It’s impossible to build a successful business without creating a strong brand.
So what is a brand and what are the elements of brand identity?
Here’s what you need to know – 5 proven steps that will help you create a powerful brand identity for your business.
What is a brand identity?
As we wrote previously:
A brand is the sum total of the experience your customers and customer prospects have with your company.
A strong brand communicates what your company does, how it does it, and at the same time, establishes trust and credibility with your prospects and customers.
Your company’s brand is, in many ways, its personality.
Your brand lives in everyday interactions your company has with its prospects and customers, including the images you share, the messages you post on your website, the content of your marketing materials, your presentations and booths at conferences, and your posts on social networks.
Any aspect of your brand that fosters a connection between you and your customers is part of your brand identity.
Your company’s logo, color scheme, slogan – those are all essential elements of a compelling brand identity.
However, it’s important to think beyond the visual experiences of your brand and extend your branding to include the emotional component of customers’ experiences with your business.
A truly memorable brand identity is an expression of your business at its core.
It is the interwoven fabric of what you make, how you make it, and why you make it – all of the emotionally driven elements that connect people to your brand.
Why does your business need a strong brand identity?
First impressions are everything for a business, and especially for a new business. In fact, 48% of consumers report that they are more likely to become loyal to a brand during the first purchase or experience.
90% of all purchasing decisions are made subconsciously, making it vital for companies to create a brand identity that evokes positive emotions.
If you want your business to make a positive first impression on customers and prospects, you have to be sure that your brand identity works in your favor.
A strong brand increases the value of your company, creates an identity and motivation for your employees, and makes it easier for you to acquire new customers. A brand represents how people know you (or your business), and how they perceive your reputation or the reputation of your company. In today’s noisy world, a strong brand is more important than it has ever been.
How do you build a strong brand identity for your business?
Step 1: Conduct a detailed brand audit.
The first step to build a strong brand identity is to understand who your customer is and what they want and need. We recommend you ask the following questions about your customers:
Who are they? – Are your customers men, women, or both? Are they Boomers or Millenials? Where are they from? These are all foundational pieces of knowledge that you need to know.
What do they do? – Knowing what your customers do for a living and what they’re interested in is a great way to more precisely target your marketing.
Why are they buying? – Do you know the reason why they’re in your market? If you do, it’s easier to pair their needs with what you can give them.
When are they buying? – Find out when your target market typically makes this type of purchase. That way, you can increase your chances of getting their attention they want to give it to you.
What’s the purchasing medium? – Are they buying from a website? Do they prefer a brick and mortar establishment?
What’s their budget? – Make sure you’re targeting customers whose budgets appropriately align with your product or service.
What makes them feel good? – Knowing what gives a customer that precious good-feeling glow is key to making sure they become repeat customers.
What do they expect? – Understanding expectations is critical in order to meet those expectations. Whether your customers expect fast delivery or 24/7 customer support, knowing what they want from you is half the battle.
How do they feel about your company? – Hearing praise about your company is nice. Hearing where the pain points are is even better. You have to know where your business could use a little improvement to, well, improve!
How do they feel about your competition? – You know what they say. Keep your friends close – keep your competition closer.
Step 2: Create your unique selling proposition and messaging.
Once you understand your customers, you should establish your company’s core values and philosophies.
Why should your customers care about your brand? How does your company stand out from the competition?
You’re looking for your unique selling proposition (USP).
But uncovering your USP can be difficult because your USP may not be something physical or tangible like a product, but instead might be thematic or emotional. Entrepreneur outlined this in their look at USP:
Pinpointing your USP requires some hard soul-searching and creativity. One way to start is to analyze how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. This requires careful analysis of other companies’ ads and marketing messages. If you analyze what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.
For example, Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, always used to say he sold hope, not makeup. Some airlines sell friendly service, while others sell on-time service. Neiman Marcus sells luxury, while Wal-Mart sells bargains.
As we wrote about a company’s unique selling proposition:
Ultimately, a USP is what your business stands for.
For example, you could say that Apple’s USP is found in “user experience”: everything they do is meant to have the user at its core.
Google’s USP might be in the way they connect people with information, whereas Amazon’s might be providing whatever product you need quickly, efficiently, and at as low a cost as possible.
Figuring out what your USP is can take time, but it’s a crucial piece of your brand. Knowing what it is can help you sell better to your existing customers, and more importantly possible customers.
Step 3: Develop the creative elements of your brand.
Once you understand your customers and know your unique selling proposition, it’s time to develop the creative elements you’ll use in your company’s brand.
Creative elements are the look, feel, and voice of your brand. You’ll communicate them consistently across all marketing channels and it’s extremely important to get them right.
