great deal about your business I would venture to guess that you would want folks who leave an event that you hold or are associated with feeling like they learned something, that they are more relaxed and healthier. Think of your three core values and make sure every event you are doing reinforces these values.

PR Strategy

If a reporter wrote an article about your business what would be the headline of the piece be? What three things would you want them to highlight? What type of media outlets would makes sense for your story? I find it helpful to go backwards when it comes to communication. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are pitching. How does what you have to pitch fit into what they do? Did you look at what kinds of stories they have written or aired? And does what you have to pitch fit in with those? If not, this is an uphill battle you will not win.

It sounds like you have a product you believe in and that you think has benefits that set it apart from the rest of the marketplace. Now it’s your job to get others to see what you see. I wish you lots of luck.


If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or Tweet us a question using #AskFC.

[Image: Flickr user Nina Matthews Photography]

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12 Comments

  • Dave Brewer

    Hi There I have a business called Sea Breeze property care. We specialize in House washing, Pest control and Roof cleaning. The problem I have is when people read the property care they think we have a lawn mowing or landscaping business. Thinking of changing the Property care part of the name. I like the Sea Breeze name and we promote cleaning is a breeze with Sea Breeze. any ideas? Dave. Tauranga. New Zealand

  • Kristine Kaoverii Weber

    Wow! Thank you for the feedback! I'm "Jacob's" wife. Our websites are subtleyoga.com and subtleyogacharlotte.com

    To Karl and Maryam's points: we have a big sense of purpose and vision - we seek to shift the health care crisis. If we needed to choose three core values they would be accessibility, integrative, cost-effective - and we do reinforce those in all our events/trainings. In terms of partnerships we think about integrated care and also online media

    Our problem is the word "yoga" - how it's perceived and valued in the mainstream. We are trying to brand around some fundamental practices - mindfulness, movement, breathing, self-regulation, etc. - that help us be human and be healthy - as opposed to the yoga stereotype which is a leisure activity for beautiful, thin white women. We are trying to work through the professional community to create a popular movement, but the branding of yoga and the rules and regs of BH professions pose real obstacles.

  • I’m thinking you need a name like Jazzercise – they created a repositioning or blending of some fairly basic, common exercise routines.

    Yogalogy

    Yogalistics

    Stretch Goals

    You’d want a strong tagline to define those:

    Where the traditional and the cutting edge of Yoga Practice Meet

    Time-Honored Technique Cutting Edge Application

    Good luck - Rob

  • A vivid, memorable brand identity can make your business the visible 'brand leader' in its niche. When an idea is complex or new (for example, repositioning yoga as an integrated tool for behavioral health) the right metaphor, used as a name or a tagline, can make it instantly clear by mapping it onto something that's already understood. Clarify what you want people to think/feel about your brand first, then find a name/tagline combination to express that and build your marketing campaign. This is what I do for clients--contact me, let's discuss!

  • maybe the advice is helpful to Jacob but I do feel both experts are dodging the question. Sounds to me jacob and his wife have a clear sense of purpose and a pretty good idea of the experience they want to be offering but are lacking the copy writing skills to make what they want to do explicit. I agree that integrative, holistic and health are way too general/fuzzy and yoga as a word is contaminated if you do not want to go down the "tradition" route. So my advice would be... you don't need a brand consultant for this one, invest a few bucks in a good copywriter. Good luck !

  • Kristine Kaoverii Weber

    Hi Phil, thanks so much for the feedback. Any copywriter suggestions?

  • Clarity of purpose is, indeed, first and foremost. When that is accomplished and distilled down to its simplest message, I like to think of it as the "before-the-elevator-door-closes" summary (or memory dart)!