Every business expresses a brand identity, whether it’s carefully curated by the company or projected onto an organization by its customers. In the age of social media, where consumers can vent frustration at a company in front of millions of internet users, a business can easily lose control of its brand if no effort is invested in defining and managing it.
Take iconic brands like Coca-Cola, Apple, and Disney. They are not only easily recognizable, legions of loyal followers advocate on behalf of these companies. That’s the power of a brand. It’s so important that many organizations spend millions of dollars to build up a brand and protect it.
Fortunately, brand development today doesn’t require spending a lot of money. In fact, even individuals can build a brand. However, branding and identity creation does require careful consideration. After all, the brand represents how your company presents itself to the outside world.
Whether you’re a large corporation or a freelancer, the same five steps go into brand creation.
How to build a brand for your business:
- Conduct research
- Define the brand
- Develop the brand’s components
- Build a brand strategy
- Analyze and refine the brand
Overview: What is a brand identity?
A core component of a brand is its identity. Brand identity expresses a brand to consumers. It’s how a business wants to be perceived by others. For instance, Disney’s brand identity revolves around entertainment and magical experiences for children of all ages.
Your brand identity surfaces in all elements of your business, from marketing to logos, and even how to present a product or service you provide. Therefore, establish a brand and its identity at the outset of your business. Typically, this work is executed by a marketing team in conjunction with the business owners.
Here are some of the elements that go into creating a brand identity. We’ll dive into these in more detail below.
- Style guide
- Color palette
- Personality and voice
Why is it important to have a cohesive brand?
Since your brand identity flows through all aspects of your business, it’s important that it possesses a cohesiveness that conveys a unified message to consumers. Doing so generates the following benefits to your business.
Strong brand identity
Imagine meeting a fun, happy-go-lucky guy at a party. A few days later, you meet him again, but this time, he’s dour and unfriendly. It’s unsettling. You don’t know which is the guy’s real identity.
Customers have the same experience with an inconsistent brand. A cohesive brand creates consistency, reinforcing the image established the first time a consumer encounters your brand.
Apple, for example, exudes imagination, design and innovation in its brand. This is exemplified in its "Think different" tagline. Apple consistently presented this brand image over decades, building such a strong identity that Forbes declared Apple last year’s most valuable brand.
Customers have to trust you before they’ll do business with you. A cohesive brand builds that trust. If your brand isn’t presented consistently, consumers become confused or even suspicious about what your company and offerings represent.
Look at a brand like Disney. Since its focus is children, the brand must put trust above all else. From characters like Mickey Mouse to its theme parks, Disney is very protective to ensure its brand is consistently portrayed, and its integrity preserved. It’s so determined to maintain consistency and trust that Disney launched a completely different brand, Touchstone Pictures, for films targeted to adults.
When customers experience your brand repeatedly in the same way, your brand sticks in their minds. When it’s time for them to make a purchase decision related to your industry or offerings, they remember your brand, increasing the likelihood of a sale.
Take Coca-Cola as an example. Its brand identity is so connected to its namesake soft drink that consumers at a restaurant will ask for a Coke even if options are limited to competitor drinks. That’s because Coca-Cola is often the first brand that comes to mind when thinking about soft drinks. Such is the power of brand recall, and it only happens when a brand is consistently presented on an ongoing basis.
How to build a brand for your company
If you don’t define your brand, your customers will define it for you. So it’s necessary to do the work to establish and maintain your brand. Here’s how.
Step 1: Conduct research
Research is the first step. You need to understand your market, from competitors to customers, so that you create a brand that stands out.
Start by looking at the customers you’re targeting. What attracts them to certain brands in your industry? What factors do they consider to make a purchase decision? What associations do they have with the kinds of products or services you offer?
Here, since not all customers are the same, it can prove helpful to execute customer segmentation. This helps you determine the universe of customers that matter most to you, such as those who are frequent shoppers. Then you can tailor the brand to speak to that audience. For example, a brand targeted to teens is expressed differently than one targeted to senior citizens.
Also ask current customers to fill out a survey or interview them to learn how they view your product or service. This insight is helpful because it’s straight from your clientele, not your perception of what you’d like your brand to be.
Once you know your customers, look at competitors and how they brand their companies to this audience. Review their websites, look at their business listings on directory sites like Yelp, or call the business to gain insights.
Tips for conducting research:
You can facilitate the research process by leveraging some tools and the following tips.
