How Do You Create a Brand?
What comes to mind when you think about major corporations like Amazon, McDonald’s, or Disney? How does your favorite store make you feel, or your local coffee shop?
When we talk about a brand, we often “refer to a symbol such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme,” according to the American Marketing Association. However, appearance is only part of the equation.
Branding is about the whole customer experience—the sum of every interaction someone has with a brand, whether through a product or service, advertising, or the experiences of friends.
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another,” wrote best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin. It’s a philosophy that should impact every touch point a business has with its customers, from product design and the tone of promotional activities, to customer service and the partners an organization aligns itself with.
To capture your philosophy successfully, you need a common rallying point. Brand marketing expert Jaleh Bisharat describes the process as defining the essence of your organization and building a “positive brand that is compelling to customers, focuses your team, and differentiates you from the competition.”
When it comes to branding, perception is everything
However you choose to describe it, your brand ultimately is not defined by you; it’s determined by the people who come into contact with your brand and how they interpret it. That power sets the question at the heart of branding: What do you want to be known or recognized for?
Your brand strategy aims to shape these perceptions, getting beyond the checklist of logical benefits to a more emotional connection—how people feel about what you do and what you create.
No one department is responsible for making a good impression. Instead, everyone in the company has a role, whether they work at a sales counter, answer the phone, manage the Facebook page, or respond to help requests. As Godin observed in his book, Linchpin: “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.”
From that point of view, brand development can be led by any number of leaders within an organization—although someone needs to take ownership. Often the branding process is led by someone with marketing experience, but may include design, sales, customer service, human resources, and others within an organization to make sure the same messaging, training, and “vibe” filters throughout the business. There are also branding consultants who can lead you through the creative process.
HOW TO POSITION YOUR BRAND
Branding starts with your position in your particular market. What niche or qualities do you want your customers to remember you for?
Consider your core competency—the specialized skills or knowledge your company excels in—and the mission that inspires your business. In his book, Start With Why, author Simon Sinek sums it up like this: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
From that core, consider how your business stands out in the marketplace—its unique selling point (USP). (If you struggle with this, or if you don’t know, market research can add helpful data to your analysis.)
Your business will always have competition, whether from similar products or services or just different options. For example, your customers may decide on a daily basis whether they want to play with your app or read a book during their morning commute.
• What makes your brand or product appealing to your customers?
• How do your competitors position themselves in the marketplace?
• What do you do that your competitors don’t?
• How are your experiences or results different?
• What makes you unique?
Once you’ve defined how your organization fits within its industry, capture it in a positioning statement that will serve as a reference point going forward—consistency is the foundation for any strong brand.
This statement should describe:
• Your target market
• Your advantage over the competition
• How you want customers to perceive your brand
This statement isn’t meant to be aspirational; it should be a promise that your organization can consistently deliver. If you need help, check out this advice from eCornell.
BRAND LANGUAGE: WHAT YOU SAY, HOW YOU SAY IT
The language (and visuals) that a brand uses can evoke a specific response and set expectations for customer experience. It includes everything from the name of your business and the products you sell to your core messaging and taglines.
Collectively, this brand voice is how you share your company’s story with the public: Who it is and what it represents.
Your voice isn’t just what you say—it’s also how you say it. The language used, tone of voice, and style all contribute to a personality that makes people feel a certain way.
Keeping that personality consistent and in line with your positioning statement across multiple channels and multiple people is a challenge, especially with the fluid dynamics of channels like social media.
“Brand identities can now be defined more by their customers than by the companies themselves,” wrote Jose Martinez Salmeron, executive creative director for Ogilvy Washington, in Smashing Magazine. “The ideal balance…stems from the ability to be flexible while keeping intact the core principles and attributes that formed the brand in the first place.”
How do you capture those core principles in a way that can be shared across your organization? It needs to be easy to share and easy to get—particularly for the “front line” people who interact most with your target audience.
Finding your voice
Building on your positioning statement, brand language should reflect:
Any buyer personas you’ve developed for your target audience. Your voice should be tailored to connect with them: tone, humor, the type of examples you use and stories you tell.
The core values of your organization. How can those core values be illustrated through the language and vocabulary you use?
The key messages or themes you want to share with your target audience.
The characteristics of your brand voice. How would you describe its personality?
A buyer persona gives you a more concrete version of your target audience to consider; finding solid examples of your brand voice can help, too. Some brands have a conversational and fun style, like Virgin, Method, or Oreo. Other brands, like Citi, Harvard Business Review, or Goldman Sachs, take a more formal tone to their communications.
To help you strike the right tone, you can also think about people—famous or not—whom you think your brand should emulate. What are the key traits that connect this person to your brand? What qualities do they have that you want people to recognize in your brand voice.
BRAND DESIGN: GETTING THE VISUALS RIGHT
Your brand identity is shaped by anything that visually represents your business or products—an outward expression of not just what you do, but how you want people to feel.
This includes your:
• Website design
• Social media channel design
Their influence may be subtle, but these visual elements combine with your brand language to create an impression. The goal of the design process is to match the appearance of your brand with the position you want to have in the marketplace: High-quality photography builds credibility and trust, and can help increase sales by distinguishing your product from its competitors; a logo can set the tone by looking whimsical and fun or formal and direct.
The skills to bring your design together
The specific skills needed to bring your visual branding to life will vary, from the technical skills needed to build the foundations for a website to finding someone with the right experience to wrap a product in packaging that appeals to your ideal customer. However, you will need a graphic designer to create the high-quality visual elements you need.