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September 15, 2015 // 7:00 AM

The Beginner's Guide to Developing a Remarkable Brand Identity

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The terms “brand” and logo” are often used interchangeably. But though a logo can be the symbol of a business, it is not the entirety of a brand. In fact, creating a logo is just one small step towards developing a strong brand identity.

With millions, if not billions, of businesses trying to make a name for themselves, having a strong brand has become crucial for businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

If you are working to develop your first brand identity for a client or you are doing this for your own business, it's important to first understand what a brand is and what it takes to create one. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as giving the business a name and plastering it on everything.

What Is a Brand?

Originally used for referring to the mark that cattle ranchers “branded” on their cattle, the idea of a brand has evolved to encompass much more than just a name or a symbol.

Your brand, a vital part of your brand identity, is defined as a name or a type of product manufactured by a particular business. A brand identity is made up of what your brand says, what your values are, how you communicate your concepts, and the emotions you want your consumers to feel when they interact with your business. Essentially, your brand identity is the personality of your business and a promise to your consumers. Or, as Jeff Bezos says, “Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room." 

For example, when you hear the name Coca-Cola, you probably picture its well-known logo, but you also might think of the polar bear, the color red, its “Share a Coke” campaign, or the classic ribbon-like imagery featured on its cans. All of these aspects are what make up the Coca-Cola brand, not just the logo of the business.

Why Brand Identity Is Important

As the embodiment of almost everything your business is and does, a brand “lives and evolves in the minds and hearts” of consumers. Branded content was the most popular content marketing tactic in 2014, and it's set to grow in 2015. A well-developed brand identity can also:

  •          Improve recognition by giving your business a “face” and a personality.
  •          Create credibility and trust.
  •          Create impressions through advertising.
  •          Guarantee future business, which builds financial value.
  •          Define your company’s mission (to both consumers and employees).
  •          Generate new customers, and delight current ones.

It’s safe to say those are definitely positive influences a brand identity can have on your business.

How to Develop a Brand Identity

If you want your business to become a well-known and beloved brand name, it’s going to take some work. The following steps are simple. Implementing them, however, is another story.

Step 1: Research

Just like any other aspect of starting a business, the first step in developing a brand identity is to complete market research. You should clarify and understand these five things. 

1) Audience

It’s no secret that different people want different things. You can’t (usually) target a product to a pre-teen the same way you would target a product to a college student. Learning what your audience wants from a business in your industry is vital to creating a brand people will love.

2) Value Proposition & Competition

What makes your business unique in your industry? What can you offer your consumers that others can’t? Knowing the difference between you and your competition is imperative to becoming a successful brand. Keeping an eye on your competitors will also educate you on what branding techniques work well and those that don’t.  

3) Mission

You know what your business offers, but be sure to have a clear and direct mission statement that describes your vision and goals. In other words, know your business’s purpose -- you can’t very well create a personality for a business unless you know what that business is about.

4) Personality 

Even though you’re not necessarily branding an individual, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be personable. Use your type, colors, and imagery to represent who the brand is. Then enhance that visual representation with your tone of voice: Are you a confident business with a lot of sass, like Nike? Or are you ritzy and professional, like Givenchy? Either way, be sure to use your branding as a way to represent your business.

Research may be boring, but the more you know about your business, the stronger your brand identity will be.

5) SWOT Analysis

Finally, completing a SWOT Analysis can be beneficial to better understand your brand. Considering the characteristics of the brand will help you find characteristics you want to portray in the brand. SWOT stands for:

  •          Strengths: Positive characteristics of your business that provide an advantage over your competition.
  •          Weaknesses: Characteristics that prove to be a disadvantage to your business.
  •          Opportunities: Changes and trends in your industry that offer opportunities for your business.
  •          Threats: Elements in the environment or industry that may cause problems for your business.

Step 2: Design

Once you know your business inside and out, it’s time to bring your brand to life. In the words of graphic designer Paul Rand, “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” Here’s what you’ll need to know:

Logo

Although the logo is not the entirety of the brand identity, it’s a vital element in the branding process -- it's the most recognizable part of your brand. It's on everything from your website to your business cards to your online ads. With your logo on all of these elements, your branding should look as cohesive as this example: 

branding-example

(Image via Creative Commons)

Interesting Form

As imperative as your logo is to branding, it’s not the only element that makes a brand identity strong. Your product(s), the packaging, or the way you present your services all need to play a part in your brand identity. Visually representing your business in everything you do will create consistency and help create a familiarity with your consumers. Take McDonald’s golden arches for example. They used an interesting form to create the iconic “M,” which is now recognizable all over the world.

