This is a condensed version of a complete guide to brand identity. For the complete, 17,000 word guide, read What is Brand Identity and How to Create a Great One: A Complete Guide for Marketers and Businesses (2019).
If you are starting a new business or growth in your existing business has stalled, you should understand how your brand identity impacts the success or failure of your business.
Brand, branding and brand identity describe different concepts, although they’re commonly and often incorrectly used interchangeably.
What is a brand?
People commonly use the word “brand” to talk about logos.
However, a logo is not a brand.
Put another way: a designer’s job isn’t to design a brand. Designers design the brand idenity.
A brand is the sum total of the experience your customers and customer prospects have with your company or organization.
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 a promise you make to customers and prospects about your products, your services and your company.
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.
Importantly, your brand is not what you say it is. Your brand is how your customers and prospects perceive your company.
What is branding?
Branding is a process designed to develop, among other things, a unique business name and custom logo design for a company, product or service.
But branding is also about the company’s reputation, the way a company’s products and services are advertised and about a company’s values.
The goal of the branding process is to build awareness and loyalty.
What is brand identity?
Brand identity is everything visual about a brand. It’s what you, customers and prospects can see.
The goal of brand identity design is to tell your company’s story in a way that creates loyalty, awareness and excitement.
Ramon Ray, a successful entrepreneur, speaker, bestselling author, and one of the country’s top small business experts, meets with thousands of small business owners every year. According to Ray,
“People immediately recognize a Starbucks logo or a BMW logo because those logos are consistently displayed and used by each Brand. Smaller businesses might think that they don’t need to be consistent with their identity, but they are mistaken. People recognize businesses based on their brand identity.
Only small businesses that have a small mindset don’t worry about design and branding. Small business owners who think big, who think about growth, who think for scale — those owners understand that branding is important and invest in their brands.”
Brand identity takes disparate visual elements and unifies them into a complementary system. Whenever your brand identity elements are shown, they should be consistent in their appearance, use, scope, color, feel, etc.
Every decision your company makes and every action that it takes affects the brand.
Poor design, ineffective marketing, inconsistent messaging and bad partnerships can all tarnish a brand.
Instead of leaving public perception of your brand to chance, it’s always a good practice to build and shape your brand.
That’s where a brand strategy can help.
A brand strategy is how your company will build, shape and share your brand with the public. A brand strategy helps you shape the public perception of your brand.
How do you build an effective brand strategy?
There are three core phases to develop an effective brand strategy for most companies: discovery, identity and execution.
Phase 1: Discovery
Start by evaluating your existing core identity
Your core identity is often defined by your company’s vision (why your company exists), mission (what your company does) and values (the beliefs that guide your company’s actions).
New companies don’t have an existing core identity and can skip to Phase 2.
Existing companies should evaluate whether their original vision, mission and values are still relevant. Here are some helpful questions you can ask:
- Are there elements that have emerged in the company’s culture that aren’t reflected in that vision, mission and values?
- Are some of the existing elements poorly defined or no longer valid?
- What’s most important to your company?
- Does your existing brand identity and marketing properly communicate your core identity?
Conduct market research and perform a competitor analysis
Here are some useful questions to ask when you conduct market research:
- How big is your market?
- How has your market changed since the time you started your company?
- How has it changed?
If you’re looking for help to better understand your market, watch this video on defining the size of a market.
It’s not enough to understand your market. You also must evaluate your competitors to understand where your company is positioned in your industry.
There are three parts to a good competitive analysis: (1) defining the metrics and identifying the competitors you’re comparing, (2) gathering the data, and (3) the analysis. For a primer on doing this effectively, read 10 Tips for Evaluating Your Competitors.
Develop personas for your target customers
Personas help you figure out:
- Who your customers are,
- What their goals and frustrations are,
- Where they spend their time,
- When they’re the most active or available,
- Why they make certain decisions and
- How they interact with your products or buy your services.
Evaluate how people perceive your brand
As we wrote in Brand Health, 6 Important Questions You Should Ask About Your Small Business Brand,
“Brand health can be measured in numerous ways, including brand reputation, brand awareness, brand equity, brand positioning, and brand delivery. This isn’t an issue you can afford to ignore. You need to know if your brand is thriving or ailing – before it’s too late.”
Remember that you should evaluate both internal (your employees) and external (everyone else) perceptions of your brand.
Phase 2: Identity
Define your core identity
If you’re starting a new company, start with a blank sheet of paper and fully define your company’s vision (why your company exists), mission (what your company does) and values (the beliefs that guide your company’s actions).
If you have an existing company, you evaluated your core identity in the discovery phase and now have a chance to evolve that identity to better match your current/future vision, mission and values.
Articulate your brand positioning
Your brand positioning explains how your company differentiates in the marketplace and how you are different from your competitors.
Often, your positioning can be summarized in one or two sentences to explain what you do better than everyone else.
Articulate your unique selling proposition
Ultimately, a company’s unique selling proposition (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.
Develop your brand identity assets
When you understand your brand and the components that define brand identity (colors, typography, shapes, etc.) it’s time for you to work with your designer to develop the creative elements that will give life to your brand identity. These include your logo, website, product packaging, brochures and more.
Phase 3: Execution
Once you’ve completed discovery and developed your core identity, you must find the right way to communicate about your brand through marketing. Execution is beyond the scope of this article, but you’ll find detailed chapters on execution in the complete brand identity guide for marketers and businesses.
A strong brand identity can mean the difference between your company succeeding beyond your wildest dreams or failing miserably.
Are you ready to get started?
Ross Kimbarovsky is founder and CEO at crowdspring and Startup Foundry.
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