Brand Identity Essentials
Can you have a business without a brand? Well, yes. You can. The pizza joint down the road is likely a business, not a brand. Your dry cleaners – same story. The local veterinarian? Not exactly challenging Apple on the slick advertising front. All of these examples show that you can operate a successful business without having a real “brand.” But, if your business isn’t driven by necessity or pure convenience, chances are you do need a brand. That’s because you have to give people a reason to choose your business over the competition (or buy nothing at all) and without a strong brand, that’s an exceptionally hard sell. Why? A brand gives a business its unique identity – its look and feel, voice and personality. Think about it – without its brand, Nike is just another shoemaker and Bergdorf Goodman is just another department store. A strong brand comes from a place of truth about what a business authentically represents, and about what its products mean to its customers. It’s not magic, it’s insight. In the following pages, we’ll explain the key elements you’ll need to create a sharp, authentic brand that will stand out from your competitors and resonate with your customers.
Like (most) humans, great brands have engaging personalities, opinions, and values by which they live. The brand manifesto is a declaration of all this, distilled into a succinct, inspiring message that can be grasped at a glance. It should identify your business mission – for example, a promised level of service for customers; and your vision – a motivational statement about how you’d like to impact the future. Your brand manifesto articulates what matters to your brand. It is your driving force and becomes a valuable resource for employees as it serves to unite everyone around a set of values. This is especially useful when onboarding new team members. And it will help you grow. When people connect with your philosophy, they will become ambassadors for your brand.
Creating a manifesto
To create a manifesto, you’ll need to describe your brand’s philosophy (don’t worry, no degree needed!). This is simply a statement of your beliefs and values and how these play out in what you do as a business.
One way to approach this is to make a vision board filled with words, pictures, and drawings that resonate with your business. Ask yourself questions like: Why did I want to start a business? What motivates me? What does success look like for me, my customers and my employees?
By doing this it might help you see patterns or keywords that stand out. Once you’re ready (you can always add to this later) start drafting a written manifesto. What’s most important here is that it’s simple to read and that you actually connect with these words – avoid generic buzzwords. Your manifesto can be just one line or a series of short, active statements that sum up your beliefs and values.
Business is made up of people, and it’s people that bring your brand to life every day. So when you define your brand’s personality, also think about how that plays out in behavior. Your brand defines what you do and what you don’t do. A brand can’t just talk the talk, it has to walk the walk. So make sure your brand behavior matches your brand voice. People don’t shape their opinions about a brand on marketing materials alone; they’ll be watching how you behave on social media, in the press, and even in your stores, where the task of preserving your image falls to your employees. By creating an environment where people enjoy their work and understand the wider mission, your employees (whether there are two or two hundred) will become your brand’s most valuable cheerleaders.
When it comes to choosing a product or service, customers have more options at their disposal than ever before. For your brand to stand out, you need to understand what your business offers that’s different to all those others. To do this effectively, you will need to write a value proposition. A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered and is one of the biggest factors in lifting sales. A value proposition explains how your product solves problems and improves situations. It lists the benefits to the customer and sets out why people should buy from you over the competition.
As humans, one of the ways we build relationships is through the stories we tell, why else do we catch up with our friends, right?! In business, this is not so different. You want to create moments between your business and your customers. Those willing to share the experiences of their founders, customers and staff can reap the many benefits that storytelling offers. It shifts the focus a little from what you do and talks about why you do it. Your brand story is as individual as you are, and it needs to tell your audience who you are and why you’re doing what you do. It is where your manifesto comes to life, giving your audience context for your business and a chance to connect with what is important to you. After all, people buy from people.
Like a person, your brand is essentially your business’s “personality” – how you are perceived by the world. Buying decisions are both rational and emotional, and a strong brand taps into its customers’ emotions and aspirations. According to Stanford professor and social psychologist Jennifer Aaker, there are five major types of brand personality. Think of these in connection to your own brand, remember to remain authentic to your own values and pick the one personality trait that describes it best. Use your dominant personality trait to map out other related characteristics – for example, a sophisticated brand might be elegant, elitist and restrained – and use these attributes to guide the development of your brand style.
Your brand personality is expressed through voice. The language you use, from your voicemail message to your product tags, speaks volumes about who you are. So ask yourself if your brand was a person, how would you talk and what would you say? Your tone will change based on who you’re talking to: different customers, for instance, on different platforms. There’s nothing wrong with this – in fact, it’s a good thing. Imagine a friend at a Friday night party, then picture that same friend on a Monday morning at work. Like anyone, their tone is likely to vary from one environment to the next. That doesn’t mean your friend has adopted an entirely new personality. It just means they’re adapting to their circumstances and are, well, real. That said, the core characteristics of your voice really shouldn’t change. If your brand is serious and authoritative, employing sarcasm and humor can feel inappropriate and confusing for people. A big part of having a clear brand voice is familiarity – it makes you recognizable as a brand, and people know what to expect. Which they like, a lot!
The next step is define what your brand looks like. Your visual identity is a visualization of your brand’s characteristics and includes your logo, color palette, typography, and more. Even though logo strategies are evolving in line with the rise in digital channels and formats available, color matters, especially to consumers choosing a product from a store shelf, or a brand to engage with online. Research shows that when purchasing a product more than 92 percent of people place the most importance on visual perceptions, and 84 percent are influenced by color. Color can affect your mood, improve comprehension, and incite an immediate response.
Now that you have your brand style covered, you can bring this to life in all sorts of fun ways and using all kinds of communication channels. For the best results, be consistent in how you present yourself. To get you thinking about which ones fit you, here are some online and offline channels.
- Website: Your website is your store window. Make sure yours exudes your brand identity, from color and typography to brand voice, and keep it up to date. If you’re using your website to sell your products, be sure to take great photographs – they’ll need to look their best.
- Social media: This can be overwhelming. Choose the one or two channels your audience uses most, and craft a consistent presence there. Start slow and build up to what’s realistic for you. Remember, once you start using these channels, the only way to grow an audience is to be present and engaged with your followers.
- Brand newsletters: If you intend to share company news, don’t get lost amongst the spam. Temper the marketing tone of your messages by integrating stories about your staff and customers. Outdoor brand Patagonia sends newsletters with “Field Reports” written by athletes and travelers.
Transactional emails These are the ones that directly promote products, promotions and include emails sent to confirm an order or sign up for an account. Keep these succinct, but write with flair, too.
- Videos: They are a great way to bring your brand to life. They are the perfect vehicle to introduce your products and services too. Be sure to keep them short and snappy making them perfect for social media sharing.
- Business cards: Your business cards are pocket-sized promotional opportunities. Make sure they include relevant things like your social media handles and links to your website, wherever you want people to visit or contact you.
- Loyalty cards As well as encourage return visits to your store for the price of a free coffee (on the 10th visit), loyalty cards often get carried around by your customers – make sure they reflect your brand.
- Postcards: are a fun way raise brand awareness. Whether you choose to mail them, add them to your packaging or distribute them at local businesses, get creative to make sure they get picked up and never put down.
- Stationery: Sure, we send fewer letters these days, but that’s all the more reason to make the ones we do, special. So whether it’s a job offer letter or a note to an investor, make sure it looks and feels like your business with a branded letterhead.
- Packaging In the age of online shopping, the “unboxing” moment is a powerful and emotional experience for customers all around the world. Insert some delight into your next package with branded postcards, stickers and MiniCards.
The journey to becoming a fully-fledged brand can now begin. On your path you will encounter cynics, challenges and hurdles. But you will also be delighted with cheerleaders, opportunities and triumphs. Stick with it. We’ve got your back.