- Buyer personas: The buyer persona is a handy tool to define your target customer characteristics. It summarizes the attributes of the ideal customer for your offerings. It includes details such as age, income, and why they seek a product or service like yours. The buyer persona helps you crystalize how you want to present your brand to this audience.
- Customer insights on competitors: When you conduct research with your customers, collect their perceptions of the competition as well. This allows you to uncover how their perspective of competitive brands contrasts with the brand identity being projected by the competitor.
- CRM software: Use a CRM, such as HubSpot, to perform customer segmentation work for you automatically. If you don’t have a CRM, you can segment by broad buckets. such as customer age or income level, to simplify the manual process.
Step 2: Define the brand
Once you’ve collected research data and gained insight into the external factors influencing your brand, it’s time to apply that knowledge to define your brand. Add the elements that comprise what your organization stands for, specifically, your company mission, values, and personality. You also have to look at the value proposition you’re delivering to customers.
Combine these elements to arrive at a clear, concise tone and voice for your brand. Do you want it to be fun, exciting, professional, elegant? To achieve success in branding, you must deeply understand your brand: what it stands for and who it’s trying to reach.
Then, determine your brand name and tagline. If you’re a sole proprietor, your own name might serve as the brand name. But if it’s too long or hard to spell, the name will not create brand recall for customers. Also, consider that the brand name may be used for your website URL and in social media handles. So even if it’s your own name, find an alternative, if needed, to keep the brand name simple and memorable.
Tips for defining the brand:
It’s here that the most thought and consideration in the entire process comes into play. Here are some suggestions to help with this key step.
- Positioning: During brand definition, it’s essential you build a positioning strategy. Your positioning and brand go hand-in-hand, so they must work in sync. If the positioning statement is not aligned with the brand, the mismatch in your marketing efforts will reveal itself to customers, wiping out the benefits of consistency in your brand strategy. Moreover, ensuring this synergy allows you to create strong brand positioning.
- S.W.O.T. analysis: To help create that deep understanding of your brand, try a S.W.O.T. analysis. S.W.O.T. stands for strengths (advantages possessed by your business), weaknesses (disadvantages in the current business), opportunities (shifts in your industry that create favorable circumstances), and threats (competitors or industry changes that create problems for the business). This analysis allows you to examine the important factors that can shape your company, and hence, serves as insightful information to define your brand.
- Feedback: Seek the input of others, whether family members, friends, customers, or employees. Survey as many people as possible to collect thoughts on your brand. You may think it conveys elegance but others may associate it with negative connotations that you won’t pick up on your own. As part of this, verify that your brand evokes an emotion since this creates a connection for customers.
Step 3: Develop the brand’s components
Once you’ve defined your brand, you can build out the creative elements that will comprise how it’s presented to customers. Here’s where you crystalize the concepts defined in the previous step into a visual representation of your brand.
The most prominent of these visuals is the logo. It’s what appears in all areas of your business from the website to documents like a marketing proposal. To construct a logo, you’ll also need to define your color palette, typography, and iconography. These elements should help reinforce the brand you defined while helping your business to stand out.
The logo can be an image. Think of Apple’s famous logo of an apple with a bite taken out of it. It can incorporate a name, as is the case with Disney.
The logo should be memorable, simple, and versatile. It should also reflect and encapsulate the key elements used to construct your brand. In Disney’s case, the logo’s font conveys a sense of whimsy and magic that is at the heart of the Disney brand.
Another creative element of the brand is its personality and voice. A brand’s personality is akin to that of a person. It allows consumers to build a rapport with the brand by humanizing your company.
The voice represents the language used to express that brand personality. If your brand is high end, it may want to use professional, well-mannered language as its voice. If your brand is laid back, you’ll want to employ conversational language.
As you can see, a lot of creative elements go into constructing a brand. To ensure everyone in the company is aligned with all the nuances related to your brand, document the specifics in a brand style guide. This guide encapsulates your visuals and explains your brand’s personality, voice, and values. It should also include examples of how the brand’s elements are used.
Tips for developing the brand’s components:
Since this step involves creating an expression of your brand for the outside world to consume, you’ll want to apply these tips to help you succeed.
- Set limits: Many components comprise the visual elements of your brand, but keep variations of those components to a minimum. For instance, if your color palette is purple, limit the shades of purple that can be used. Setting limits allows your brand to retain consistency.
- Templates: Create templates for your logo and other brand elements used repeatedly, such as email signatures. These templates should be designed for anyone in the company to easily employ. Templates also ensure brand consistency.
Step 4: Build a brand strategy
Now that you’ve developed your brand, it’s time to share it with the world. You do this by developing a brand strategy. This involves deciding where and how your brand is presented to consumers in order to achieve specific goals.
