March 31, 2022

Chapter 5 — Build Your Brand

When it comes to the actual naming of Difrent, many people have laid claim to it and I’ve heard umpteen stories of how the name came about! Maybe I should come up with a more outlandish explanation just to keep people guessing, but I think the real version is the one which makes the most sense to me. There were only a few name suggestions, but we went for Different from the start. It had everything we wanted. Job done. Until Jo’s unique dyslexic spelling gave us a lightbulb moment. She wrote it exactly how she said it. And seeing that name up there on a whiteboard, I think it was obvious that it just looked great, and dare I say… different? It was a no-brainer. Job definitely done.

I firmly believe that our brand is one of the key aspects to the success of Difrent. Having the right people around me at the right time is another. When we first started out, we spun up a new website and launched our brand across LinkedIn and Twitter. This is where Jo steps back in. She came in as a freelancer. That meant there was no formal commitment at first and we were all on the right footing. I never looked at something like that as preparing for failure. It just felt like the easiest way of doing things at that moment, rather than just jumping straight in without testing the water. I wanted us to get it right and this allowed us to do it. Initially, we spent a couple of hours each day getting the brand out there, and pretty soon it expanded! There was lots of trial and error from the outset, where we crafted the right voice and tone, and made sure we were open and transparent without spilling the commercial beans. The aim was to show we were rebellious without being over the top. We then opened up on Facebook and Instagram — timing this with the arrival of permanent staff into the business because it gave us a great vehicle to reach people and their communities. I’m still not convinced that Facebook really has legs as a platform for Difrent, but happy to be proved wrong at some point! Of course things like TikTok were too early for us at that stage.

In the early days, the Difrent brand emulated my voice, my vibe, my traits and my values, but it has definitely evolved over the last five years. It was probably subconscious at first, but there was no escaping the fact that I was the face of the organisation. Me and Difrent, I am Difrent, Difrent is me… it was a USP that we used to our advantage to stand out from the others. It’s interesting to look back and see what we were creating. We became synonymous, interchangeable. That’s a really big thing to achieve, which sometimes is difficult to recognise when you’re in the middle of it. I think the brand encompasses the people and the impact we’ve made and, although it’s constantly evolving, it still remains true to the dysfunctional family vibe that grew alongside. I’m glad and proud that we never lost sight of that.

We’ve been through three or four iterations of our website during the life of the business. I’m not sure this is quite the approach I would endorse. We’ve used two different Content Management Systems (CMS) and definitely now settled on a more UCD approach with accessible content, which is absolutely key in our target markets. Early versions weren’t quite as robust! Bizarrely, our latest is also our most cost-efficient, so we have definitely learnt some lessons along the way.

Almost overnight it felt like the brand Difrent appeared everywhere. The funky rainbow-coloured logo landed well with everyone. It resonated from a diversity perspective, and the branding made us look approachable. We shared content freely and openly about our people, the work we were doing, what life was like at Difrent, and the outcomes we co-delivered with our clients.

Our funky rainbow-coloured logo

It’s worth saying that, while the brand was key to our success, we really bootstrapped our approach to paid marketing. Websites cost money and so did some of the Brand work we needed to get us up and running — this is where I tip my hat to the legend that is Sharlene Lopez and the team at Eyecatcher. They really did us proud helping shape up our first Brand Strategy. This gave Jo the framework to implement it further through social engagement. Some of our content videos were also delivered by a third party, they built our followers. We ran campaigns internally, we didn’t pay for marketing across social media… it’s all been organic. I still don’t think we’ve totally managed to build campaigns that actively drive leads to our website — this is a missing piece of the jigsaw five years on and something that still needs tackling.

If I were at my whiteboard now, I’d be drawing a Venn diagram with Brand, Perception (me) and Engagement intersecting. When we started looking at other companies in our space, it was obvious at the start that Engagement wasn’t really a thing. It does take time and effort on top of pushing out your latest blog or case study, absolutely. It would be easy for anyone to not see Engagement as an investment that’s just as important as all the other facets of your company. How can you be about people if you’re not willing to engage with them, and not willing to include your team along the way? Or for us, how do we show that we’re about people? It was what we were about and was one of our strongest assets.

Our highest impressions and engagements on socials come from our tweets and posts about our people: showing them behind the scenes and that we’re absolutely doing the things we say we do. I love the fact that we were putting names and personal stories to faces as part of our strategy… showing that humans are behind the work we do for other humans sounds such an easy concept, doesn’t it?

It worked for us because beneath it all, there was Authenticity (also capitalised for importance!). We didn’t just decide we wanted to look as though we were about people and then build a Strategy around it — the people came first. We see that in our online Town Hall sessions, where we pause to welcome someone’s child on screen, and it’s why we have CEO Open Door sessions. We’re not about untouchable hierarchies. While it may not grab the clients, it does grab those people who want to work for us. Time and again, people land at our door saying they looked at our socials and thought we were a real, honest company.

My last CEO Open Door session with Difrent — Zoom screenshot with everyone smiling and laughing
My last CEO Open Door session with Difrent

It all came together and worked because we were — and always will be — Difrent. There was a lot of security in that, which is something I only really saw in hindsight. It was an umbrella in a metaphorical and literal sense, and we provided safety and an identity for the family. With that in place, there was a definite bond amongst our staff. It was party time! Albeit a party where you still put in a proper shift and give it everything you’ve got from start to finish. You’ve got to toe the line!

The Difrent team Christmas party, 2019 in Newcastle. Everyone dressed up smiling at the camera
The Difrent team Christmas party, 2019 in Newcastle

My Takeaways

  1. Your brand is your voice to the outside world — so choose wisely.
  2. It’s crucial to find someone who can develop your brand following your Business Strategy, while really encompassing your Values. Those people are one-in-a-million finds, so hang on to them!
  3. It doesn’t have to cost the earth, but make decisions about what is most important for you. Is it awareness, creating a movement or generating leads that’s most important?
  4. Build one website really well, so you won’t need to recreate it three or four times.
  5. Brand is a key part of really making your business come to life. It can’t be an afterthought.

What helped me build my brand

  1. Finding the right person to give the right help.
  2. Identifying the personality of our brand and hiring a brand agency to do a deep dive into who we were and what our clients and competitors thought.
  3. Using Tweetdeck — a great tool for picking up on mentions of our brand, keywords, and watching competitors.
  4. Maintaining a strong social media presence and using third-party platforms to help get our message across multiple sites. Hootsuite and Sprout are great to use when you need to load up content in advance.
  5. Engaging with the people behind the social media handles. If you put the effort in, it’ll pay off.

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