Color & Type

Creating a color palette is a way to enhance your identity. It provides you with variety so you can create unique designs for your business while remaining faithful to the brand identity.

Type can also be a double-edged sword if not utilized properly. Although “mix and match” type design has become quite the trend, that doesn’t mean mixing a handful of fonts is necessarily a good idea for your business. In your logo, on your website, and on any documents that your business creates (print and digital), there should be consistent use of typography. If you take a look at Nike’s website and its ads, it keeps the same typeface and type style throughout all aspects of the business -- and it works wonders for them.

Templates

You probably send out emails, type up letters, or hand out business cards to potential customers on a daily basis. Creating templates (even for a detail as minute as email signatures) will give your business a more unified, credible, and professional look and feel.

Consistency

As mentioned in nearly every step already (I can’t stress it enough), consistency is what can make or break a brand identity. Use the aforementioned templates and follow the design choices you’ve decided upon for your brand throughout all areas of your business to create a harmonious brand identity.

Flexibility

Yes, consistency is crucial -- but remaining flexible in a society that is always looking for the next best thing is just as important. Flexibility allows for adjustments in ad campaigns, taglines, and even some modernizing to your overall brand identity so you can continuously keep your audience interested. The key is keeping any changes you make consistent throughout your entire brand (e.g., don’t change the design of your business cards and nothing else).

Document

One of the most effective ways to ensure a business sticks to its branding “rules” is to create a set of brand guidelines that document all of the do's and don’ts of your brand. Skype is one brand that has done an amazing job creating a clear, cohesive brand guide that anyone can follow. This is one way to empower people to build brand assets and share your brand while remaining brand compliant. 

Step 3: Integrate

Now that you’ve established your brand within your company and have taken all the necessary steps to develop it, you’re ready to integrate your brand within your community.

And one of the most successful ways to accomplish this is for your brand to provide quality content. In HubSpot's ebook Branding in the Inbound Age, Patrick Shea writes, “In every way, your content is your brand online. It’s your salesperson, your store, your marketing department; it’s your story, and every piece of content you publish reflects on, and defines, your brand. So, great content, great brand. Boring content, boring brand.”

Language

Use language that matches that personality of your brand. If your brand identity is high-end, use professional language; if your brand is laid-back, be more conversational. The language you choose to use as a brand will be integrated throughout the entire business, so it’s important that you carefully craft your tone to match your brand’s personality.

Connection & Emotion

People love stories. More accurately, people love stories that move them (emotionally and to action). A strong brand identity can establish an emotional connection with consumers, which can be a solid foundation for building a lasting relationship with a brand. 

Advertise

Designing ads, whether traditional or digital, is the most efficient way of introducing your brand to the world. It's a way to get the message of your brand seen and heard by your target audience. 

Social Media

Another great way to establish a connection with your consumers is through social media. The plethora of platforms on the internet offers up a ton of digital real estate you can use to establish your brand identity. Coca-Cola, once again, makes great use of its Facebook cover photo real estate by keeping it consistent with the happiness theme. 

coke-FB-page

Social media is also important when it comes to conversing directly with your customers and creating affinity for your brand. If you’re mentioned in a tweet, status, or post (especially if the customer has a question or concern), be sure to give your brand a good reputation by responding efficiently to your customers.

Step 4: Know What to Avoid

You can follow all the steps of creating a strong brand identity, but if you’re guilty of any of the following practices, your brand might falter or fail.

1) Don’t give your customers mixed messages.

Know what you want to say, and use the appropriate language and visuals to say it. Just because it makes sense to you doesn’t mean it will make sense to your customers.

2) Don’t copy your competitors.

Your competition may have exemplary branding, and since you’re selling the same products or services, you might want to do what you know works -- don’t. Take what they do into account, and put your own twist on it to make your business stand out in your industry even more.

3) Don’t lose consistency between online and offline

Yes, your print material might look a little different than your online presence, but your colors, type, theme, and message should all be consistent.

Step 5: Monitor Your Brand

Similar to other aspects of your marketing, it’s difficult to know what you’re doing right (and what you’re not) without tracking key performance metrics. Use Google Analytics, surveys, comments, social media discussions, etc., to monitor your brand and get a sense of how people talk about and interact with you. This will give you the opportunity to implement changes to your brand as needed, whether it’s to correct a mistake or to improve brand identity. 

Creating a memorable brand requires consistent use of type, color, images, and language, but it's worth it. When consumers instantly recognize who you are and what you stand for all based on a logo, you've become more than just a name and a symbol. 

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