When you’re in business, competition is a fact of life. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other companies selling products and services similar to yours. Having a strong brand identity will differentiate your business from the competition.
Whether your business is a small neighborhood grocery store or a huge corporation like IBM or Coca-Cola, your brand identity should be consistent across platforms. Your branding should be consistent, whether it appears on print or online or plastered across the wall in your corporate headquarters.
Building a brand identity takes a lot of work. It is more than just a catchy business name and a flashy logo. The following steps will guide you as you develop your business’s brand identity. They are simple steps, but implemented correctly can be very powerful.
Know your audience, value proposition, and competition
Building a brand identity starts with market research. First, you need to understand your audience. Different markets want different things and you need to understand exactly what is important to your customers.
Start by reviewing the marketplace you are entering. Identify your competitors, review their strengths and weaknesses, and how they market their products or services. Secondly, conduct market research by either talking to your customers, or talking to people who fit the demographic of your ideal customer.
This research will help you create a value proposition. Being able to define the difference between your business and the competition is vital when you establish your brand.
A good example of a successful company with a clear value proposition is Wendy’s, an American Burger franchise. Their USP, which they constantly talk about when comparing themselves to the market leaders, is that they only use fresh meat.
Wendy’s broadcast their USP in all of their marketing comms, regardless of the channel.
Finally, your business should have an identity. Think of your business as a person. How would you want other people to talk about your brand when you’re not in the room?
Source: Ad Age
Nike’s ad campaign (above), starring the U.S. women’s national football team, keeps it simple. Nike is for dreamers, just like the world champions, and Nike helps them go out and do it.
Create a logo that stands out and sticks
While the logo is not everything when it comes to brand identity, it’s arguably the most instantly recognizable element of your brand. It will be on everything associated with your brand, from your products to your website, online ads, and business cards.
While the logo is the most visible and the most valuable part of your brand identity, there are other elements you have to consider if you want to make your brand powerful. Your products and packaging all have a role to play in building brand recognition amongst your customer base.
McDonald’s iconic “golden arches” (above) are the brand’s most recognizable element of their brand. The golden arches were originally a physical signpost outside every store.
Consistency is also important in building a brand identity. McDonald’s uses a modified version of the Helvetica typeface for its paper bags, cups, and tray covers, and uses a diverse but well-defined color palette with the famous tagline “I’m lovin’ it”. The branding is consistently upbeat, colorful and fun. The tagline represents the experience the company aims to provide all customers.
Provide quality content that embodies your brand
One of the best ways to announce that your brand has arrived is by providing quality content. Your content should tell your story and inform readers or viewers what they can expect from your business in the future.
Good content implies a good brand. Boring content, on the other hand, leaves a bad impression.
Your content creation strategy should mirror the way your business wants to present itself. If your brand identity is serious, the language you use in your content should be more formal. If your brand wants to be known as fun, you can use more laid-back or colloquial language. Whatever you decide on for your brand, the language and tone you use should be consistent throughout.
While your brand would undoubtedly like to look professional, it doesn’t mean that it should be detached and unemotional. People love stories, and a strong brand that also appeals to emotion will help to build a bond with your customers.
IBM (above) is successfully shedding its former identity as solely a manufacturer of hardware and is embracing new concepts. It emphasizes its technology leadership while also giving its workforce a human face by placing them front and center in its video content, sometimes featuring them in humorous situations.
Social media and content marketing open up your brand to engagement with customers. It’s important to create content that’s relevant, interesting, and inspires engagement. It should seek to both answer questions and ask new ones.
Monitor, improve, and protect your brand
Well-run businesses don’t just put out their identity out there and forget about it. Even the most iconic brands experimented with their identity and made radical changes to their logo, style guide, and other branding elements to reflect the changing times.
Source: 1000 Logos
Microsoft (above) has used six different logos throughout its 50 years of existence. The company changed logos four times in its first 17 years of life, including one that reflected a “heavy metal” identity in 1980 (this is a personal favorite).
They then adopted the sleek, dynamic logo based on the Helvetica Bold Oblique typeface, which would serve as the most visible representation of the company until 2012. In that year, the Microsoft leadership decided that it was time for a fresh new look that more accurately represented what the company now offers to its customers and stakeholders.
After conducting studies and surveys across different markets, they determined that customers most often recognized the Windows icon. As a result, the current logo features the Windows icon.
Even now, Microsoft keeps innovating and improving its brand identity. In 2019, the company announced a new set of logos for its products, including new icons that replaced ones that have been in use for decades. This move was an effort to consolidate its branding and the look and feel of its product line.
Microsoft is a great example of a company constantly monitoring and improving its brand identity. The company monitors key performance indicators, such as recognizability and name recall, through various methods such as search engine results, focus groups, and surveys. Yet it’s not just the imagery that’s important when it comes to protecting your brand identity. You must underpin what you say you stand for with appropriate action.
“We wanted Zoomshift to be recognized as an innovator in our niche. Consistent branding – from social media content through to the articles published on the blog – has played a part in this. More importantly, though, we have a team of developers that are constantly pushing improvements to the platform.”
Owen Jones, Zoomshift
What Owen highlights is the importance of brand congruence. It’s no good if all your marketing material says one thing if the actions your business takes don’t match up. People will quickly recognize the mismatch and are likely to call you out.
Be patient, be consistent!
Building a powerful brand identity does not happen overnight. People value consistency and dependability, and you want these values to be embodied in your brand identity. You could have the most beautiful visual branding in the world, but if the product or service you offer doesn’t align, your brand will have very little meaning.
You should get started on building your brand identity today if you have not done so already. But you don’t need to do it all immediately! Starting with the basics – a logo, a typeface, and a color scheme – is fine. You can then build on this foundation.
Continuously investing in and developing a brand identity, just like doing R&D on new products, is worth the time and effort you pour into it. When customers instantly recognize your logo, you will know that your brand identity has made it.
Owen Baker is a content marketer for Right Inbox, a reminder email service, and Voila Norbert. He has spent most of the last decade working online for a range of marketing companies. When he’s not busy writing, you can find him in the kitchen mastering new dishes.