5 TIPS FOR BUILDING A BRAND IDENTITY
The tribe has spoken.
Unless you’re one of those people, you’re probably either an Apple person or an Android person. A Nike person or an Adidas person. As humans, we have a strong urge to identify with tribes of like-minded people. The most successful brands in the world understand the art and science of branding and build powerful identities and personas that attract large tribes of people.
Now, your company may not have the market penetration of Android or be as instantly-recognizable as Nike, but you can (and should and must) employ the same tactics as the big guys if you want your brand to be successful. Remember, you aren’t simply trying to sell your customers a product; you’re trying to induct them into your tribe.
Here are five tips for building a powerful brand identity:
DO YOUR RESEARCH [personas & competitive analysis]
Building a brand without doing research is like going to work without pants: you can still basically do everything you need to, but you’re going to get the wrong kind of attention. But you, as a smart marketer, aren’t going to make that mistake. Here are some of the pieces of information you should arm yourself with before building or refining your brand identity:
Personas – who are your target audiences? Be as specific as you can—beyond just the demographics and psychographics, give them names and needs, jobs and frustrations. Build out your vision of the real people you’re trying to reach and then use their needs to fuel your messaging and branding decisions.
Competitor Data – all’s fair in love and war, and this is war! Use tools like Moat, SpyFu, and BuiltWith to learn more about their SEO & PPC, digital ads, website tech, and other critical pieces of information. Learn what they’re saying to their audiences and figure out how you can reach your audience more clearly, directly, or interestingly.
Your Existing Brand – this can be the hardest part, because it often requires some self-reflection and honest (sometimes difficult) conversations about your current identity. Send surveys to current, trusted clients and internally to employees to get a finger on the pulse of your brand. Does the branding truly reflect your values or value props? Does it make sense externally? Is it old and outdated? Be objective as you review responses.
IDENTIFY YOUR VALUE PROPOSITIONS
With your research in hand, look at your company’s value propositions. What are your competitive advantages? What do customers like about you? What are your unique values and approaches?
Now that you’ve done your homework on the competition and on yourself, you should have some data-backed answers to these questions. You’ll also know the needs of your personas and can map your value props to those needs.
NOTE: This will be true for most of these tips, but using a whiteboard (or several) can really help you map out your value props and the messaging for each. More on messaging in a sec.
BUILD OUT YOUR BRAND ELEMENTS
Okay, now that you have your research underpinning your decisions and have identified your value propositions, it’s time for the fun part: actually building the brand! Most people want to jump to this phase first, but not you. You’re a smart marketer and have done your research.
Remember that a brand is so much more than just a sexy logo and a funny tagline. Yes, those things are important, but they’re components of the larger brand identity. You might have great hair be super tall, but those things (hopefully) don’t make up your entire identity. Same with brands. That being said, here are some of the most critical components to consider when actually building your brand elements:
Identity – if you’re going to invite people into your tribe, you’d better have something they can identify with. “Good customer service” is never going to inspire the kind of fanatacism you need to build a tribe.
Try this exercise: look at the nouns in your value propositions and core values. Chart them out on a whiteboard and work to bring those words to life. For instance, if one of your values is “Innovative”, you might write it out in a word cloud as follows:
Innovative > Edison > Tesla > lightbulb > outside-the-box > storm cloud
Select the elements and images that evoke the strongest emotional responses and can tie into other interesting visual treatments. The results of this exercise can help inform your logo, color pallette, messaging, and more.
Logo – please, please, please don’t let your nephew who “knows his way around Illustrator” create this for you. You need a professional graphic designer who has the training and wherewithal to capture the subtleties and essence of your brand in one distinct graphic. In fact, in most cases, the logo should be one of the last pieces of the brand puzzle you place. It’s the keystone of your brand, and should be treated as such.
Design Elements – this is where your graphic designers are really going to earn their keep. Using the insights you gained from the research steps and your identity exercise, have your designers select colors and typography that capture those emotions and values. This is the most subjective piece of this branding puzzle; in the end, you’ll know what feels right. Trust your designers’ judgment and go with what looks and feels right for you.
Brand Voice – one common mistake in building a brand is thinking the messaging will work itself out, or that snappy GEICO-esque copy is right for every brand. This is incorrect. Your brand has a distinct voice, one that will call to the people you want in your tribe in a way that they will answer.
Look back at your value propositions and the identity exercise for clues. Does your brand have a snarky voice? Is it self-deprecating or whimsical? Friendly, warm, and welcoming? Your research will give you the answers. The only thing it absolutely must be is true to the brand.
Once you’ve identified a voice, have your copywriting and communications teams practice writing in that voice until it feels natural and cohesive.
Style Guide – with all of these elements in place, it’s time to gather them into a single source of truth: the style guide. You can make this guide as robust or as simple as you need, but it needs to lay down the rules for every brand element you’ve created. This includes brand voicing, color and logo usage, typography, and even words your brand can or cannot use. Having this guide (and actually using it!) will ensure your brand looks clean, professional, and like your brand wherever it goes.
IMPLEMENT YOUR BRAND STRATEGY
Now that your brand elements are in place and your identity is distinctly and firmly identified, it’s time to get out there! Based on the needs of your personas, you’ll know what watering holes to find them at and how to speak to them. You may have slightly different messaging or even brand voicing based on the channel, and that’s okay.
Remember not to hit your prospective tribe members over the head with sales messaging all the time. Give them reasons to engage with you. Leave a curiosity gap that will have them coming to you, rather than you having to go to them all the time. Build mystique and prestige; spark conversations or curiosity; leave them wanting more.
However you do it, make sure your strategies are on-target and measurable, otherwise you won’t know if you’ve been successful.
REVIEW, REDISCOVER, REFINE
Lastly, don’t be afraid to iterate! Once you have some data back from your go-to-market strategy, compare it with your goals and see if there are opportunities to improve (spoilers: there definitely will be). Your brand needs to evolve as people’s needs change. Be sure to build your brand on elements that will last (e.g., building a brand on “YOLO” or “cash me outside howboudah” are probably not going to last), but find ways to be flexible and engaging as the zeitgeist changes.
To make this easy, figure out who you are and what you can do best; figure out who you need to be talking to; and then be the most authentic version of you (your brand) as you can be. Got it? Good. Your tribe is waiting.
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