The key creative elements of your brand include:
- The name of your company – A strong company name identifies your business, tells your customers and prospects something meaningful about your brand, and helps to differentiate your business from your competition.
- Your company’s logo – Your company’s logo is the distillation of a brand into one single visual element. It acts as both the calling card and “avatar” for a brand and is one of the most important elements of a brand’s identity.
- Color and color palette – As we’ve discussed, color gives your brand personality and it delivers a psychological impact as well:
Color has a deep and often subconscious effect on our behavior. Color is often used to persuade or influence us. According to a study examining the effect of color on sales, 92.6% of people surveyed by the CCI: Institute for Color Research said that color was the most important factor when purchasing products.
- Typography – The fonts you choose for your brand identity have an impact on how your brand is perceived. We examined how the type of font you use can affect customer perception in our guide Find Your Type.
- Style guide – A style guide is a set of rules to follow any time a member of your organization wants to publish, present or promote content for your brand or use branding on marketing materials or the design for product packaging or package graphics.
- Tagline – A business’ tagline is an opportunity to get your brand’s value proposition communicated directly to the customer. A great tagline should be short, catchy, and emotionally persuasive.
- Personality – Brand identity may change and evolve as time and trends pass, but a brand’s personality mostly stays the same. Brand personalities typically include 3-5 key characteristics (like rebellious, empowering, and adventurous, for example).
How do you choose appropriate brand elements?
Here are six things you should consider when choosing the brand elements for your business:
- Memorability – The brand elements you choose should be memorable and attract attention in order to help customers remember and recognize them.
- Meaningfulness – It’s important that the elements you choose meaningfully communicate your brand. Brand elements should give consumers information about your brand, service, or product that furthers its positioning and image.
- Likability – Do customers find the brand element appealing? Is it likable, pleasing, and fun? You want elements that leave a positive impression.
- Transferability – Does the element work across all market segments and mediums? Does it translate well across geographic boundaries and languages? Avoid elements that are constrained to a specific medium (like mobile, or print) or don’t translate well across your customers’ languages and cultures.
- Adaptability – Adaptability is all about flexibility and longevity. Choose elements that can stand the test of time and the fickle nature of trends and tastes. Always be willing to change things up when necessary.
- Protectability – No matter what you choose, if you can’t protect it legally and competitively you’re in trouble before you’ve started. Do your due diligence early and avoid legal and trademark issues further down the road.
Step 4: Develop and execute strategies to build brand equity.
A strong brand identity is built over time.
When you create brand elements and your brand, you’re not finished. You still must develop and execute strategies that will build a strong brand equity.
According to Shopify’s Business Encyclopedia, brand equity is:
…A marketing term that describes a brand’s value. That value is determined by consumer perception of and experiences with the brand. If people think highly of a brand, it has positive brand equity. When a brand consistently under-delivers and disappoints to the point where people recommend that others avoid it, it has negative brand equity.
A company like Apple or Sony has high brand equity, and that creates value those companies use to their advantage.
Brand recognition is one of the best-known ways to build equity, but it’s only one of many.
How can you build brand equity?
Provide a great customer experience
Besides having a great brand identity and strong brand elements, there’s one thing that builds brand equity faster than any other: a great customer experience.
Give your customers a positive experience that builds trust, memorability, and increases the chance they’ll return for more. This leads to higher customer preference (where they choose your product over a competitor’s) and customer retention (where they remain your customer).
Great experiences are not just about delivering a good product. It includes the pre- and post-sales experience as well as your customer service and support.
All of these work together to elevate the merely okay to great, and that boosts brand equity.
The bottom line? Focus on customer relationships, and high brand equity will follow.
Step 5: Evolve your brand identity over time.
Few brands can remain static over time. Even the largest, most successful companies must regularly evolve their brands and brand identities to keep up with the times.
We’re seeing this currently with Dunkin’ Donuts, Uber, Papa John’s, and Weight Watchers. These brands are evolving their identity and branding in response to changes in social norms and bad press.
You should regularly assess your brand and consider refining brand elements and your brand identity when the brand no longer stands for the unique selling proposition the brand delivers. For example, we talked about why and how you should rename your business when your company’s name is no longer compatible with your goals. Similarly, there are many good reasons you should consider redesigning your small business website.
A strong brand identity isn’t just a vague idea bandied about by big companies with deep marketing pockets. It’s a critical component of any business’ longevity and success.
Build a strong brand, create brand equity through great customer experiences and relationships, evolve your brand to keep it strong, and you’ll create a brand identity that will help your business grow.
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