Consequently, you start building a brand strategy by defining those goals. Why are you creating a new brand or rebranding an old one? Are you trying to reach a new audience? Take market share from a competitor? Introduce a new product or service? These objectives determine the marketing tactics you take to communicate your brand.
From there, you can develop specific strategies, applying marketing 101 to deploy your brand. Make sure to incorporate the principles of marketing into your implementation planning. Doing so ensures elements, such as a small business marketing plan, are set up with a strong foundation.
One of the first expressions of your brand is the company website. The brand manifests in your website URL, the content on its web pages, and even extends to images like the photos and art used on your website.
For example, Mailchimp is one of the best email marketing software packages available. Its brand represents a fun, quirky style that extends to the website’s landing pages. Given the company name and its chimpanzee mascot, the website sports unconventional art and colors in sync with the brand.
The brand is also on display within all your advertising and marketing campaigns, and on social media. When it comes to how to market yourself, both are among the most significant ways to promote your brand.
Advertising drives awareness of your brand. Social media opens a channel to converse directly with consumers. This means your brand’s voice must be firmly established so that your social media posts can remain consistent with the brand. Think about details like whether or not you employ colloquialisms or slang, if humor makes sense for the brand, and the tone.
Tips for building a brand strategy:
A brand strategy helps you grow consumer awareness of your brand and strengthen it. Follow these suggestions to help.
- Emotional impact: A well-defined and executed brand strategy connects directly to consumer needs and emotions. The company’s value proposition plays a role in the consumer needs portion, and elements like photographs or videos on your website build the emotional piece. So as you construct a brand strategy, think through the emotions you want to evoke.
- CMS software: You can create a website that reflects your brand through CMS software such as Wix. The best CMS software allows you to easily customize colors, imagery, and other website elements to reflect your brand.
- Online and offline consistency: Maintain consistency between online and offline strategies. When it comes to offline branding tactics, consider elements like building signage, the packaging of your products, and the decor of your store or office. For example, I worked at a company where orange was the primary brand color, so the office walls were painted orange.
- Frequent engagement: Be sure to engage consumers frequently as part of your brand strategy. This includes posting to social media on a consistent basis, responding quickly to customer complaints or inquiries, and marking positive comments with a "like."
Step 5: Analyze and refine the brand
Once you’ve built a brand and put it out there for all to see, you need to analyze results and make improvements based on your findings. Doing so ensures the brand is delivering on its promise of representing what the business stands for.
To analyze the impact of your brand, use tools such as customer surveys and Google Analytics, which tells you the sources of website visitors, for instance, if they came from advertising campaigns. Speaking of which, look at metrics for your advertising campaigns as another means of analyzing brand performance. If your brand strategy is working, you’ll achieve better results from your advertising. Also, the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a digital marketing term describing the likelihood of a customer to recommend a business, can indicate whether or not a brand is resonating with customers.
Also review social media comments. This will give you a sense of how people talk about and interact with your brand. Based on your findings, you can make tweaks to your branding, then assess the changes to see if they helped. Keep testing and refining until you’ve achieved a brand that consistently delivers the impact you’re looking for.
Tips for analyzing and refining your brand:
Here are some suggestions to help with the analysis and refinement stage.
- Research returns: This phase of building your brand is akin to where you started. You perform research to understand how customers perceive your new brand. If you find that customers are not resonating with the brand, look at your personas and refine them to ensure they reflect as much detail as possible about the characteristics, behaviors, and motivations of your target audience. In this way, you can be sure you’re reaching the right customers.
- Competitor influences: One of the traps we can fall into when creating a brand is to emulate the competition. If your brand isn’t creating a positive association with customers, it could be that you’re too closely copying a competitor, or that you haven’t defined the brand enough and it lacks a personality, coming across as generic.
- Emotional impact revisited: Your analysis should uncover how the brand makes customers feel. By creating an emotional connection, your brand builds relationships with your customers. Your research should confirm your brand is creating the right kinds of emotional impact, and not scaring them away.
Final advice about building a brand
Building a brand takes time, planning, and commitment to delivering a consistent brand experience for customers. Most importantly, it requires flexibility.
Your brand isn’t a fixed business artifact. You’ve got to allow for changes in taglines, ad campaigns, and even modernizing an aging brand identity so you can keep pace with evolving trends and audience interests. That’s why flexibility to change is critical to sustaining a brand over time. So follow these steps, and you can create a brand that enables your business to stand out.